Faith & Reason: Real giving is altruistic - it expects nothing in return

The Commission for Africa's report asks us to focus on the nature of giving. In the case of Africa we have been not so much giving as receiving

Share

Africa is the home of resilient grandmothers. I've met some of them, and they have my deepest admiration. Left to bring up the next generation when their own adult children have fallen victim to Aids, these women bear the full brunt of Africa's problems today. Waking up every day with a dozen small mouths to feed on virtually no income is not an easy prospect. Far too many of them face acute poverty, poor sanitation, malaria, insufficient access to safe water, and limited provisions for educating the young. And there is no evidence that the daily task of caring for toddlers and children grows easier with old age. "How do you manage?" I asked Esther, aged 70. "I pray," she replied.

Africa is the home of resilient grandmothers. I've met some of them, and they have my deepest admiration. Left to bring up the next generation when their own adult children have fallen victim to Aids, these women bear the full brunt of Africa's problems today. Waking up every day with a dozen small mouths to feed on virtually no income is not an easy prospect. Far too many of them face acute poverty, poor sanitation, malaria, insufficient access to safe water, and limited provisions for educating the young. And there is no evidence that the daily task of caring for toddlers and children grows easier with old age. "How do you manage?" I asked Esther, aged 70. "I pray," she replied.

Africa is the only continent to have become poorer over the last 30 years. The 10 per cent of the world's poor who lived in Sub-Saharan Africa in 1970 had multiplied to 50 per cent by 2000. And, in spite of the decisive commitment of the "millennium goals" to eradicate extreme poverty, reduce child mortality, achieve universal education and combat Aids by 2015, the reality is that here there has been almost no progress. International debt, corruption in high places, inadequate communications and nagging issues of trade justice have compounded the problems.

What is very clear is that Africa needs more money. And, as the Commission on Africa's report says, that money needs to come from aid and the release of debt, promised by the G7 finance ministers last month. If Africa's grandmothers are to have even a fighting chance of nurturing their grandchildren into adulthood, it must be the sort of aid and debt relief which filters down to them, addressing their needs and building up the kinds of infrastructures that they can begin to rely on.

The problem is that, in the past, despite our many promises, rich countries have not been very good at giving to Africa. What we have called "giving" has in fact been a product of varied motives. Aid in the 1970s and 1980s, for example, was mixed up in the politics of the Cold War. It provided an effective way for the West to gain strategic allies and counter Russian influence in the Third World. Aid was also tied up with prestigious but not very useful projects: expensive equipment often sat idle because local electricity generators could not supply the power needed. Aid has been linked with the sale of arms, often with disastrous consequences. It was used to support corrupt regimes. Money meant for Africa came back to the West in private bank accounts. (As recently as 2002 corruption was estimated to cost Africa $150bn.) Because our giving was often compromised, so were the results, doing harm as well as good.

Crippling debt repayment has also meant that the net flow of money travelled from Africa to the West rather than the other way round. For every $1 given in aid, $3 came back to rich countries in interest repayments. Giving was really receiving. Currency devaluations made matters worse. Whereas the devaluation of the American dollar reduced US debts to the rest of the world, the devaluation of African currencies increased their debt, making the burden of repayment impossible. And much aid never arrived; little of the 0.7 per cent of GDPs promised 30 years has been given.

In all these cases Western giving has been compromised or illusory. We have often given to the powerful rather than to the poor and our motives have been at best ambiguous and at worst self-serving. It may be that, in order to be serious about the aid detailed by the Africa Commission, we need to reflect on what it really means to give.

There can be few places which make the demands of giving so explicit as Christ's Sermon on the Mount. For he strips away anything which smacks of self-interest, or future gains. Instead, real giving is an outworking of neighbour love. It is just and impartial; it does not discriminate between people or show favours. Real giving is altruistic; it operates on the principle of not wanting anything back, expecting nothing in return. It is abundant and generous: "a good measure, pressed down". Real giving is not ostentatious or patronising, but flows quietly from those with resources to those in need. In fact it is only God who fully recognises the depth of what is given and reciprocates.

This may be the kind of giving we need if we are to dismantle trade barriers with Africa and the subsidies which undercut the wages of African farmers. It is this sort of giving which could fund new roads, power grids and higher education. In fact, only this kind of giving will allow us to double our aid budget, and cancel debts. Yet even to give like this is well within our capacity and barely dents our wealth. The bigger givers by far are Africa's grandmothers, for they give all they have.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss