June 24, 2023
The concept that economic development is a fundamental human right has been rejected by the United States, the United Nations, Europe, and all Western institutions, including Non-Government Organizations (NGOs). This failure to understand the essential, vital importance of promoting real-physical economic growth in developing nations has prevented the West from achieving its goals for human rights, good governance, and democracy, if they are even truly sincere about these objectives.
I concur with Zhang Weiwei when he writes: China has politically recognized poverty reduction as not only a human right, but also a core one…, in his column, China’s poverty eradication and implications for global human rights governance.
Zhang Weiwei is right: The United States has never considered poverty eradication as a human rights issue. I might add that the United Nations has officially refused China’s request to list economic development as a core human right.
However, contrary to the UN and U.S., the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, correctly states in Article 22:
All peoples shall have the right to their economic, social, and cultural development…States shall have the duty…to ensure the exercise of the right to development.
China has succeeded in lifting three quarters of a billion of its people out of poverty; a feat that the Western financial institutions could not accomplish with their monetarist policies. This has been achieved through a dedicated effort by the Chinese government over several decades. Should not concerned nations in the West, collaborate with China to eliminate poverty worldwide, as a shared common mission?
U.S. Has lost Its Vision for Development
As the U.S. vision for the world has shrunk and its culture corrupted, we have produced no statesman, much less a visionary leader, who can articulate a policy for uplifting humankind. There are no Kennedys, Roosevelts, or Lincolns, in the political class of America today. As a result, the notion of developing other nations, (much less our own) has virtually vanished from the American lexicon, and U.S. strategic policy. Tragically for the U.S. and the rest of the world, the diseased doctrine of geopolitics has become the dominant ideology in formulating foreign policy. In this warped creed, might makes right, and the desire to remain on top dominates, in a belief structure of a fixed zero-sum world. In this perverted mind-set, what drives a nation’s foreign policy is the thirst to maintain its power.
Demands for so called human rights, good governance, and the insistence for Western structured democracy, are not only terribly flawed, but in fact, have been used as weapons to bludgeon nations into accepting the dictates of the “rules-based international order.” This is the new term for geopolitical control by the West, with its unipolar view of the world, following the demise of the Soviet Union. China and Russia are wrongly viewed as enemies of the U.S. However, it should be understood that China and Russia China, along with an increasing number of nations in the expanding non-align movement are indeed a threat to the hegemony of the “rules-based order.
Again, I agree with Zhang Weiwei: “Only through development can poverty be eliminated, and the root causes of many conflicts be removed.” Allow me to extendthis line of reasoning by stating unequivocally: poverty is the enemy of human rights, the enemy of democracy, and the enemy of peace and stability.
Democracy and human rights are a cruel illusion: when almost half of one’s nation lives in poverty; when the majority of the citizens have no access to electricity; when mothers have to search for food each day to feed their children; when the lack of productive jobs forces young men and women to hustle for survival in the informal economy; and when families believe they have no long term economic security for the future.
Democracy is more than voting every four years. Democracy requires that its citizens have the material standard of living and leisure time to inform themselves so they can intelligently discuss and debate national policies that will impact the present and future of their nation. Electing candidates who will offer a meaningful and dignified life for its people, and hope for the future, requires a society with a culture that fosters a thinking citizenry. What makes us human is our creative imagination that allows us to discover the laws of the universe. Thus, each human being should have a rising standard of living that provides for one’s material needs and the freedom to nurture the creative potential of their mind.
Why isn’t the right to electricity a human right? Why isn’t the right to have a productive job a human right? Why isn’t the right to a quality education a human right? These omissions from the mantra of the “rules based order,” and the U.S. State Department, are glaring and fatal.
Common Aims of Humankind
A nation’s foreign policy towards other nations is clear and elementary, if one understands this crucial principle: all people share a universal similarity as members of the human species, who are uniquely endowed with the potential of creative reasoning. Thus, the interest of each nation is the same: the material and spiritual development of each of its citizens. Therefore, it is in the self-interest of each nation to cooperate with other nations to foster the enrichment of the mind, soul, and body of every human being. From this higher understanding of civilization, we redefine a nation’s relationship to the rest of the world, away from geopolitics to one of collaboration in creating a new paradigm based on economic development
It has not always been the case that U.S. foreign policy towards developing nations excluded economic development. President Franklin Roosevelt was appalled at the conditions of Africans living in British controlled colonies. Prime Minister Churchill was furious when President Roosevelt confronted him with this ugly reality. Elliott Roosevelt, President Roosevelt’s son, who was present at many of his father’s meeting with the Prime Minister, reports in his book, As He Saw It, their diametrically opposed view on colonialism.Elliott Roosevelt recalls a heated conversation, when his father told Churchill, that after the war he intended to dismantle the British Imperial system. President Roosevelt also told his son of his intention to help turn the Sahara Desert green with vegetation.
Sixty years ago, a young President, John Kennedy, reversed his predecessor’s aloofness towards Africa, and embraced the newly independent African nations. He made a commitment to assist in modernizing and industrializing their underdeveloped economies. This was most evident in President Kennedy’s agreement with Ghana President, Kwame Nkrumah, to support the construction of the Volta River Dam project. To this end, the Kennedy administration provided a $40 million loan for the hydroelectric dam and bauxite smelting manufacturing facility to produce aluminum.
When in the last five decades has the U.S. led any effort to assist an African, or developing nation, in significantly expanding its manufacturing capability?
In examining whether a nation’s foreign policy is successful or not, the criteria is obvious, and one that I have long ago adopted. Does it result in an improvement in the conditions of life? Does it lead to a reduction of poverty? If it does not, the policy should be discontinued, and replaced with a strategy to increase the production of physical economic wealth for the benefit of the people.
It is well past time for the “rules-based order” to be replaced with principles that benefit humankind. Principles are always superior to rules.
Read my earlier post: My Thoughts: Poverty & Ethnicity Kill Democracy in Africa
Lawrence Freeman is a Political-Economic Analyst for Africa, who has been involved in economic development policies for Africa for over 30 years. He is a teacher, writer, public speaker, and consultant on Africa. He is also the creator of the blog: lawrencefreemanafricaandtheworld.com. Mr. Freeman’s stated personal mission is; to eliminate poverty and hunger in Africa by applying the scientific economic principles of Alexander Hamilton