William Charles Tinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Sat, 17 Sep 2005 11:14:45 -0400


Sep. 17, 2005

Making eye contact with Africa

I have often wondered why, when I meet a homeless person or beggar in the
streets of Toronto, with his or her hand out for money, I give to some and
bypass others, trying desperately to avoid eye contact with the latter. If
you do make eye contact, it is much more difficult to avoid helping, as then
a personal bond, albeit a minor one, has been established.
The response to a request for money usually is dependent on many factors:
How close do you feel to the problem? Is the cause worthy of support? How do
you feel personally that day? Do you know the person asking for support and
his or her status in the community? There are a myriad of other factors,
mostly less important, but on a special occasion perhaps all-important.
In some instances, a particular condition can play differently for different
people, or play differently for the same person at different times. I give
as an example a request for a handout in the pouring rain. You might hurry
away without giving to avoid getting wet, or alternatively feel so
sympathetic toward someone out in the rain that you stop and help.
When a major charity is looking for a person to head its organization, it
usually chooses a person with money, someone who has had a relationship with
the cause being promoted. If a rich man has survived cancer, he would make
an ideal candidate for a cancer fundraising campaign.
Self-interest is the great motivator in human affairs, and raising money for
charity is no different
When the tsunami struck in Asia, the world response was instantaneous. Money
poured into the agencies working in the area at a very fast rate. We felt
the need to help because we could relate to the situation. The feeling was
"there but for the grace of God go I."
Raising money is not an exact science in the Western world. It does not have
to be. We manage with the majority of citizens being looked after one way or
the other. We call it charity, not perfect but functional.
Africa presents a unique problem. Today and tomorrow, thousands of children
will die of starvation and curable diseases. The pictures fill our
newspapers but nothing really changes in a permanent way. Even if the money
is forthcoming, there are other major problems. Many African leaders are
dictators who funnel the money into their own pockets, or give the aid only
to their supporters. A solution might be found if outside agencies were
allowed to administer aid without interference. The United Nations would
have to act in this regard.
Western pharmaceutical companies have a major part to play in curing
sickness in that sorry continent. Ninety per cent of research is done on
illnesses that affect 10 per cent of the global population. Very little
research is done on sleeping sickness, trachoma, river blindness, rotavirus,
malaria and other illnesses not common to the industrialized world. Tax
incentives, as an act of charity by our governments, should be given to drug
companies that do this type of research.
The price differential for goods and capital between rich and poor countries
is between 50 and 100 per cent. The wage differential is between 500 to
1,000 per cent. It would help these countries if unskilled workers were
allowed to work in the West for designated periods of time, with their
return to their home country guaranteed. The money would be going to the
most needy.
Who among you reading this article has not felt a pang of guilt about this
continuing situation? What have you done? What have I done? Relatively
nothing! We come from countries and religious creeds that talk about helping
the sick and needy. In the end it is all lip service. This is not about
bringing food to a food bank so Canadians can get a little more to eat.
Nobody is starving in Canada. Nobody is dying of untreated AIDS in Canada.
Whole countries in Africa will soon collapse because the community leaders
and health-care workers are sick and cannot function. We cannot allow this
to continue. There will be a price to pay in the West.
Maybe I am a naive do-gooder but the most important need of any people in
any nation is justice. The oldest recorded version of this precept stems
from the 6th century B.C.. "What I hold good for self, I should for all."
How long would a Western government last in power if it allowed its people
to die of AIDS and starvation? We cannot allow this injustice to continue.
I want to make eye contact with the people of Africa. I personally want to
make a difference. I cannot do it on my own. I feel helpless to contribute
in a meaningful way. So add a line to our tax returns titled "For Africa,"
and tax Canadians based on a percentage of how much tax they pay now and
send the money to Africa, not from the Canadian government but from the
people of Canada. That would put me directly in the loop and I believe most
Canadians would feel good about the process.

Murray Rubin is a former member of the Star's community editorial board.