This video is a parody of the “Click” videos used by the Make Poverty History and One campaigns. Snap your fingers every 3 seconds and you can keep track of the poverty-related death-rate of children in Africa and at the same time picture the millions of dollars piling up in bank accounts in America and Europe.
While these celebrities “fighting” poverty are earning between $20,000,000 and $150,000,000 each year,1 the Rwandans in this video can expect to earn only about $320. Still, Rwandans are better off than their neighbours in Burundi who are lucky if they earn more than $110 per year. To put both extremes into perspective, the average American or European earns between $36,000 and $46,000.2 Even while he’s sleeping, it takes Bono less than seven minutes to earn as much as the average Rwandan earns in a year.
During the past few years, Bono and Geldof have led the celebrity campaign to solve the global poverty problem. These campaigns seem to claim that the key to solving global poverty is to pressure the G8 to flip the poverty switch. They do not ask for donations. They simply ask the G8 to make poverty go away.
The unfortunate truth is that the G8 cannot and will not wipe out global poverty.
The G8 leaders actually represent the interests of the voters who put them in power. If you live in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, or the United States that means you. It is easy to argue that these global leaders are only working for the interests of the corporations and lobbyists who fund their campaigns. However, these corporations are only as powerful and rich as they are because we choose to support them by buying their products and services. The corporations and the G8 leaders succeed because they sell us the quality of life that we seem to desire.
Over the past few hundred years, while our standard of living has improved, living conditions for millions of others have become worse and worse. This is not a coincidence. Our standard of living depends on other people’s poverty. The ridiculous salaries we pay to celebrities are simply an extreme example of the imbalance that ensures the comforts we take for granted.
While billions of people on our planet struggle to find work and food and shelter, we have created and encouraged an economy based on the extreme imbalance between rich and poor. As conscious consumers in this economy, we are all responsible for continuing to shape the relationship between rich countries and poor countries.
For example, if you buy a pair of shoes made in a factory that pays its workers below a living wage, you are supporting and encouraging exploitation. If you fill your car’s tank with fuel from Nigeria you are supporting violence and human rights abuses. Every purchase makes a statement and has a significant impact. In order to both maximise their profits and provide us products and services at low prices, corporations (and governments) have built a global system of exploitation that extracts wealth and resources from poorer countries to sustain our comfortable lifestyles.
Each of us needs to ask ourselves: Can we really live without poverty?
That may seem like a strange question, but there is one thing that the corporations and G8 leaders know and that we are trying to deny: we depend on the current system of poverty for our very way of life. We all depend on an economic system based on an unfair global distribution of wealth.
If we want to make a real difference and have a strong effect on global poverty, we need to start making sacrifices and changing our lifestyle expectations. Fair Trade is a start. Investing in our communities rather than in the exploitative practices of supermarkets might help. Doing something about the environmental and social impact of our travel and energy use can go a long way. Moving away from an interest and inflation based economy would be difficult, but it would make a huge impact and, as we have seen recently, may be necessary.
Let’s start talking about solutions, and more importantly, let’s become the change that we wish to see in the world.3
It is time to stop blaming others and truly take responsibility for the global community we live in. We can live responsibly and fundamentally change the world. We can find alternative solutions. Together, we can take responsibility for every action we take. Please with your friends and family. If we change our lives, we can begin to make a difference in the lives of others.
Special thanks to Charles Nkazamyampi and Louis Munyakazi and all the children at Fondation Sport et Culture pour la Paix dans la Région des Grands Lacs in Kigali, Rwanda.
2. Figures are from the World Bank’s GNI per capita 2007 table last revised on 10 September 2008.
3. Gandhi is quoted as saying: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”