Volume 95, Issue 33
Wednesday, October 31, 2001
UWO prof: West 'feasting' on Africa
Lecturer chastises North America
By Kristina Lundblad
Western nations are ignoring the plight of Africans, says a Western professor who spoke at an African Students' Association-sponsored lecture in the University Community Centre atrium yesterday.
"Mostly our meaning North American, European and non-African understanding of Africa is informed by profound ignorance," said Arja Vainio-Mattila, assistant professor and director of the Centre for International Studies at Huron University College. "Ignorance of its history, geography, peoples, politics, cultures and its resources."
Poverty plagues African society, Vainio-Mattila said.
"According to the latest Human Development Index, 28 of the poorest countries in the world are in Africa," she said, adding definitions are important and poverty can be defined in many ways by different people.
In our society, poverty is based on goods people lack, she said, adding this alone does not explain poverty, she said.
"The information we have on poverty in Africa is based on indicators developed by international institutions the socio-cultural context within which poverty in Africa is defined is increasingly global, not African."
In North America, reactions to poverty include contempt and embarrassment, she said, noting the removal of homeless people from Toronto streets for the city's Olympic bid.
Vainio-Mattila also spoke about the economic relationships between developed countries and Africa.
"Development aid may have begun as a humanitarian effort to facilitate the reconstruction of Europe, but has, over time, evolved into an increasingly reactive industry, facilitating the credit and debt management to the advantage of the creditor," she said.
Examples of failed projects include bridges that lead to nowhere and logging projects that destroy unique species, she said.
Vainio-Mattila summed up the relationship between the Western world and Africa with an analogy.
"The West may be the gift horse to Africa, but part of the problem is that the gift horse has developed rotten teeth in Africa," she said. "It has come ostensibly bearing gifts, but in reality, it has been feasting on the sweetness of Africa, on its natural and cultural diversity and complexity.
"Now it has a toothache and is expecting Africa to pay the dental bills."
Mike Gretes, a third-year biology student and president of Western's Oxfam club, said the lecture was very informative.
"The best part was bringing issues of poverty into a real life context we wouldn't normally hear this on the news," he said.
African Students' Association vice-president, Jola Omole, said the lecture was part of a three day ASA awareness effort called "Wananchi," meaning "Our People."
"We wanted to be more involved with the Western community [by] promoting African culture and dispelling any myths about Africa," she said.
Copyright © The Gazette 2001