Monday, November 16, 2009

Sierra Leone's Developmental Crisis

My lecture today, in my World Politics class, was on developmental strategies in less developed countries.

I wrapped up some of the discussion from last week, and before starting an outline on the board, I read this passage from yesterday's article in the Los Angeles Times, "
Sierra Leone Crises Have Global Reach":

Sierra Leone is one of those nations where decades of foreign aid have failed to appreciably lift the fortunes of the people. The country is a charity case: 60% of its public spending comes from foreign governments and nonprofit organizations. Since 2002, it has received more than $1 billion in aid.

Yet it has the second-highest rate of infant mortality in the world, behind Angola; even Afghanistan ranks lower. The United Nations says 1 in 8 women die giving birth in Sierra Leone; the rate in the United States is 1 in 4,800. Life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 41 years; in Bangladesh it's 60.

A decade-long civil war in the 1990s drove people from the countryside into the capital, Freetown, and today a city built for 250,000 is home to 10 times that number. Tens of thousands camp out in shacks on a lush mountainside with views of the Atlantic but no clean water or electricity.
I actually read just one sentence at a time, interspersed with commentary (and I looked around at the faces of my students, who were both kind of shocked and saddened).

We've been talking about all of these things in class, for example dependency theory critiques of foreign aid; the U.N.'s Human Developmental Index, with combines indices like life expectancy and the literacy rate to rank nations on a scale of quality of life; and the concept of "urban primacy," which is the idea that big cities are urban magnets in the Third World. There's not many prospects in working the land for most of the population (and there might not be much of an agricultural sector in Sierra Leone in any case), and overcrowding and poverty mean that huges swathes of humanity will live in shanty towns in the slums or foothills of the cities. I have a lot of students in class who've lived or traveled around the world, from Brazil to Egypt to the Philippines. Sometimes we just talk, like last Wednesday. I just asked students who had traveled in the developing world. One of my students immigrated to the United States from Argentina in 2001.

It's been a good semester, at least in that class. More about that later.