Justice is possible; it just needs people working together

Economic decisions in developed nations can have negative effects in faraway nations, unless people speak out to prevent them.

Economic decisions in developed nations can have negative effects in faraway nations, unless people speak out to prevent them.

April 22, 2013

When people think injustice cannot be overcome, it is important to look at the things in history that have changed, says the research and advocacy officer for Development and Peace.

Molly Kane says that in the 19th century, many Christians believed slavery was divinely ordained and that slaves were not capable of being human. In societies dependent on slavery, the practice was seen to be normal.

It was only a small minority of Christians who believed that slavery was an abomination and had to be ended, Kane said in an interview.

But those people, many of whom were women or didn't own property and thus couldn't vote, took action. "They said there was blood in sugar," she said, and they boycotted it.

Meanwhile, slaves living on plantations were also resisting their condition.

Those forces worked together to bring an end to slavery, she said.

Today, we need to ask what it means to love our neighbour in this historical situation, Kane said. "Love is not just a fuzzy teddy bear."

The parable of the Good Samaritan talks about a man who was beaten and left to die on a road. But, she said, if people are constantly being beaten along that road, we need to look at the conditions on the road. "Take the perspective of love a little bit deeper."

Molly Kane

Molly Kane

Likewise, if a bully is sitting on top of a little boy in a playground, it is of no use to tell the boy, "Empower yourself." "You have to do something about the bully."

Part of Development and Peace's job since its foundation in 1967 has been to educate Canadian Catholics. And when the organization's partners in developing nations heard that its funding had been severely cut, they urged it, "Don't cut your education work," she said.

People who donate money to Development and Peace (CCODP) often want to see it go directly to the poor. But sometimes, that is not the best approach.

In 1999 in the African nation of Ghana, local poultry farmers met 95 per cent of the needs of their domestic market, Kane said. Two years later, the local industry had collapsed, only meeting 11 per cent of the domestic need.


What happened?

Far away in the Netherlands, the government had been heavily subsidizing its own poultry industry, leading to over-production. Frozen chicken pieces produced in the Netherlands were dumped into Ghana at prices below the cost of production in Ghana.

Moreover, because of a debt-reduction agreement with the International Monetary Fund, Ghana was not allowed to impose import tariffs to stop the dumping. "This was called a poverty reduction strategy" by the IMF, she said, because it meant the poor in Ghana could buy more chicken.

In 2003, the parliament in Ghana finally imposed tariffs on poultry of 20 to 40 per cent. However, the IMF would not let the country implement the tariffs. So poultry producers took the issue to Ghana's supreme court, which ordered the government to implement its own law.

However, other forces in Ghana persuaded the government to then repeal its own law.

In such a case, Kane said, it would be naïve of a development organization to come into the country with a plan to teach Ghanaians to raise chickens.

What the story shows, she says, is the need for people in developed nations to examine how their actions affect the conditions of life in the developing world.

"People should be the architects of their own lives, but we can create conditions that make it difficult for them."


In the face of the problems in the world, it can be overwhelming to know what to do to overcome those problems, she said.

A first step is education; a second is working together with other people who have the same values.

Kane, who began work with CCODP in October, was in Edmonton in early April as part of what she called a cross-country "listening project" to hear the views of Development and Peace members.

She is, she said, impressed with its authenticity as a grassroots Canadian Catholic organization. In many provinces, such as Alberta, Development and Peace has only one staffperson. If the organization is not too active in some parishes, it is a centre of activity in others.

"A lot is happening just because people want to make it happen."

CCODP gives Catholics an opportunity to learn and to take action without doing it alone, she said. It is a unique organization because of its large membership base and because its members are so devoted that they carry out their work with little administrative support.

It is also well connected in the developing world, she said. It was the partners of Development and Peace who came to the organization and asked it to challenge the negative effects Canadian mining companies are having in their countries.

Canada today, Kane said, is no longer seen in the developing world as a benevolent nation. In the international community, it is no longer seen as being on the side of developing nations or of environmental stewardship.


However, change can happen, she said. The jubilee campaign against foreign debt in the late 1990s increased popular understanding and helped bring about change. Today, a similar initiative is needed on the issue of ecological destruction.

The people who are paying the biggest price are those who have had the least to do with causing the problem, Kane said. Pope Francis and his commitment to the poor, for example, may be a catalyst in spurring people's energy to deal with that issue.

In the face of serious problems, Development and Peace has to communicate a hopeful face. "Let us postpone our pessimism for better times," she said, quoting the Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galleano.