‘Checks and Balances’

March 9, 2010 | Jessica, intern, Ghana, Child Rights Initiative

I was sitting with my Plan Ghana colleagues one evening after work discussing some of the differences in our respective conceptions of social development and was struck by something my supervisor said. We were on the topic of the ever popular gap between the rich and the poor. I had been saying that although I realized that the relative overall wealth of Canada was more than that of Ghana, I still believe that a successful development approach should be more holistic and inclusive if humanity will ever succeed in bridging this gap. We arrived at the notion of ‘checks and balances’ and my supervisor elaborated on his belief that while the ‘survival of the fittest is the model’ that has framed successful economic development discourse, there remains a need for the rich to check on the poor and vice versa in order to achieve balance. I thought to myself that this take on development discourse sounds much more human.

I was reminded of the ancient Roman civilization’s system of patronage in which the rich have a responsibility to the poor to provide them with opportunities for upward social mobility while the poor would provide support and assistance in return. I have been overwhelmed in my attempts to reconcile my own criticisms of the Western style of development with the obstacles faced by an emerging African model for development in Ghana.

Ghana is regarded in many facets as an African success story by way of its peaceful political state and growing economy, but I can’t help but see a looming spectre of inequality in this hopeful nation’s future. It is the sweeping hand of globalization which guides all forms of development; thus foreshadowing a growing trend toward rampant consumer based individualism. If there is one thing that outshines all else I have observed about this country, it is the pride of the people in welcoming visitors of all walks of life while sharing everything selflessly. However, as I have seen, the distribution of wealth is staggeringly uneven and has begun to define a stark contrast between the wealthy and the poor in terms of cultural unity.

Among some of the more remote, rural communities in which I have been conducting research, there is a lingering sense of community which has been sustained by cultural practices and relative isolation. In the capital of Accra however, this unity is slowly breaking down as the metropolis races toward the goal of economic prosperity above all else. This gap is where an organization like Child Right International or Plan Ghana can find a niche. In the midst of all this economic determinism emerges the cry for help by those left behind, the children who will shape the future of Ghana. So in hearing this cry for help, these two organizations aim at mobilizing a generation of Ghanaians through the provision of education for all by making it a national priority. Then it occurs to me, the NGO is the vehicle for bridging the perpetual gap between rich and poor.

The catch is that such an organization may only function where awareness has been created thus demanding that the rich check on the poor in the form of support for these organizations, and also that the poor check on the rich by mobilizing themselves to accept and effectively utilize donations and other forms of support for development. It seems that if at the heart of the matter, one could always find human welfare rather than economic prosperity, terms like ‘survival of the fittest’ might not be applied to humans, and those such as ‘checks and balances’ could take on a more human meaning. After all, we are one species.

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