Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Madonna: A plea for Mercy

So then, did the world’s great leaders do anything concrete at the weekend to help the world’s poor? Well, the G20 leaders, resplendent in their bespoke suits, did agree to make $50bn available for the poor, by increasing the money the International Monetary Fund (IMF) can lend and providing finance to get trade going again.

But, let’s be realistic here: nobody in their right mind should think that this is in any way going to alleviate the plight of the poor, that the G20 summit is anything more than a mere beginning.

“A communiqué feeds no one,’’ says Adrian Lovett, director of campaigns for Save The Children. He’s right, of course. Words alone will not save a child’s life.

And poorer nations have been the hardest hit in the economic meltdown — with an additional 2.8 million people dying before their time in the next five years.

The money promised at the summit could perhaps, if put to intelligent use, stave off utter disaster but it is unlikely to do anything to improve the lives of poor people in the long run.

At best it will keep them where they are, rather than lifting them out of poverty. And, according to the development agency Progressio, the IMF could actually make things worse for the world’s poor.

The money body has a history of worsening the situation by imposing Thatcherite policies in return for funds — and the export credit agencies, which administer trade finance, aren’t much better.

Non-governmental agencies and world charity organisations, you just have to love ’em.

Give us a ring and we’ll solve the problems of the poor and the displaced and the downtrodden. (I am bombarded by these charity huggers on the streets of Belfast every day.)

The irony of the title Band Aid was never lost on me, more so given that most of the aid destined for Ethiopia was, eventually, never to reach those who needed it. Bureaucracy left the maize and blankets rotting in the ports of East Africa.

In my times in Africa, I found those working with these agencies, running around the poorest hotspots in their gleaming white 4x4s, almost arrogant towards those they were professing to help.

Their posturing and pontificating nurture some of the most contemptible qualities of the African condition, turning the poor into subjugated beggars rather than empowering their independence. The deployment of aid in the manner we know does not improve lives.

It merely provides the necessary resources required for reproducing more aid recipients, all now living at the previous, lowest common denominator.

So, it is of little surprise to me that such charitable do-gooders have the temerity to have another go at Madonna as she failed at the weekend to adopt another Malawian child, three-year-old Mercy James.

Malawi is one of the poorest in all of Africa with 60% of its 14.3 million people living below the poverty line.

It has the highest incidence of Aids in sub-Saharan Africa — one in seven people — and life expectancy for men and women is a young 48. Take one baby girl, in an orphanage of which there are hundreds, and she is given perhaps the one chance to escape what can only be a life of incessant want and need. Her uncle says yes, let’s give her a better life. The local people at the orphanage agree.

Now her father has come out of the woodwork saying that he wants to be part of her life and he had no idea “a wealthy pop star wanted to adopt Mercy”.

Then bureaucracy again rears its ugly head.

Children’s rights activists on the ground said the court’s decision to turn down Madonna was “the best for the child and the best for the nation’’.

Best for the nation — a nation that can’t look after itself?

The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect said it would “fight any appeal’’ by Madonna.

That’s rich coming from an agency purported to be fighting abuse and neglect in a country where girls as young as 12 (Mercy’s mother died at 14) offer themselves as child brides in a bid to escape the empty bellies, numbing work and overwhelming tedium of poverty.

But the best line came from Undule Mwakasungula, on behalf of Malawi’s Human Rights Consultative Committee, who said we must “respect the law’’.

The law has a bad record in Africa. What about respect for Mercy James?

People opposed to Madonna’s move and who have never set foot in Africa cannot imagine the sheer scale of poverty and how it relentlessly and remorselessly grinds you down, day after day, after day...

Yet, here is a woman, albeit a very famous and wealthy one, who wants to give little Mercy the chance of a better life.

Who, most likely, intentionally sought such a child in the same country, of the same culture, as David, (who Madonna adopted in 2006) so that, perhaps, the two would grow up together, sharing a common origin.

But in a world a lifetime away from miserable Malawi.

That they could be so happy — perish the thought!

Just like the G-men in their bespoke suits, no one person, or collective, can solve all the problems of the children in this inequitable world.

But arguing against Madonna’s altruistic intentions, because there are larger issues involved and because there must be ‘respect for the law’, is adding insult to an injured child.

I’m with Madonna on this one.

Think of the children. Everything else is just politics.

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