Examples of Development by Omission

Perhaps people in rich countries like to believe that some of their country’s wealth supports people in developing countries. They may think too much money or too little money goes to developing countries and they may approve of development aid or they may disapprove. But they are less likely to realise that rich countries extract exponentially larger amounts of wealth from developing countries than they give in aid.

So instead of arguing for more aid money or less aid money or different ways of distributing it, people who feel strongly about development could lobby their governments to consider how rich countries could reduce the extent to which they impoverish poor countries. Below, I’ve compiled a list of 24 ways this could be done. This is what I call ‘development by omission’ and it will be noticed that every item in this list represents highly unethical behaviour, perhaps even criminal behaviour.

  1. Stop grabbing land in developing countries for food, resources, biofuels, etc, and return the huge tracts of land that have been grabbed during previous imperialist regimes.
  2. Stop growing biofuels, which only benefit rich countries (if they benefit anyone at all) and effectively steal water, land and other resources from developing countries. Biofuels mainly use food crops, so this also drives up the prices that people in developing countries have to pay for vital goods.
  3. Stop using developing countries as sources of raw materials and natural resources. Monocultures such as coffee, tea, cotton, sisal, cocoa and others keep people in developing countries in penury. They also waste land that should be used for food production.
  4. Stop trying to palm off genetically modified (GM) crops on developing countries, especially under the pretext that this will make them more food secure and will solve food shortages. GM crops represent higher costs and lower profits for farmers, even in the rich countries for which they were originally developed. They also make farmers less self reliant and more vulnerable to various hazards, natural and otherwise.
  5. Stop using developing countries as sources of cheap labour, especially in the growing of monoculture crops, non-food crops and crops intended for export. Export Processing Zones (EPZ) have been set up so that foreign companies can avoid meeting even minimum labour regulations, as well as avoiding paying tax.
  6. Stop allowing foreign companies tax holidays and other benefits that are not available to people in the developing country in question. Tanzanian companies that wish to exploit the country's rich reserves of gold, for example, cannot compete with foreign companies.
  7. Stop dumping cheap, subsidised goods, such as sugar and cotton, on developing country markets. Rich countries need to remove subsidies and allow developing countries to compete.
  8. Reverse unfair trade agreements, especially bilateral agreements, that allow rich countries to extract goods and services from developing countries so cheaply that the developing countries lose out.
  9. Stop aggressively recruiting skilled employees, such as doctors and nurses, which are in very short supply. Compensate adequately the countries who have lost most of their skilled employees over the years.
  10. Repeal the various structural adjustment policies and similar World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) strictures that reduce developing countries' ability to develop. Get rid of conditional aid, especially where those conditions are purely for the benefit of rich countries and are harmful to developing countries.
  11. Change the terms and conditions for loans so that repayment does not mean that the borrowers are barely able to service the debt each year and will not be free of debt for the foreseeable future.
  12. Get rid of ghost aid in its various forms. Much aid never reaches developing countries, some is a de facto subsidy for rich country products and services and some is debt cancellation or some other kind of expedient that makes it look as if aid is much higher than it really is. Get rid of purely supply led aid and interventions that are designed to benefit wealthy companies and NGOs.
  13. Stop huge capital projects, such as hydroelectric dams, which cause more damage than good and usually only benefit some western companies who build the structures.
  14. Where foreign companies are operating in developing countries, ensure that they pay proper wages and develop good working conditions. Also, ensure that they pay tax, at least at levels paid by people and companies from that company.
  15. Stop aid programmes that simply increase dependency and do nothing to improve conditions. Also, aid that destroys local markets, such as food aid that consists of donations in kind from rich countries.
  16. Stop selling unnecessary weaponry and other technologies, especially out of date technologies that are no longer of any use. Far from protecting developing countries from this kind of exploitation, many Western governments have been party to the exploitation. Also see ControlArms.org.
  17. Stop setting up and supporting puppet regimes and undemocratic, corrupt governments. Stop interfering in the running of countries purely for the benefit of rich countries.
  18. Stop encouraging developing countries to privatise public services and public utilities, especially where that involves those services and utilities being taken over by foreign companies.
  19. Stop exporting pollution by producing the most polluting products in developing countries, for example, force growing fruit and vegetables in Kenya and flying them to Europe.
  20. Stop dumping toxic waste and any other kind of wastes in developing countries, where they are unlikely to be treated responsibly. Stop dumping computers and other used goods where there is no demand for them and no capacity for processing the resulting waste.
  21. Stop stealing indigenous knowledge and indigenous crops, genes and plants. Stop putting patents on things that have been stolen from developing countries.
  22. Stop using developing countries as military and geopolitical pawns and pretending that this is a form of development.
  23. Stop using developing countries as markets for products that are difficult or impossible to sell elsewhere. Stop forcing products on people who can't afford the consequences, such as GM crops, baby milk formula, etc.
  24. Stop rich 'philanthropists' from using developing countries and their people for their experiments and their expansionist aspirations.

If rich countries stopped doing all or even some of the above, developing countries would be a lot better off. The paltry amounts of money spent on ‘aid’ would probably no longer be necessary. The number of people who live in poverty, suffer disease and other harm and who die unnecessarily as a result of rich countries’ practices of extracting wealth from developing countries could even seem like genocide. The list is by no means exhaustive.