In which countries have ordinary people recently protested because of unemployment and poverty?
Use the dictionary to check the meaning fo the words you are unsure of. oppressed, discontent, revolt, profitable, exploitation, pollution, executed, illiteracy, witnessed, immoral, exploit, restrain, rural, suicide
The socio-political make-up of developing countries has traditionally divided the population into a small and often corrupt elite, a merchant middle class and a large majority which are poor. The latter live on less than two dollars per day. Often the oppressed majority live in brutal police states where their discontent has no means of bringing about social change. The elite, in cooperation with international companies and corrupt government officials, skim the profits from the sale of, among other things, the countries’ natural resources. They then deposit the profits in secret accounts abroad. Any signs of revolt which threaten profitable business dealings are crushed. A classic case is Royal Dutch Shell in Nigeria. When leaders of the people in the oil rich Ogoni region protested against the exploitation and pollution in their area, they were executed by the Nigerian state.
Recent demonstrations reflect the relationship between unemployment, poverty and revolt. These revolts are crushed by authoritarian leaders, often generals who use the military and police as their weapons against the discontented masses. However, recent developments suggest that changes are taking place. First, there are the developments in South America. Hugo Chavez won an election in 1999 and started a program of nationalizing foreign companies’ properties, especially oil and gas. The profits were then redistributed to the people in forms of better education, health care, pensions and jobs. In the twelve years he has been president, the poverty rate has been reduced from 61% to 25%, illiteracy has been eliminated and Venezuela ranks 5th in terms of the total percentage of its population attending university. Chavez’s revolution has spread to other South American countries such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
More recently, the phenomenon of spreading revolt can be witnessed in the Middle East. Poverty, unemployment and rising food prices led to a revolt in Tunisia which has spread throughout the Middle East. The trend in the Middle East is not new, but was first seen in Egypt’s student revolts in the 1970s. Students discovered that they were graduating into unemployment. In their bitterness and frustration they turned to radical religious movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Not only were they frustrated with their lack of job opportunities, but they also were disgusted with corruption and the immoral behavior of their leaders. Thus they sought meaning to their lives by joining Islamist movements that emphasized the moral ideas of the Koran. At the same time they staged political revolts against their leaders and the USA which supported those leaders. The result was a radicalization of the younger population which led to terrorist bombings of American embassies, the USS Cole and 9/11. In the 1970s, radical Muslim groups were able to exploit the students’ discontent through the Muslim Brotherhood which is still active in Egypt. It is the most organized of the groups involved in the demonstrations. The question is whether they will be able to exploit discontent for their own political purposes, which is the establishment of an Islamic state based on Sharia law. The other possibility is the establishment of democratic governments across the region. One interesting point is that the revolts have involved people from all classes and age groups which could restrain the radicalization.
Poverty in Africa is similar to that in the Middle East with one difference—economic growth. The projected GDP (gross domestic product—the sum of all goods and services sold in an economy) growth is 6% for Africa as a whole (http://www.twst.com/yagoo/serumatHREE.html). However, this does not necessarily mean considerable reduction in poverty. There are many factors involved when poverty is to be reduced such as corruption, health, education and a fair redistribution of the profits. A fair distribution of the benefits of economic growth requires a democratic, corruption-free government and unfortunately most African countries have not met these criteria. Whether the people’s reaction will be the same in Africa as in the Middle East remains to be seen.
Asia in terms of poverty and unrest is a more complex picture. Both China and India have raised hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and are establishing a middle class. However, many hundreds of millions are left in poverty and the growing gap between the urban successes and the remaining rural poverty is a source of conflict. In India, over 250,000 farmers have committed suicide since 1997 due to their desperate situation. In other Asian countries, such as Bangladesh and Pakistan, the situation is worse with very little progress being made to reduce poverty. Add to this periodic flooding in low-lying areas and the situation is even worse.
With over half of the world’s population living on less than two dollars per day, radical reform is necessary. The question is whether the changes in Latin America and the demonstrations in the Middle East will encourage the necessary reforms.
- Do you think the international community could and should do more to improve the situation in countries like Nigeria or is it a national responsibility?
- What do you think will be the results of the demonstartions in the Middle East? Will they lead to the necessary reforms?
Search the Internet for recent reports of unrest in an English-speaking country in Africa or Asia. Make notes and tell a classmate what you found out.