Should the west try to ‘save’ the third world?

And other questions of a politically incorrect nature.

So, I’ve been reading The Rainmaker, by Michael Martin. In the book, a young, brilliant female engineer (the aptly named JC) is invited to implement an ambitious irrigation project in the fictitious African country of Adi Baran. In the arid eastern area of the country, the starving populace live and starve in squatters’ camps, surviving more or less on aid deliveries. JC, accompanied by her love-struck best friend MJ, sets out to bring a sustainable solution, supported by cashed-up international donors. However, JC’s instability and the conflicting values of local politicians spell trouble for the fledgling project.

Which made me think about the whole deal of Western aid projects and such.

You could, for instance, take the view that Western donors shouldn’t be marching into African countries building dams and so on, and whatever ensues is a result of Western hubris. One thinks of World Bank projects gone awry and suchlike.

Or you could argue that these things are inevitably fucked up by the endemic corruption of African government and society, and that this – in its turn – is the result of colonial imperialism. If we hadn’t they wouldn’t be and so on and so forth.

Or you could say, no, it’s just that ‘Western’ notions of progress don’t fit into African nations’ ideas about what matters and who matters. And who doesn’t. Mind you anyone who has watched politicians almost openly bribing their electorate with promised carparks and sporting facilities, etc (here in Australia we call it pork barrelling) or giving their friends coveted posts in the diplomatic service would have to admit that African politicians don’t have dibs on tribalism and corruption.

It is a funny (well no, tragic) thing that intervention in Africa, for good or ill, rarely seems to work out well. Assassinating democratically elected presidents (Patrick Lumumba in Congo) aside, there’s patented seeds and other agricultural products of dependence, dams that screw up river systems, deforestation, the generous contributions of our arms industries to African conflicts, blah blah blah. And no matter how much food we donate, some part of Africa seems perpetually starving and/or fleeing. Is it the nature of Africa to be how Africa is (due to the influence of geography, culture or, more dangerous to argue, genetics) or a result/continuation of Western exploitation? Or a combination of both? Recall that there was a time when Romans must have said to themselves of the British, ‘Doesn’t matter what you do for these bloody northern barbarians, they’ll still piss in the balnearium and paint themselves blue. We give them roads, laws, public toilets,’ such a Roman might have said, ‘And are they grateful? The fuck they are!’

I’ve never been to Africa, but it’s seemed to me, on visiting India, that the average Indian is pretty annoyed by the power structures that keep the poor in their mud huts and the rich in their nightclubs. Most of us, everywhere, are, but find ourselves unable to do much about it. But the more glaring the distinction is, the more ignorant the deprived masses and the more complacent the one percent, the more that country will start to fall into moral decay – at both ends. People are inclined to the good but when millionnaires wallow, the upper middle class congratulates itself on its well-earned good fortune and beggars lie down to die in the street, people learn to care less about each other. Or so my theory goes.

Anyway, The Rainmaker is an interesting exploration, not only (or even mainly) for the questions it raises about attempts to ‘do good’ in third world countries, but of the relationship between the gifted but troubled JC and her friend MJ, with her self-destructive crush on the heroine of the hour. I found the novel well written and thought provoking. You can download it free here.



  1. In Africa it’s the same resentiment as in India: People and politicians are fed up with Western Politicians and their overbearing, bossy demands. The Chinese, they just come and help, building infrastructure and industry, not asking much in return. Same with the Russians to a smaller extent.
    Compare that with Nigeria, which was transformed into a stinkin oil puddle by American oil companies.
    That’s why many African countries are rather unfriendly when they’re visited by Western diplomats.
    West: Lecturing, belittling, acting like colonial masters
    East: Helping, investing, building

    1. That’s not entirely true. All of those countries that accepted help from the Chinese are now learning that the help did come with strings. They have to toe the Chinese line or China starts throwing its weight around. It’s a different kind of colonialism, but it’s colonialism nonetheless.

      1. Of course. Nothing is for free. The Chinese are building the infrastructure as part of belt and road initiative and don’t expect any political turmoil that could slow down the progress.

        Similar to the Nordstream fukky-uppy. Germans first ask Russia for the cheap gas, Russia says okay, starts building the new pipeline, in Germany, Switzerland and Russia some companies are founded to make up the Nordstream Consortium. Everybody’s very excited … only the White House is not and so the fukn Gerries have not enough strength of character to tell the White House to go and sexually abuse itself and Scholz cancels the whole thing 20 meters before completion. We were set up to be the European gas hub, giant bizniz was as good as secured. And now Germany’s going down with the rest of the bunch.

        But Africans were never America’s bestest buddies so they won’t be persuaded to ditch China that easily.

      2. It’s not just internal turmoil that the Chinese are concerned about. They also expect these countries to support China’s international adventures, to never speak ill of China’s human rights abuses, and to support or remain at least neutral on China’s efforts vis-a-vis the U.S.

      3. For the record … I am an American and I have spent my adult life disgusted with our imperialistic and colonial tendencies and what that has produced around the world.

      4. “I have spent my adult life disgusted with our imperialistic and colonial tendencies and what that has produced around the world.”
        No need to mention. 😉

        “to support China’s international adventures,”
        What adventures? Doing bizniz? It’s not an inherently western treat or privilege.

        “to never speak ill of China’s human rights abuses”
        What human right abuses? The Uyghurs? Don’t tell me you fell for that antiganda lie.
        Altogether we must accept that China is a commie country. It is what it is, but it’s not Mao’s communism anymore. The chinks have proven themselves as remarkably adaptable and have now in day-to-day life more democracy for the people than all of our western so-called democracies. Did you know that the govt is sending out ballots to all citizens on a regular basis on which every Chinese citizen can cast their vote on various decisions: Build new highway thru your city, new train station? What candidate for mayor, abandon old university, replace with office building or factory? All that hands-on-stuff is put directly to the people.
        Admittedly the party does a rather robust governance. It’s just far too many people to treat everybody like a special snowflake. Be a shitty person – hello firing squad. 😮

      5. Nothing I’ve said would suggest I think “international adventures” are an “inherently western treat or privilege.”

        Are you seriously suggesting there are no issues with China’s treatment of the Uyghurs? (And, by the way, I’m by no means suggesting that the U.S. or the West has a sterling human rights record either.)

        As for the democracy you describe … do they publish the results and actually comply with the majority vote on all of those things?

      6. “Nothing I’ve said would suggest I think “international adventures” are an “inherently western treat or privilege.””
        By complaining about it you’re kinda denying them the right to act like we western assholes do. And real life politics proves me right. Guess why Asian, African and South-American govts are sending their western “visitors” home without caving in to their selfish, silly, hamfull demands any longer?

        “Are you seriously suggesting there are no issues with China’s treatment of the Uyghurs? (And, by the way, I’m by no means suggesting that the U.S. or the West has a sterling human rights record either.)”
        Not that I know of, actually. When you look a bit deeper into the Uyghurs affair you’ll learn that most of them don’t speak a word of Chinese, so the govt offered them the opportunity to learn Chinese, coz it gives them a real benefir in today’s Sino-centric world. The busses come every day to transport the volunteering citizens into the next town with a language school. Participation IS NOT mandatory. And there are no camps.

        “As for the democracy you describe … do they publish the results and actually comply with the majority vote on all of those things?”
        Gee, I hope so. Else why would they put those obviously carefully curated ballots out there for every dummy to have a word in? Told ya, they are robust people handlers and most probably not the champions when it comes to human rights. But for a commie country and a people who never before knew freedom I guess they are doing quite well and are on a good path. And let’s not forget, no Chinese is homeless or goes hungry. They fuxn feed over 1.4 billion peeps ffs!!! And you know how we humans are: A full belly is closer to our brains than a perfect govt.

      7. Hate to break it to you, but the logical inconsistencies your comments are riddled with leaves you with no credibility. And let me anticipate your next reply …”what inconsistencies” … and that’s exactly the problem. Have a great day. I’m done with you.

      8. Besides the inconsistencies … “nobody in China goes hungry”? You can’t possibly be serious. All you’re doing by saying things like that is demonstrating that you’ve bought – hook, line, and sinker – pro-China propaganda.

      9. “Have a great day. I’m done with you.”

        “you’ve bought – hook, line, and sinker – pro-China propaganda.”
        Oh. I thought you’re done. 😮
        About the propaganda, instead of throwing a childish tantrum, prove me wrong. Or stop calling my reasonings inconsistent.

  2. I’ve thought about this a lot in connection with Afghanistan after we went in and drove Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda out and over threw the Taliban. We threatened to bring modern democracy to the country and the population clear was having none of that. We utterly failed in our efforts and the country is no better off now than it was more than 20 years ago when we invaded. Some countries either aren’t ready for modern Western values or simply don’t want them. But we insist on continuing to try. Why? I don’t know.

      1. I am not sure I understand what your definitions of freedom and democracy are and I would like that you elucidate more, if that’s not a hard ask.
        I also want to know what makes them uniquely modern and Western.

      2. I’m not talking about my values. I’m talking about the “values” Western leaders try to force, impose or cajole upon less developed nations. I don’t agree with much of it. So I’m uncomfortable, in this forum, trying to explain something I don’t necessarily believe in or support.

      3. Our values of freedom and democracy…. well I’d define them provisionally as freedom, the right to live as we like as long as we’re not harming others, and democracy, that the governed should decide who governs them and be able to participate in government. You know, for the people, by the people. Not that the west actually implements these ideas wholly or perfectly, and it certainly doesn’t export them perfectly either. But I think they’re universally applicable ideas and they work. Otherwise why aren’t we all flocking to authoritarian countries instead of the reverse? Only, people have to demand rights for themselves, they can’t be imposed

      4. I agree that they are universally applicable ideals, but rarely implemented without the damage human hubris, arrogance, and hate brings along with them. Unfortunately.

      5. I am too … but only for those who want them. I’m exhausted by the decades and decades we’ve spent trying to impose them on others. Instead of that, we should be taking care of our own house and setting a better example of what could be.

      6. By the way, I hope you don’t think my original comment was somehow condoning what western nations, including the US, do in the Third World.

      7. Laughable marketing trick. Sounds good – nobody believes in them anyway.

      8. “Soviet invasion”
        Far as I know the Soviet army was invited/called for by the Afghan govt, which was commie at the time. And because the CIA funded Mujaheddin caused trouble, the soviet army was called for help.

        It’s always the same playbook, you know? Syria for example. CIA founds and funds ISIS, so Syria calls Moscow for help. In fact was Russia the only officially invited country in Syria, all the others were invading. USA is still occupying 1/3 of Syria, holding the population at ransom and stealing all the oil. 😦

      9. “I don’t subscribe to that.”
        You don’t have to. See if the world cares. 😐 These unfree women – they don’t know and different, it’s their way of existence since thousands of years. And as I always say, at the end of the day a warm bed to lay in and a warm soup in your belly are much more important than the wildly illogical ideals of some uncouth non-believing Western bitches.

      1. Afghanistani tribespeople don’t like any form of govt, the Afghani govt was commie as well. So America armed the Mujaheddin and sicced them on the govt. That’s how the whole circus got started. And now the Mujaheddin are Taliban and kicked the Americans out as well.
        Told ya, that country is ungovernable.

      2. I think a lot of Afghans probably did and do want freedom and a say in what happens and who rules. They’ve just never had one and probably they’re used to it. Plus nobody wants democracy at the end of a gun. Also I think order is preferable to chaos, even if it’s imposed by the Soviets, the Taliban or Saddam Hussein. Great power interventions are always destructive, however. My brother was in Afghanistan before the Soviet invasion and it was not a bad place to be, any more than India is now.

      3. I agree with you. I see Afghanistan as an incredibly impoverished country where most people are just trying to survive. They have little time for things like democracy and if the local warlord or tribal leader is giving them some sense of stability where the central government seems almost completely absent and invisible, I’m pretty certain they will go with the local leader every time. I’m still trying to come up with an example of when democracy being forced on a people at the end of a gun was actually successful over the long haul.

        I read a book written by a Brit who walked through Afghanistan shortly after the Taliban fell. His description of the countryside, the towns and villages, and the people who live in those places … these were not people ready for “democracy,” whatever we may mean by that. And this is not meant to be pejorative. Not at all. One of the things I object to is the idea that our version of democracy and freedom is better than anything else and everybody should aspire to it. No. That’s actually wrong in all its arrogance.

      4. Yeah, agree. But it can also be arrogant to think that human values are not universal. I had it put to me once that while women here appreciate being in charge of their own lives, women in Saud Arabia prefer having to go around in sacks with their male relatives. I don’t subscribe to that. We all want the same things, freedom, order, choice, control over our bodies. Also, when we can get it, the power to limit these things for others.

      5. Agreed. I was going to add something to my last comment, but didn’t. I think I will now. I remember reading a book about Africa a number of years ago. I no longer remember the title or what specifically the book was about, but the author talked of going to villages and comparing western lifestyles with those in the villages. The villagers thought it was hilarious that people would work as much as we westerners do. They didn’t “work” the way we think about it, but I’m sure they took care of their villages and their families and had a whole lot more leisure time than we westerners will ever have. There are different paths to freedom, order, choice and control.

        Our biggest failing in the west is that we think everybody wants the capitalism and consumer-driven economy that we have. They don’t. Maybe we can learn something from the rest of the world.

  3. The problems in Africa are diverse and complex. Tomes have been written on what should be done to effect change. There are also contradictions in the proposals from financial institutions. There are contradictions regarding patents, IP regimes and of course colonialism- neo or otherwise.

    1. So what do you think makagutu? Should the west just butt out and leave Africa to sort itself out? Although of course China will step in, which ultimately will be a new colonialism.

  4. OK, I’ve been considering this (Should the west try to ‘save’ the third world?) since I first saw it a couple of days back, but I’ve been hoarding resources in order to write what will certainly be an epic analysis of the question and answer, especially in light of the blizzard of BS your comments have attracted from the rah-rah Commie-Bot. But I’m stocked now with coffee and snacks, so here we go:


    Oh. THAT was a lot simpler than I expected. Well, uhmm… to ride my bike, then.

    (Completely unrelated: Reading your short story collection “City of Stone”. Big thumbs up!)

    1. As always, I’m frankly relieved that you like it…city of stone. No, then. Ha ha. I’ve been reading Peter Singer on practical ethics and the necessity of saving as many people as you can. Am composing, in my head, a refutation as I don’t want to give up coffee and don’ts for the poor

      1. “…relieved…”

        Well, it’s nice to feel like my opinion matters a whit in any context, but I suspect you may be over-valuing it a tad…I’m just this guy, y’know?

        You’re a good writer, which in my occasionally-sorta literary dabbling is high praise. But frankly, it seems obvious enough that anyone would pretty much have to agree with me.

      2. I wrote a serious comment on all this, but it got lost in cyberspace, so for now I’ll say something unserious:

        I can’t help mentioning, in all this talk of one culture’s saving another, that Australia is responsible for having imported two self-styled saviors directly to my town (of Princeton, New Jersey in the US). One is Clement Meadmore, a crusading sculptor with an obsession for phallically-inspired sculpture. And the other is…Peter Singer! Are we not owed reparations for this?

        In fairness, Australia has given us AC/DC. So maybe we’re even.

  5. kingmidget sez: “The villagers thought it was hilarious that people would work as much as we westerners do. ”

    Ah, the “noble savage” delusion. Guilty whiteboy western colonialism at it’s most comical.

    Dude, no one is preventing anyone from living however they want — a mud hut, a teepee out on the prairie, a peaceful palm-frond village in the bush, hunting your daily allowance with a stick out in the Kalahari, dying in a comfy hammock surrounded by your loving tribe as the parasites make you shit your life away, or as the infection from slipping on a sharp rock while reaching for mangoes eats your leg — (shrug) who’s stopping you? Or anyone else?

    Proceed forthwith, that’s my vote.

    But I ain’t funding your delusion. Be prepared to live the standard of living that comes with it (i.e., without your armchair activist lifestyle). You know. Without all that EEEVILE capitalism and all that devil’s work provides you — say, for example, the computer you’re reading this on that would feed a village of relaxed hammock-dwellers for a couple of months.

    If you’re really up for giving this laid-back Hollywood-version life a shot, I’ll send along some “life on the frontier” video links to get you started. And good luck!

    (PS: I don’t actually think kingmidget is that bad — but presenting this sort of facile “good ol’ days/Last Of The Mohicans/Dances With Wolves”-world wishful thinking for a lifestlyle and time that never really existed as a solution to anything is vaguely annoying.)

    1. I don’t think my friend kingmidget can be called an armchair activist. If anything, and he will correct me if I’m wrong, he’s slightly on the conservative side of things? I shouldn’t speak for him, just worried he’s already feeling battered by weirdo whatsername from outer space.

      1. Yeah, I’ve already classified her deep into my “whackadoo kneejerk propagandist bot” listings, and count it as a positive mark on the day if I manage to skip reading any of her weirdness at every opportunity presented.

        And I’ve no beef with kindmidget — seems like a nice enough guy. But, as we all do, he occasionally wanders out of the travel lane which, to be fair, I rarely notice one way or the other.

        It’s probably my issue, not his, but the “happy natives and their healthy primitive lifestyles” crapola that’s gained currency in the popular imagination since the 60s just gets right up my skirt, along with the crystal gazers and people who engender good health by presenting their buttholes to the sunrise.

        No I did NOT make that up.

        The few issues I have with capitalism are, in fact, all related to the problem that it provides such a vast amount of resources and spare time that even your basic over-tanned California mouth-breathers can indulge their spectacular awfulness just like they were doing something that made a lick of sense, and justify it as social relevance.


        Anyhow, apologies to him if he took offense.

    2. Personally I don’t know how Africans, not to say they’re a homogeneous group, view their situation. Probably people want the best of both worlds. For instance Australian indigenous people complain with justification of the effects of colonisation but I suspect would keep aspects of the colonisers lifestyle if given a choice, houses or humpies, tap water or trekking it to the billabong, catching your dinner or buying it, etc. Now they have the worst of both worlds, junk food crap housing broken plumbing. Mix advanced technological cultures with the other thing and you get a godawful mess which will hopefully be sorted out by time. And can we save Africa? Nope, though it was a tongue in cheek question. Help some when asked, yes.

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