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Justin Trudeau’s Billion-Dollar Scandal Is a Story of Power, Branding, and Charity

Vice

July 22, 2020

By Justin Ling

 

“In Justin Trudeau, WE Charity had a prominent booster. In WE, Justin Trudeau had a powerful platform popular with young people.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (right) along with WE co-founders, Craig (middle) and Marc Kielburger, WE Day Ottawa, November 9, 2016. MARKETWIRED PHOTO/WE Day

 

It’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s summer scandal. He and his finance minister are under investigation from an ethics watchdog. Two Parliamentary committees have started investigating the affair and Trudeau will testify.

In the middle of it all is a $912 million contract, awarded without competition to the Canadian-founded WE Charity, a household name thanks to a powerful origin story that has morphed into a huge youth-oriented movement with celebrities like Meghan Markle and Prince Harry attached.

It’s an organization with close ties to the prime minister himself. The scandal unfurled as it was revealed Trudeau’s own family received large speaking fees from the organization and while Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s daughter worked at the charity.

“I made a mistake in not recusing myself,” Trudeau said.

Trudeau himself announced the Canada Student Service Grant program, which would award grants to students and youth for doing volunteer work amid the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. WE would have earned between $19.5 million and $43.5 million for just running the program. WE has already withdrawn from its government contract with a promise to “return to its roots” of international development.

From the outside, it may seem like a very Canadian scandal: Money for a charity stymied by an alleged ethical lapse caused, in part, by the prime minister’s famous mother being paid to speak to legions of teens.

Dig a little deeper, and this scandal, Trudeau’s third such ethics investigation, says an awful lot about both his government and the WE organization.

VICE News reviewed hundreds of financial disclosure documents and internal presentation decks, consulted a forensic accountant regarding WE’s books, and spoke to several past employees about how the charity—and its less-understood corporate arm—does business.

As VICE News started asking questions about WE’s financials, WE announced it would be reorienting its charity and business divisions, acknowledging that its years of rapid expansion has led to a “organizational structure that is more complicated than it needs to be.”

At the centre of this scandal is the story of WE, a unique charitable-corporate hybrid, and its symbiotic relationship with the prime minister.

Friends in high places

The WE Charity origin story is the stuff of legend. A 12-year-old Craig Kielburger, per the WE account, was flipping through a newspaper in 1995 in search of the comics. He happened upon an article about a 12-year-old Pakistani labour rights activist, Iqbal Masih, who had been murdered.

“Craig convinced a handful of Grade 7 classmates that together they could make an impact, and WE Charity was born,” WE writes on their website. Soon, his older brother Marc was in on the family charitable business.

They called the organization Free the Children (it would be renamed WE Charity in 2016), and they set out to do the kind of altruistic development that was du jour in the late 1990s—building wells, schools, and clinics for the underprivileged in the Global South. On a tour of East Asia, Craig would cross paths with then-prime minister Jean Chretien, whom he challenged to take a stand against child slavery.

The inspiring story drove international attention, and donations. But international development is a saturated market—Oxfam, Unicef, World Vision, and a host of others have been doing this work for decades.

The Kielburgers pioneered a new way of financing their charitable efforts: ME to WE Social Enterprises. It would be, according to their website, “a new model to support the long-term charitable goals of WE Charity.” This related corporate entity would organize trips, sell sustainably made goods, run events, and donate much of its profits back to WE Charity.

For about $5,000, students could fly to various destinations in Central and South America, Africa, and South Asia and stay at WE ranches and facilities. The trips mixed the air of a sleepaway camp, focusing on team building and leadership, while also offering day trips where students would contribute to building schools or wells. WE would eventually start offering corporate retreats as well.

Those trips faced criticism familiar to other so-called “voluntourism” organizations—that poorer communities need investment and opportunity, not privileged children from North America and Europe to contribute their unskilled labour. WE brushed the criticism aside. “When done properly and in partnership with communities, trips can be beneficial,” its executive director once wrote.

ME to WE expanded to run WE Day, which blends stadium-sized motivational speaking tours with the vibe of a children’s day camp. Celebrity cameos have included Kendrick Lamar, the Dalai Lama, Martin Sheen and Al Gore. ME to WE opened shops, selling sustainably made goods. It opened WE Schools, which provided slickly made, development-minded curricula to teachers.

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An internal WE document.

 

WE’s stock rose steadily through the 2000s and early 2010s, and it incorporated its charity-corporate model in the United States and United Kingdom. Both Kielburgers were awarded the Order of Canada. It published books with contributions from Richard Gere and Oprah. 60 Minutes profiled the brothers.

The organization is not outwardly political. Its U.K. board of directors boasts a Liberal Democrat lord and a Conservative Member of Parliament. But in Justin Trudeau, it had an early champion. He appeared at the first-ever WE Day in 2007, when he was running for Parliament for the first time. He appeared again after he was elected in 2008, per a list compiled by iPolitics.

Just days after he spoke at WE Day Toronto 2012, Trudeau launched his bid to lead the Liberal Party of Canada. Craig Kielburger contributed $1,200, the maximum allowed, to Trudeau’s campaign.

When he became prime minister in 2015, one of Trudeau’s first public events was WE Day Ottawa.

Trudeau wasn’t the only one in the family joining WE Day. Trudeau’s partner, Sophie; mother, Margaret; and brother, Sacha, all spoke at various WE Days. Sophie Grégoire Trudeau even co-hosted a WE podcast. Canadaland and CBC reported that Me to We paid $312,000 for Margaret Trudeau’s appearances, and $40,000 for eight engagements with Sacha Trudeau. The prime minister was, according to the government, not paid for any of his appearances.

As Trudeau’s family became functional ambassadors for the organization, the government of Canada began an enthusiastic WE partnership.

Before his election, Ottawa had paid less than a million dollars in grants to WE. After Trudeau assumed office, that changed.

In 2016, Heritage Canada awarded WE Charity $1.5 million to participate in the lead-up to Canada’s 150th anniversary, as part of a program to “commemorate and celebrate historical figures, places, events, and accomplishments of national significance.” As part of that program, WE put out a video prominently featuring the prime minister himself.

VICE News asked if any Government of Canada money was spent on that ad. WE said it didn’t know.

“We are getting a significant number of requests from media at this time,” a spokesperson said. “While we remain committed to providing as much information as possible, we are still in the process of gathering and reviewing our internal records of contracts of years past in order to fully cooperate with various inquiries from official sources to which we are legally required to respond.”

When Canada Day rolled around, the Kielburger brothers were featured heavily at the Parliament Hill celebrations. Days later, at the WE-branded celebrations, Trudeau graced the stage.

Ottawa offered WE Charity non-competitive and sole-sourced contracts, too, for “management consulting” or “public relations services.”

Overall, the Government of Canada paid WE Charity and ME to WE more than $5.8 million.

On Wednesday, Finance Minister Morneau told a House of Commons committee that he and his family accepted invitations by WE to visit their high-end camps in Kenya and Ecuador. There, they lent a hand in building nearby schools. While the committee seized on some $40,000 in expenses that Morneau did not reimburse WE for, the trips say so much more about just how close WE and the Trudeau government really are.

A cash flow crunch

As WE became a household name for many, its finances showed signs it had expanded too fast.

In 2017, the Canadian arm of WE Charity posted a $3.8 million surplus, thanks to more than $45 million in annual donations and $10 million in private grants.

By 2019, though, the charity fell into the red, according to WE Charity’s unpublished audited financial statements provided to VICE News. Donations and grants stayed mostly flat, but spending rose rapidly. The charity posted a $2.3 million deficit, plus an additional $4 million in bank loans.

That has all the hallmarks of a “cash flow crunch,” says Kate Bahen, the managing director of Charity Intelligence, an organization devoted to analyzing the financials of Canadian charities. She obtained and analyzed WE Charity’s 2019 financial statements.

The Government of Canada was there to help, however. Three days after the WE Charity fiscal period ended in September 2019, Employment and Social Development Canada awarded it a $3 million grant.

It was the biggest contribution from the Canadian government to WE up to that point.

WE disagrees there was an issue with its finances. “WE is not experiencing a cash flow problem and it would be incorrect to say so,” a spokesperson said.

The spokesperson told VICE News that part of the problem came from WE’s own decision to shift its fiscal year. Until 2013, WE ended its fiscal year in March; then it moved to December; and finally, in 2018, it took the unusual step to align with the academic year, ending in August.

Bahen calls the frequency of that change “highly irregular.” WE acknowledges it makes it impossible to compare one year to the next—in 2018, WE posted a $400,000 deficit, but only over eight months, not 12.

WE says that, because of the shift in fiscal year, some $21 million in donations had to be deferred “from one fiscal year to another, to account for the fiscal year in which the program would occur,” the spokesperson explained. “Because of these larger deferrals, we had…run a deficit, on paper, in 2018 and 2019.”

The deficit was due to the fiscal year shift, they said, “not because of the financial health of the organization.”

Yet the shift happened in 2018. The 2019 year was a full 12 months. It’s not clear why WE would have to keep deferring revenue.

WE says the decision to shift the fiscal year was a decision taken by the board of directors. That board is now mostly gone.

Michelle Douglas, the former chair of WE Charity’s board, left earlier this year. In April, she tweeted skepticism of WE’s accounting of its impact abroad.

Of the 15 directors who sat on the boards of the Charity’s Canadian and American arms in 2018, just four remain. WE has told CBC that the new board was selected to “address issues such as diversity, inclusion, and range of competencies.” Douglas, a former member of the Canadian Forces who was purged from the ranks due to her sexuality, said most of the board had resigned or been replaced. The new chair of the Canadian board is Greg Rogers, formerly with Toronto Catholic District School Board.

Even with its back-to-back deficits, WE is not about to go bankrupt. Part of the financial health of the organization is its real estate holdings, totalling nearly $50 million across North America, including a sprawling Arizona ranch and a much-celebrated, newly-renovated office in Toronto’s Corktown, where it plans to keep expanding. Abroad, WE owns a constellation of properties through local corporations.

“All real estate purchases were made possible by targeted gifts from donors who believed that owning its own facilities would make WE more sustainable and effective in the long term,” WE wrote to VICE News. On top of savings on rent, WE says it serves as a nest egg that provides “long-term financial stability and a value fiscal reserve to underpin its operations.”

Several of those properties, however, still carry mortgages. Those mortgages require that WE maintains enough profit to comfortably cover the payments. (“One of the covenants of the mortgage provisions is that WE Charity generates positive EBITDA [Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization] to cover 1.3 times the mortgage payments in the fiscal year,” WE wrote.)

WE failed to meet that condition in both 2018 and 2019, and had to seek a specific waiver to avoid breaching their mortgage agreements.

“If our fiscal year end was either October 31 or December 31, this would not have been an issue; there would have been no ‘deficit’ and/or need for a waiver,” WE said. “This was simply an operational decision that we made consciously and still support.”

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An internal WE powerpoint slide.

 

This was all before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Real estate values took a beating, international travel was shut down, and WE Day 2020, a massive revenue source for the organization, was cancelled. Sources told the Toronto Star that donations had slowed significantly, and WE started mass layoffs.

In April, a lifeline appeared. The Trudeau government was looking to incentivize volunteer work for students who may have lost jobs and internships due to the global pandemic—the Canada Student Service Grant would award them between $1,000 and $5,000.

Exactly who proposed WE to run the program is still a matter of debate. Trudeau says it was the bureaucracy who suggested the organization administer the program. WE initially suggested it was Trudeau’s office who first offered them the contract, but later recanted that story.

Privy Council Clerk Ian Shugart, the head of Canada’s civil service, told a parliamentary committee Tuesday that the government did not kick the tires on WE’s financials before awarding them the contract. “To the best of my knowledge, officials did not engage in detailed scrutiny of the financial affairs of the organization,” he said. “No financial flags were raised through this process about the WE Charity.”

WE would have received between $19.5 million and $43.5 million of the $912 million program, which would have gone a long way towards addressing their increasing debt load and decline in donations.

The willingness to go with WE is curious. The organization encourages volunteer work, through WE Schools and WE Day, but largely by encouraging students to organize and execute work on their own. Many other charities like Kiwanis, the Lion’s Club, and Volunteer Canada all either link up with local organizations or have existing infrastructure in communities and schools.

WE’s power, however, is in the branding.

‘We brought them to WE Day’

A page of WE’s website, advertising Marc Kielburger as a paid speaker, touts his insights into “purposeful and profitable business strategies.” The page, which has since been updated to remove that language, boasts that Marc can help teach strategies to “inspire brand fanatics to stay loyal to you, your company, and your cause (and) add a halo effect to your product.”

That halo effect is core to WE’s strategy.

WE lets its partners co-brand international development projects, grace the stage at the ebullient WE Day celebrations, and even help craft school curricula. All for a fee.

The corporate arm of WE does not proactively publish corporate financial information. But internal PowerPoint presentations provided by a former employee reveal that by summer 2017, ME to WE boasted some 206 active partnerships with an annual revenue of $47.5 million.

Of hundreds of sponsors, just 20 large sponsors comprised nearly 90 percent of ME to WE’s revenue, including insurance vendor Allstate, RBC bank, movie chain Cineplex, Microsoft, accounting firm KPMG, and resource companies PotashCorp and Teck Resources.

WE insists WE Day and WE Schools are empowering and educational. To potential sponsors, however, WE is pretty blunt that it offers a big branding opportunity.

In an internal pitch presentation, WE said its youth-oriented programs “improve partners’ brand reputation particularly by increasing consumer perception of partners’ investment in their local community.” WE further suggested that partnerships “can drive consumer exploration, consideration, and purchase of products and services.”

Internal polling of students and parents about its corporate-branded in-school programs bragged that “60 percent of (WE) teens spoke positively about the company with their parents.”

The internal polling suggests that WE Schools and WE Day also pushed teens to complete a “social action”—such as “connected with an Allstate agent in my community,” “bought a Surface [tablet] or other Microsoft product,” and “used Skype”—yet most had no clear social component whatsoever. The only non-corporate examples listed were “learned more about computer science and coding” and “took action to live more sustainably (i.e., conserving water, reducing waste).”

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An internal WE document.

 

WE’s programs are present in some 18,000 schools throughout North America. WE Day, meanwhile, engrossed attendees with its high production value, socially conscious messaging, and big-name guests.

“Any time I wanted to sign a new company, we brought them to WE Day,” a former employee told Canadaland last year, for a series of stories about WE’s corporate partnerships and its work in schools across North America. (Disclosure: I contributed some reporting and editing to Canadaland on those stories, and am relying on some of the information I learned for this story.)

The corporate branding is obvious, however.

At WE Days, students may watch short documentaries about their corporate sponsors. One video played at WE Day 2017 showed a student shopping at a Walgreens, encouraging her peers to purchase WE-branded goods at the retail giant. WE Day Montreal this year was co-branded by seven companies, including KPMG and steakhouse chain The Keg.

These partnerships aren’t cheap.

A pitch deck prepared for household goods company Unilever suggested partnerships starting at $800,000 to get co-branding at WE Schools, with add-ons that could have brought the total value of the deal to more than $4 million. For that money, Unilever would get a six-minute onstage segment at WE Day New York, involvement in a national schools speaking tour, which allows for “exposure to the full student body,” and a redrafting of the WE Schools program to ensure a “stronger tie-in to (Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan).”

Some partners are more controversial than others.

“WE Charity has a policy to carefully review potential corporate funders,” a spokesperson said. Resource extraction companies for example, “provide critical inputs for global industries such as food production and infrastructure development.”

Canadian oil sands company Teck Resources contributed $400,000 to ME to WE in 2017 that helped buy a national battery recycling program in Canadian schools.

PotashCorp, a resource extraction company and former Crown corporation, was a sponsor of WE for five years, contributing $1 million in 2017 alone. This, even as the company faced criticism for extracting hundreds of millions of dollars of natural resources in occupied Western Sahara. “We do not see how the association with a company that aids and abets in the occupation of Western Sahara, resulting in tremendous human suffering, relates to the views and values of Free the Children,” reads a 2013 letter from the Western Sahara Resource Watch. PotashCorp and WE remained partners until the company merged with a rival in 2017.

WE says its partnership with PotashCorp “enabled farmers in developing countries to provide 15 million meals.”

WE also partnered with Dow Chemical to help middle and high school students “develop solutions to the world’s largest sustainability issues.” The curriculum prepared by WE suggests teachers ask students questions like, “How do Dow scientists approach problems?”

WE told VICE News that Dow is “ranked as one of the top companies in terms of sustainability performance,” pointing to the fact that it was listed as part of the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index for the 20th year.

The U.S. arm of WE Charity raised $5.3 million from Valeant Pharmaceuticals—now Bausch Health—seemingly in support of the Passion to Heal program, which sent American dermatologists to Kenya and India to provide skincare to those in need. The program came just after Valeant was accused of inflating drug prices by as much as 3,000 percent, and just before its executives were being charged with running a sprawling fraud scheme.

These PowerPoints themselves note the “challenges” present in their corporate relationships: The list included “sacrifices to WE program integrity.”

Last week, the company announced that WE Schools would shift to a “digital-only format.”

A corporate web

For its ingenious model of charitable giving, WE’s labyrinthine corporate structure makes it a difficult organization to untangle. When you begin pulling it apart, questions remain over just how effective an organization it truly is.

The organization’s own material suggests the structure is simple: There’s the charity, WE Charity, and there’s the company, ME to WE. Yet even WE has a hard time telling them apart. It strenuously denied that WE Charity had ever paid Margaret Trudeau for her speaking engagements, only to later admit it had cut her a $7,500 cheque in 2017. WE says it was an accounting error.

On Wednesday, Global News revealed that the Canada Student Service Grant contract was actually awarded to the WE Charity Foundation, not WE Charity itself. It’s not clear why the Foundation was incorporated at all, aside from an oblique reference in a 2018 financial statement about its goal “to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of other registered charities by providing and maintaining facilities to house their operations.” Global has reported it is primarily used to hold real estate.

ME to WE, meanwhile, is actually owned by a holding company, and it, in turn, owns five subsidiaries that run various aspects of its business.

Its Russian nesting doll structure aside, ME to We claims that, by donating 90 percent of its profit—$9.4 million between 2016 and 2019, WE says—it finances WE Charity’s important work.

Drill down on those numbers, however, and it’s not so clear-cut.

For starters, lots of money flows in the opposite direction. The charity actually paid its corporate arm $7 million over those three years. WE says it’s “largely due to an increase in donor trips, which resulted in a significant increase in donations to WE Charity.”

It means that the net transfer of funds between ME to WE to WE Charity over those three years is closer to $2 million.

What’s more, not all that money is cash contributions. In 2019, WE Charity reported nearly $5 million in contributions from ME to WE. Of that, more than $3.5 million is in-kind donations, such as “travel and leadership training services,” promotional goods, rent, and the purchase of books. ME to WE sells these things to WE Charity “at or below wholesale prices.” WE reports the dollar value of those goods and services.

WE insists that focusing on those figures is incorrect. “The holistic social good created by ME to WE Social Enterprise is clear,” a spokesperson said. At the same time, as Bahen notes, “ME to WE overstates how much it contributes to WE Charity.”

According to a libel notice sent to Canadaland, WE has said the reason for ME to WE is “due to the structure of the Canadian tax code limiting the ability of charities or foundations to engage in commercial enterprises to raise funds for their cause.”

Yet, in the U.S., ME to WE is also a registered charity. It’s called the ME to WE Foundation. (Not to be confused with the Canadian ME to WE Foundation, or the WE Charity Foundation.)

It’s not clear what differentiates the two U.S. entities. The U.S. WE Charity reports $33 million in revenue, and its audited financial statements are posted to the WE website; while the U.S. ME to WE Foundation reports some $10 million, and its financials are not posted. Both share significant overlap in their mandate and donors. Victor Li, WE Charity’s chief financial officer, is a director of both charities.

WE says the foundation is responsible for “domestic WE Schools & WE Day activities supporting student service-learning programs in schools and International development activities to support education, clean water, healthcare, food security, and alternative income programs.”

The foundation reports very little overseas spending.

Garbage bag company Glad announced in 2018 that anyone using its chosen hashtag or buying specific trash bags would “trigger a donation to WE Charity,” capped at $315,000. Yet according to contracts filed with state regulators and obtained by VICE News, the funds were paid to the ME to WE Foundation, not WE Charity.

WE insists that “the ME to WE Foundation has helped to provide millions of dollars of funding to WE Charity over the years.”

Yet, over the most recent two years for which there is information, it was WE Charity that made a huge contribution to the ME to WE Foundation. The charity gave nearly $400,000 to the foundation in 2016 and another $1.25 million in 2017, while only $100,000 in contributions from the foundation to the charity were reported over the same time.

So much of WE’s branding is wrapped up with its overseas work. Yet, in recent years, WE’s Canadian and U.S. charities reported that just about a third of their overall spending went to international development—about $35 million, including administrative costs.

Still, WE’s holistic vision for international development—which includes funding clean water, food security, education, healthcare, and economic opportunity—has done good abroad. It has even attracted other, smaller, charities.

In its 2017 financial statements, WE Charity reported it, by mutual agreement, “took control” of Imagine 1 Day, another charity “providing children in Ethiopia with access to quality education.” As part of the agreement, WE Charity received $10 million from the organization, with the stipulation that “the amount transferred is to be used towards initiatives in Ethiopia.”

Normally, such a transfer would be considered a “restricted” donation—meaning the contribution could only be used for a specific purpose for which it was gifted. That’s how WE accepts its real estate gifts.

The $10 million however, was included in a general line item on the charity’s financial statements as unrestricted contributions.

Per its financial disclosures and statement to VICE News, some $6.8 million of Imagine 1 Day’s assets have been absorbed into WE Charity to date. But not all of that money has gone to Ethiopia.

“$4.2 million has been spent in support of projects and programming in Ethiopia, $1.2 million has been transferred back to Imagine1Day for targeted core operations, and $1.4 million has been spent on WE Charity’s support and integration of Ethiopia into WE,” a spokesperson said. That last figure has included staff salaries in Canada “to manage program and project design support, monitoring and evaluation, and other management expenses.” It has also covered travel costs between Ethiopia to Toronto.

Asking tough questions of WE

WE, like any multi-million dollar charitable organization, especially one that benefits from tax-exempt status, deserves scrutiny.

In 2019, Canadaland did exactly that. It asked questions about WE’s corporate partners, its education programming, and allegations that it has a “toxic” workplace culture. WE provided lengthy responses to those questions, but also started proceedings to sue the media company for libel in litigant-friendly Manitoba.

Part of the claim sent by WE’s lawyers to Canadaland alleges the company showed malice “by misrepresenting our clients as litigious.” (WE had previously sued now-defunct Saturday Night magazine, which settled in 2000.)

WE has, this week, demanded an apology from Postmedia News and Toronto Sun columnist Brian Lilley, after they ran a series of stories taking a critical look at WE’s real estate holdings.

Even Bahen, who has delved deep into WE’s financials, has earned herself a threatening letter from WE. “We are respectfully asking you to please stop making incorrect, misleading, and incomplete statements when we have repeatedly provided you with accurate information,” reads the letter.

When VICE News sent multiple requests for comment to WE, it initially heard back from their lawyer, Howard Winkler, demanding that “you disclose to our clients for response any purported statements of fact or allegations you intend to publish of and concerning them which contain a negative innuendo.” Later, it provided lengthy and detailed responses to VICE News’ questions.

After Canadaland ran critical stories about WE, including its attempt to discourage critical coverage, curious campaigns to discredit the news outlet sprang up.

Op-eds popped up in U.S. publications, calling Canadaland “fake news.” Around the same time, a deluge of tweets, all with similar messages, poured in from a slew of accounts. (Those accounts are all now suspended for violating Twitter’s rules.) Some of this campaign appeared to be linked to a Republican consulting firm, according to Canadaland.

Private investigators, hired by one of WE’s law firms, also conducted background checks on Canadaland publisher Jesse Brown and reporter Jaren Kerr, according to the outlet.

VICE News asked WE if it ever paid for positive news coverage or social media campaigns to target its critics. WE came back, asking for specific examples, “as we are unclear and require context,” a spokesperson wrote. VICE News tried again, asking pointedly if WE had ever paid writers to pen columns or editorials without disclosing their funding, or if it had ever run an “astroturf” campaign using social media bots or fake accounts.

WE refused to answer. “WE Charity has engaged several leading companies to help with communication over the years,” a spokesperson wrote. “WE Charity has sought further clarification and/or any examples regarding this question without success. If there are specific examples of note, we would be pleased to respond and provide context.”

A friend in need is a friend, indeed

From its inception, WE has worked hard to cultivate an ethos around itself. To great effect, it has parlayed its commitment to international development, volunteerism, and social awareness. In the process, it has brought onboard an array of multi-billion dollar partners to finance its operations.

At its core, WE offered brands a chance to tap into a network of hyper-engaged, well-intentioned youth. The Faustian bargain meant that WE’s millions in donations would build clinics and schools half a world away, in exchange for advertising products and services to a captive, and otherwise difficult to reach, audience.

Allstate and Dow Chemical couldn’t otherwise tell schoolchildren of their community programs or sustainability efforts. Even if they could, there is little chance the students would much care.

WE is a perfect vehicle for exactly that kind of work.

Justin Trudeau understood that. His commitment to volunteering is undeniable, dating back to his time with youth program Katimavik. Equally undeniable is his mastery at winning over young voters, or soon-to-be voters. The 18-to-34 voting block is the only one Trudeau managed to carry in both his 2015 and 2019 electoral victories, according to pollster Ipsos.

This story is not about who got rich. It’s about how an organization that has been integral to the prime minister’s personal brand was selected for a program that it did not appear to be best-suited to run, even amid serious questions over its own financial structure and corporate practises.

Next week, the Kielburger brothers are expected to testify before a House of Commons committee.

Shortly after this story was published, Trudeau agreed to testify as well.

 

[“Justin Ling is an investigative journalist who has worked across the country, focusing on stories and issues undercovered or misunderstood. For the past year, he has been covering the investigation into Bruce McArthur. His forthcoming book on the case will be published by McClelland & Stewart in early 2020.?”]

Additional research: An extensive thread on WE by Cory Morningstar, Wrong Kind of Green:

The Market of Pain: Corruption & Fetishized Altruism in International Aid

Critical investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa

December 4, 2017

By: Emeizmi Mandagi, University of California – Irvine

 

United Nations website: “In Malawi, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson spotlights efforts to end child marriage.” [Source]

The University of California’s Global Peace and Conflict Studies Colloquium Series recently hosted UC Irvine’s Visiting Researcher Dr. Maria D. Bermudez on November 9, 2017 for a lunch colloquium. Drawing on over 16 years of experience working with international organizations including the United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), and Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Dr. Bermudez  argued that within international and non-governmental aid organization, there is a fundamental form of corruption due to the culture of impunity in these organizations and in the market of “fetishized altruism.” While corruption in international aid is classically focused on corrupt acts by international workers for private or personal gain, Dr. Bermudez asserted that in fact there is a more fundamental form of corruption in international aid that involves inaccurate descriptions of realities and results for the purpose of demonstrating efficiency, effectiveness, and ultimately gaining leverage in the competitive market of donors and funds.

“The White Man’s Burden (Apologies to Rudyard Kipling)” Judge, 1 Nisan 1899, The Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum

Dr. Bermudez opened her talk stating that the United Nation’s budget for international aid in conflict areas is 40 times higher today than it was in 1950. However, the issue is not necessarily the quantity of money but rather the type of money that is coming in today. Dr. Bermudez emphasized that there is a stark difference between approved core funding, and the real expenditure provided by voluntary contributions from private and corporate donors, foundations, and member states. The allocation of this budget is therefore based on what the members of the donor organization desires. This is in line with a critique covered earlier this year by the CIHA blog on “Culture in Aidland,” a talk by Mark Schuller who highlighted that the current reward system is not designed to hold agencies accountable to the recipients of aid, but rather to the donors. Similarly, Dr. Bermudez mentioned that in 2014 alone, 151 countries received more than $127 billion USD of Official Development Assistance (ODA), but such exorbitant amounts of money are difficult to track and understand how the money is achieving desired results (and who is deciding what are the desired results!).

Dr. Bermudez offered the UN as a case study, which she argued is an organization that supports a culture of impunity. As a committee that reports to itself, the structure of the UN is problematic because, despite its best intentions, the organization and its members can easily engage in abuse, corruption, and secrecy as they are usually shielded by diplomatic immunity. There is little to no accountability of members, nor is there proper follow-up on investigations despite the implementation of the Joint Inspection Unit (JIU) Reports. Instead, the status quo established at inception in 1946 continues to be upheld.

Dr. Bermudez further explained that in the field of international aid, there is a market of “fetishized altruism.” She explained that individuals are drawn to the altruistic and heavily idealized concept of “helping” – for example, helping Africans to get access to clean water by building wells, or advocating for the end of female genital mutilation. International aid agencies adopt particular programmatic goals and approaches informed by such moral justification to “help”. However, this results in an unlimited proliferation of international aid actors. This raises the question of who provides oversight on these aid actors and ensures they do not cause more damage than good. Additionally, who ensures that these aid actors are properly trained and prepared? With such a high number of available aid actors, there is an increasing need for training that informs aid actors of the local cultural customs, social norms, current political environment, and the necessary historical context and background. Such training usually requires a deep commitment to a particular location which is often not the scope and structure of international humanitarian work where scale and global reach are valued. At CIHA Blog, we seek to provide humanitarian actors, scholars and students who work on the African continent with a source of information and resources that can help ground their work and efforts in local contexts and histories.

Dr. Bermudez argued that the inherent structure of international aid organizations itself creates a “market of pain” in its attempts to aid communities. For instance, organizations face the double client dilemma when they compete for aid, because organizations have to meet the demands and expectations of donors rather than the needs of those they supposedly serve. Dr. Bermudez concluded by stating that there is a strong need for monitoring the results of international aid projects rather than focusing on manufacturing data and reports to stay relevant in the international aid sector. She held that there needs to be a shift in what is expected of international aid organizations regarding accountability for corruption, adequate training of international aid actors, a focus on the respective communities receiving aid as opposed to a focus on donors, and the types of solutions and projects implemented.

 

[Maria D. Bermudez is a visiting researcher at UCI. She holds a PhD in International Relations by SciencesPo, Paris, France and brings 16 years of experience working with international cooperation in the field of Human Movements, Forced Migration and Refugees, Human Rights, Post-conflict Institution Building and Rule of Law, in more than 20 conflict or post-conflict countries, for different organizations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the Organization for the Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).]

[Emeizmi Mandagi is an Irvine Intern at the University of California.]

 

The NGO-ization of Resistance

Massalijn

September 4, 2014

By Arundhati Roy

 

ngoization

 

A hazard facing mass movements is the NGO-ization of resistance. It will be easy to twist what I’m about to say into an indictment of all NGOs. That would be a falsehood. In the murky waters of fake NGOs set up or to siphon off grant money or as tax dodges (in states like Bihar, they are given as dowry), of course, there are NGOs doing valuable work. But it’s important to consider the NGO phenomenon in a broader political context.

In India, for instance, the funded NGO boom began in the late 1980s and 1990s. It coincided with the opening of India’s markets to neoliberalism. At the time, the Indian state, in keeping with the requirements of structural adjustment, was withdrawing funding from rural development, agriculture, energy, transport and public health. As the state abdicated its traditional role, NGOs moved in to work in these very areas. The difference, of course, is that the funds available to them are a minuscule fraction of the actual cut in public spending.

Most large-funded NGOs are financed and patronized by aid and development agencies, which are, in turn, funded by Western governments, the World Bank, the UN and some multinational corporations. Though they may not be the very same agencies, they are certainly part of the same loose, political formation that oversees the neoliberal project and demands the slash in government spending in the first place.

Why should these agencies fund NGOs? Could it be just old-fashioned missionary zeal? Guilt? It’s a little more than that. NGOs give the impression that they are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state. And they are, but in a materially inconsequential way. Their real contribution is that they defuse political anger and dole out as aid or benevolence what people ought to have by right. They alter the public psyche. They turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance. NGOs form a sort of buffer between the sarkar and public. Between Empire and its subjects. They have become the arbitrators, the interpreters, the facilitators.

In the long run, NGOs are accountable to their funders, not to the people they work among. They’re what botanists would call an indicator species. It’s almost as though the greater the devastation caused by neoliberalism, the greater the outbreak of NGOs. Nothing illustrates this more poignantly than the phenomenon of the U.S. preparing to invade a country and simultaneously readying NGOs to go in and clean up the devastation. In order make sure their funding is not jeopardized and that the governments of the countries they work in will allow them to function, NGOs have to present their work in a shallow framework, more or less shorn of a political or historical context. At any rate, an inconvenient historical or political context.

Apolitical (and therefore, actually, extremely political) distress reports from poor countries and war zones eventually make the (dark) people of those (dark) countries seem like pathological victims. Another malnourished Indian, another starving Ethiopian, another Afghan refugee camp, another maimed Sudanese…in need of the white man’s help. They unwittingly reinforce racist stereotypes and reaffirm the achievements, the comforts and the compassion (the tough love) of Western civilization. They’re the secular missionaries of the modern world.

Eventually–on a smaller scale, but more insidiously–the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it).

Real political resistance offers no such short cuts. The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.

Reaction to the World Social Forum in Tunis

Reaction to the World Social Forum in Tunis

Above photo: Indians at the World Social Forum in Belem Brazil, January 28, 2009, discus the rights of indigenous peoples. Photo by Andre Penner / AP.

wsf2

April 5, 2013

By Tomaso Ferando

“Like a post-modern Tro­jan horse, cor­por­ate power has entered the core of the anti-globalization fort­ress and has placed its sol­diers, includ­ing a couple of mem­bers of indi­gen­ous com­munit­ies of the Amazon, to dis­sem­in­ate its word and sup­port its com­mit­ment toward a respons­ible exploit­a­tion of nature and the people. How­ever, and more dra­mat­ic­ally than in the story coun­ted by Homer, it all happened with the full aware­ness of the organ­iz­a­tion, and, even more sadly, with the silent acquit­tance of the rest of the anti-global col­lectiv­ity, which has not raised a fin­ger against the cor­por­at­iz­a­tion of the WSF and refused to organ­ize sym­bolic actions of protest.”

Interactive | NGOs: Global Change Agents or Trojan Horses for Western Hegemony?

 by Glen Wright

First published Dec 8, 2012

[prezi id=’opoqxdo1ra6y’]

Native Activists Withdraw Support from KXL Truthforce Concert Oklahoma

COALITION OF NATIVE ACTIVISTS WITHDRAW SUPPORT FROM KXL TRUTHFORCE CONCERT IN NORMAN

Casey Camp, Ponca

“Before long, we began to see a pattern that has played out repeatedly: Non-Indians armed with a savior complex, condescending tones and a penchant to show us a better way to do things, begin to plan strategy and events for us.”

A Tear for Africa: Humanitarian Abduction and Reduction

“Inciting hatred and racial fear by spreading false rumours, which then resulted in violence with a genocidal aim? Is that not a crime under international law any longer? Or does the law by implication never apply to the white people who called for it? This is interesting, to see how Amnesty International makes business for itself at both ends of genocide, and never, of course, never, offering as much as an apology or a simple admission to being wrong.

Instead, what accomplished humanitarian elites, whether in the media, NGOs, think tanks…or the Swedish government, like to do when speaking of their favourite topics (such as female genital mutilation…in Africa, not their own kind), is to celebrate themselves. And they celebrate themselves with a nice big slice of n*gger cake:”

 

August 1, 2012

by

ZERO ANTHROPOLOGY

 

Helpless, pleading, wanting, needing, small, weak, staring at you, black–this is the anti-bogeyman invented by Western humanitarianism, what passes as morality in the ideology of empire (yet again). Past the time of a London Missionary Society, we now have the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), the moral dogma of a white, western elite that projects its abusive notion of “protection” everywhere it is not wanted. Hence we have the “smug self-congratulation” marking Obama’s “Atrocity Prevention Board” and empowering the U.S. to undertake global police work. Part of a long history of casting wars as “humanitarian,” the “moral compass” of Western imperialism has an appropriately nautical sound in this commercial that declares the U.S. Navy to be “a force for global good” (nautical or extraterrestrial perhaps: the images are inspired by the opening of Star Wars, and the narration echoes Darth Vader). Well past the time of “emancipation,” we can now help Africans by owning them yet again–as children, in that state of infancy that we have long associated with primitiveness itself. We thus have the perfect therapy for the racial fear of blackness: shopping, that is, shopping for humans. Whole peoples in need of our “protection” (and the military-industrial racket of defense contractors and mercenaries that makes “protection” possible)–finally, our guilt washed away in their gratitude. For just the price of a cup of coffee–and the occasional high-altitude bombing by faceless “heroes” who never confront their victims–you too can buy yourself a piece of Africa, “the new frontier”. Then you can monitor and police its subordination, with AFRICOM.

Owning Africa: These kinds of images are so widespread that few even stop to pass comment or even take notice. Here, a page from an IKEA catalogue shows a white woman lounging in bed, with a faceless black child by her, surrounded by a cloud of prices. Such choices are always deliberate, and IKEA chose to place these human props as much as it chose the layout of the furniture.

Adoption: Abduction

Spectacle or training the audience in new consumption trends? Madonna acquires an African baby, proudly put on display.

A massive earthquake just happened. Hundreds of thousands dead and homeless. A nation destroyed. Moments later, disembarking from a night flight, returning from Haiti where few other planes could land, a group of very large white Americans, waddling and smiling through the airport, pushing double strollers displaying their newly harvested tropical produce: Haitian babies, spirited away from home. In many cases, they were simply stolen. In other cases, stolen for the sake of some very “Christian” people.

There is a lot more behind the African adoption craze than the simple desire of the large infertile ones to claim the fruit of others’ loins. Many already know that an industry has sprouted that serves as a conveyor belt for babies from Africa, passed straight into the hands of the “gimme” crowd in Europe and North America. A Web search for “Africa Adoption” returns a river of links to agencies such as: Sunrise Adoption/Africa, Americans for African Adoptions Inc. (from the managing director: “When you look into the eyes of a hungry African child, if you have any heart, you will not walk away and forget”–no, instead you will snatch the child apparently), and a few more. Each of these are part of a complex that serves up images of staring African children, lost, needing you (even when they have parents). Not usually listed as such in any international trade statistics compiled by the enemy, children are another of Africa’s exported commodities, forming part of a growing commercial industry. “The number of children from Africa being adopted by foreign nationals from other continents has risen dramatically,” the BBC said very recently, quoting this 2012 report from the African Child Policy Forum:

In the past eight years, international adoptions increased by almost 400%, the African Child Policy Forum has found. “Africa is becoming the new frontier for inter-country adoption,” the Addis Ababa-based group said. But many African countries do not have adequate safeguards in place to protect the children being adopted, it warns. The majority of so-called orphans adopted from Africa have at least one living parent and many children are trafficked or sold by their parents, the child expert group says. More than 41,000 African children have been adopted and taken out of home countries since 2004, the ACPF report says.

The adoption scandals have been plenty in number of the years, but there is nothing like imposed protection and enforced gratitude to keep the gates open to an abducted continent.

There is, I think, an important conceptualization of “abduction” that needs to be developed (different from the sense found in Alfred Gell’s Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory, also see here). Specifically, what I mean is that in order for one to presume to “care” for another, that other must be seen as living in a state of some sort of neglect and unfulfilled need. That other thus becomes like an object, that is first seized so that it can be set free. It is an object set low within a hierarchy, one that resembles old cultural evolutionist schemes where Europeans were always on top, and Africans locked far down below, in a Permanent Paleolithic time zone. Western “humanitarianism” thus works as an imperialist ideological framework: that object, “Africa,” needs our “protection” (we are the prime actors, they the recipients). This requires that we do at least two things that one would expect of imperialists. First, we need to construct images of “Africa” as a dark place of gaunt, hungry, pleading quasi-humans, where we effectively open the door to ourselves, and usher ourselves in as their self-appointed saviours. This is not the same thing as abduction in the form of kidnapping (not yet anyway): it is more of a virtual abduction, an imaginary capture that places “Africa” on a lower scale of welfare and self-fulfillment, and implies our “duty” to rescue them by “raising” them “up” to where we are. Second, we can work to ensure that the material conditions of need are effectively reproduced: we can do that with “aid” (see below), with “investment” (an odd word, because in practice it means taking away), with “trade” (where the preconditions are that Africans privatize themselves), and with direct military intervention to bomb back down to size any upstart that threatens to repossess his dignity (Libya). This too then is a capture. And then there is actual capture: seizing children, indicting “war criminals,” or inviting students to come on over and “learn” like we do so that they can become “educated”–or stay there, and let our students examine you. Humanitarians just cannot get over themselves, in other words, and they never tire of telling stories of their own greatness.

Examples abound, and they will keep on abounding as time passes, as they have in the past with an endless slew of stereotypes of “broken, helpless Africans”. We thus have the Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC), producers of awful Christmas-time videos that surely warrant a boycott, whose website produces a majority of pictures of desperate African children, or smiling African children (because they received our aid).

Blood Is Thicker Than Coffee (But Propaganda Is a Lot Like Cake)

The websites of Save the Children and Act for Peace similarly offer the same amount of African poverty pornography that remind you that you are the giver and that the power to breathe dignity into these dark objects is all yours. That also helps to numb and distract you from your own powerlessness in your own society, unless of course you happen to be one of the “one percent”. “For just the price of a cup of coffee”…the everyday humanitarian has such lofty sentiments, but they rarely include direct political action to get their own society from intervening in and harming African nations to begin with. If you care that much, cancel the debt, stop the bombing, and you can keep your coffee.

“Poor starving African children” is not just virtually a category of its own on YouTube, it is the actual title of some videos, like this one:

Very similar to the video above, there is this one from some R2P missionaries, the International aid agency of the National Council of Churches in Australia which is responsible for this R2P video–note which group of people predominates in the images shown:

One could also mention the infamously exploitative and lying “Stop Kony” campaign of conveniently pious imperialists, led by a mentally discordant junior celebrity, not heard from since his naked public rampage against Satan (see more Kony references below). That makes him guilty of “masturbating in public”…twice. Do we sometimes steal other people’s dignity because we lack any ourselves? It’s easy to take apart the motives of someone like Jason Russell, who at another time declared his campaign to be an “adventure” and that “we can have fun while we end genocide….We’re gonna have a blast”:

The more relevant point however is that Russell is showing himself to be an excellent entrepreneur in the field of abduction: seizing African children, as the victims of a Lord’s Resistance Army that is a mere shadow of its former self, in order to back further U.S. military intervention in Uganda, where the LRA is not present but where U.S. special forces are. Neither AFRICOM nor the International Criminal Court could be more thankful for this viral imperial moralism, and the mindless crowd hype that propelled it. Of course, it’s not just Uganda that “benefits” from #Kony2012, but other nations of central Africa as well that are part of AFRICOM’s hunt for the “big game” that Joseph Kony has become, as official U.S. moralism easily blends with militarism. This has become everything that “Save Darfur” dreamt it could be. A clearer case than “my humanitarianism requires your abduction” could not be made better than the Stop Kony campaign. Or, maybe I speak too soon: “Stuff White People Link n. 135: Humanitarian Intervention”.

Amnesty International has been excellent at cashing in on atrocities, reporting rumours of “African mercenaries” in Libya, only to backtrack (after many of us popularized #RacistRebels incessantly in the Twitter news stream): now AI is finding black Libyans and Sub-Saharan Africans targeted for ethnic cleansing, mass displacement, torture, rape and murder–and AI can now announce that there never were any such mercenaries. Either way, Amnesty wins, its budget is ensured as it ensures its relevance to any profitable crisis, not to mention its recent public support for the U.S./NATO war in Afghanistan to “save its women” (an angle ZA covered here, here, here, and here). AI’s double-stand on Libya has been well documented and exposed in the video documentary, “The Humanitarian War,” by Julien Teil:

Inciting hatred and racial fear by spreading false rumours, which then resulted in violence with a genocidal aim? Is that not a crime under international law any longer? Or does the law by implication never apply to the white people who called for it? This is interesting, to see how Amnesty International makes business for itself at both ends of genocide, and never, of course, never, offering as much as an apology or a simple admission to being wrong.

Instead, what accomplished humanitarian elites, whether in the media, NGOs, think tanks…or the Swedish government, like to do when speaking of their favourite topics (such as female genital mutilation…in Africa, not their own kind), is to celebrate themselves. And they celebrate themselves with a nice big slice of n*gger cake:

Abduction yet again, this time with an assault on a human dessert cart. It’s an amazing picture of a European cannibalistic feeding frenzy of fantasy, a black cake saturated with neocolonial racism, and the promotion of very paternalistic attitudes towards African women, however much some of the Swedes above may fancy themselves “feminist”. It also seems that these characters took the bait of a clever artist, and ate it.

Sure, pick on Europeans. Say what you want, but at least “Spain is not Uganda”. Yet, by some measures that Europeans cherish, the argument turned against the Spanish Minister’s feeling of “natural” superiority over African primitives: Spain’s unemployment level is 24%, while Uganda’s is 4.2%; Spain’s GDP growth was 0.1% while Uganda’s was 5.2% in 2010; nor is Uganda currently the subject of emergency “bailout” plans. A good example of successful abduction, this is not, but it was nonetheless an attempt.

To Study, Study, Study You Is To Own, Own, Own You: And I Do, and I Do

Perhaps as many as 20% of the graduate students in the Department that year chose to do their “fieldwork” in Africa. In what kinds of locations? You should be able to guess by now: a garbage dump, a cemetery, and a hospital for AIDS victims. Then they shared stories of how being white women earned them endless drooling commentary from African men. They won three times: capturing Africans in their most miserable state, scoring themselves a high “hotness” rating, and getting an advanced degree.

African feminist Ifi Amadiume shared this story of a young, white, female anthropologist:

“I asked a young White woman why she was studying social anthropology. She replied that she was hoping to go to Zimbabwe, and felt that she could help women there by advising them how to organize. The Black women in the audience gasped in astonishment. Here was someone scarcely past girlhood, who had just started university and had never fought a war in her life. She was planning to go to Africa to teach female veterans of a liberation struggle how to organize! This is the kind of arrogant, if not absurd attitude we encounter repeatedly. It makes one think: Better the distant armchair anthropologists than these ‘sisters’.”

Surely we are not all so crass? “One of the intended outcomes of my research about this community is to share with them my analysis of their situation, so they can better organize their own praxis and self-representation; that by having an outsider hold a mirror up to them, they can benefit from further self-examination.” AnthroFail subtitles itself with “Anthropology: You’re doing it wrong”. Yes, but “fieldwork”–fieldwork makes everything so much better–we should be sending out more of ours to do fieldwork in their societies. At the very least, we can harvest more African data for the American or British journals. Then “open access” will make everything better again.

Aid: Degrade

“We give oh so much aid to Africa, that it just proves how great we are. Africans are not better off? Well, that may be, but then that shows how rotten they are. We win again!” I have heard similar assertions so often, that I now have a question: why don’t you all lobby the U.S. Congress or the Canadian House of Commons to officially rewrite your respective national anthems so you can include the words between the quotation marks? When you’re that great, you should at least sing about it, especially in your football stadiums and hockey arenas. I will not challenge the fact of their “giving,” but I will question the taking–better yet, Kenyan economist James Shikwati has already done so:

“Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

“When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program–which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa …

SPIEGEL: … corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers …

“Hunger should not be a problem in most of the countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds. Africa is always only portrayed as a continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrial nations, there’s a sense that Africa would go under without development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans came along. And we didn’t do all that poorly either.

“AIDS is big business, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.

“If they really want to fight poverty, they should completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa should stand on its own two feet.”

As Shikwati explains elsewhere in the interview, Africa’s “hunger problems” as we see them could easily be solved by greater intra-Africa trade, and by breaking down European-drawn borders–in other words, by letting the African Union work. But we don’t much like the real leaders who pushed hard to realize the full potential of the African Union–we instead prefer to see them like this.

Abduction always stands against dignity–and though done much better by many others, many times before, this essay was a necessary second installment in a series of six on Dignity.

References

ACPF. (2012). Africa: The New Frontier for Intercountry Adoption. Addis Ababa: The Africa Child Policy Forum.

AGOA: The U.S. Africa Growth and Opportunity Act.

Allimadi, Milton. (2012). “Invisible Children, Makers of KONY2012, Spied For Ugandan Regime–WikiLeaks”. Black Star News, April 8.

Amnesty International. (2011). “Libya: Organization Calls for Immediate Arms Embargo and Assets Freeze”. Amnesty International, February 23.

— . (2011). “Tawarghas must be protected from reprisals and arbitrary arrest in Libya”. Amnesty International, September 7.

— . (2011). “New Libya ’stained’ by detainee abuse”. Amnesty International, October 13.

— . (2012). “Libya: Deaths of detainees amid widespread torture”. Amnesty International, January 26.

AOPIG. (2001). African Oil: A Priority for U.S. National Security and African Development. Washington, DC: African Oil Policy Initiative Group.

Araia, Semhar. (2012). “Joseph Kony 2012: It’s fine to ‘Stop Kony’ and the LRA. But Learn to Respect Africans”. Christian Science Monitor, March 8.

BBC. (2012). “Adoption from Africa: Concern over ‘dramatic rise’.” BBC News, May 29.

— . (2012). “Spain is Not Uganda. Discuss”. BBC News, June 12.

Benesch, Susan. (2004). “Inciting Genocide, Pleading Free Speech (media in Rwanda)”. World Policy Journal, Volume XXI, No 2, Summer.

Black Acrylic. (2012). “The Anti #Kony2012”. Black Acrylic, March 8

BSN. (2012). “KONY 2012, Invisible Children’s Pro-AFRICOM and Museveni Propaganda”. [Editorial] Black Star News, March 8.

Chossudovsky, Michel. (2012). “JOSEPH KONY, AMERICA’S PRETEXT TO INVADE AFRICA: US Marines Dispatched to Five African Countries”. Global Research, March 16, 2012

Davis, Whitney. (n.d.). “Abducting the Agency of Art”.

Durden, Tyler. (2012). “Uganda is Not Spain”. Zero Hedge, June 12.

Fisher, Max. (2012). “The Soft Bigotry of Kony 2012”. The Atlantic, March 8.

Forte, Maximilian C. (2009). “In Afghanistan It’s Now All About the Little Girls”. Zero Anthropology, August 9.

FriaTider. (2012). “Shocking photos show Swedish Minister of Culture celebrating with ‘n*g*er cake’”. FriaTider, April 17.

Gell, Alfred. (1998). Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ghanea, Nazila. (2011). “Prohibition of Incitement to National, Racial or Religious Hatred in Accordance with International Human Rights Law.” United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Glazebrook, Dan. (2012). “The imperial agenda of the US’s ‘Africa Command’ marches on”. The Guardian, June 14.

Gosztola, Kevin. (2012). “Why Most Wars Are ‘Humanitarian Interventions’”. The Dissenter, April 15.

Guanaguanare. (2012). “Would You Have Eaten the Cake?Guanaguanare: The Laughing Gull, April 22.

Hanifi, M. Jamil. (2009). “Engineering Division, Instability, and Regime Change with Naheed, Neda, and Allah”. Zero Anthropology, July 31.

— . (2009). “Afghanistan’s Little Girls on the Front Line, Part 2”. Zero Anthropology, August 17.

— . (2010). “Is TIME’s Afghan ‘cover girl’ really a victim of mutilation by the Taleban?Zero Anthropology, August 5.

Harvard Law Review. “International Law. Genocide. U.N. Tribunal Finds That Mass Media Hate Speech Constitutes Genocide, Incitement to Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity. Prosecutor v. Nahimana, Barayagwiza, and Ngeze (Media Case), Case no. ICTR-99-52-T (Int’l Crim. Trib. for Rwanda Trial Chamber I Dec. 3, 2003)”. Harvard Law Review, Vol. 117, No. 8 (Jun.), pp. 2769-2776.

Haywood, Eddie, and Lantier, Alex. (2011). “US deploys Special Forces troops to central Africa”. World Socialist Web Site, October 17.

Holligan, Anna. (2012). “Invisible Children’s Kony campaign gets support of ICC prosecutor”. BBC News, March 8.

International Stability Operations Association formerly known as the International Peace Operations Association

Mason, John Edwin. (2012). “A Brief History of African Stereotypes, Part 1: Broken, Helpless Africa”. John Edwin Mason, March 9.

Michael, Marc. (2012). “Stuff White People Link n. 135: Humanitarian Intervention”. Jadaliyya, April 11.

Moreno, Antonio. (2011). “U.S. Imperialism Creeps Into Uganda, Central Africa Under Guise of Human Rights”. Anti-Imperialism.com, November 14.

Puryear, Eugene. (2012). “What’s behind Kony 2012? U.S. military intervention cannot be a force for progressive change”. Liberation, March 8.

Savage, Charlie, and Shanker, Thom. (2012). “U.S. Drug War Expands to Africa, a Newer Hub for Cartels”. The New York Times, July 21.

SourceWatch: Amnesty International

Spiegel. (2005). “For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!” Spiegel Online International, April 7.

Straziuso, Jason. (2011). “Somalia, Libya, Uganda: US increases Africa focus”. Associated Press, October 27.

Timmermann, Wibke Kristin. (2006). “Incitement in international criminal law”. International Review of the Red Cross, Volume 88 Number 864, December.

Van Stokkom, Henk. (2012). “The Invisible Christians of #Kony2012Digital Archive, March 19.

Vine, David. (2012). “Yes, Let’s #STOPKONY, But What Happens If the Bad Guy Is Us?Huffington Post, March 14.

VOA. (2009). “Scandal in Chad Raises Adoption Debate”. VOA News, October 27.

Walt, Stephen M. (2012). “Is the ‘Atrocity Prevention Board’ a good idea?Foreign Policy, April 24.

Haiti and the Shaming of the Aid Zealots: How Donated Billions Have INCREASED Poverty and Corruption

One car dealer sold more than 250 Toyota Land Cruisers a month at £40,000 each. ‘You see traffic jams at Friday lunchtime of all the white NGO and UN four-wheel drives heading off early to the beaches for the weekend,’ said one Irish aid worker. ‘It makes me sick.’

By Ian Birrell
27 January 2012

The Daily Mail

The first thing that strikes you is the smell: a sweet, sickly stench that sticks to your skin. It is worst in the morning, since women are terrified of risking a nocturnal trip to the handful of lavatories serving the thousands of people in the camp because of an epidemic of rape. Even the youngest girls are in danger.

I stop to chat to a young man in a green polo shirt. Ricardo Jenty says we must take care because three gunmen have just walked by on their way to settle a feud. He fears trouble; already he has seen friends shot dead.

Ricardo, 25, a father of three young children, recounts how the earthquake that hit Haiti two years ago ruined his home and wrecked his life. His makeshift tent is one of thousands crammed onto what was once a football pitch.

Elianette Derilus tucks her prematurely born new baby daughter in the top of her dress in the maternity wing on January 04, 2012 in Port-Au-Prince, HaitiElianette Derilus tucks her prematurely born new baby daughter in the top of her dress in the maternity wing on January 04, 2012 in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

‘Every day there are fights between gangs. There are so many young bloods that don’t care now. You have to avoid them — most of us don’t want any part of these things.’

Ricardo lifts the faded sheet that serves as his front door. His three-week-old baby lies asleep on the single bed that fills the family’s home, while his two-year old son screams at the back entrance.

The heat under the plastic roof is so intense his wife Roseline, 27, drips with sweat as she describes living in such hell. She looks exhausted. If she is lucky, she says, she has one meal a day, but often goes two days without food, putting salt in water to keep her going.

Since giving birth she has passed out a number of times and does not produce enough breast milk to feed her new son. She shows me a small can of condensed milk she gives him; she cannot afford the baby formula he needs.

So had they seen any of the huge sums of aid donated to alleviate such hardship? They shake their heads — just one hygiene kit from the local Red Cross. ‘I have heard about this aid but never seen it,’ says Roseline. ‘I don’t think people like us stood a chance of getting any of it.’

Two years after the Haiti quake, only 4,769 new houses have been built, and 13,578 homes repaired, while 520,000 people remain in squalid camps

 

Two years after the Haiti quake, only 4,769 new houses have been built, and 13,578 homes repaired, while 520,000 people remain in squalid camps

Ricardo says it makes him angry. ‘If I looked back two years ago I would never have thought I would still be here in this camp. If the aid organisations really cared about our lives, they could have done something. But how can I have hope for my future, living like this?’

The family’s story shames all those international organisations that flocked to Haiti after the earthquake two years ago, which killed an estimated 225,000 people. It was one of the most devastating natural disasters of recent years — and the world responded in sympathy. The international community claimed to have given  £6.5?billion to heal Haiti’s wounds, while donations poured in to charities.

Earlier this month, on the quake’s second anniversary, aid agencies pumped out press releases proclaiming their successes. Add up all the people they claim to have helped and the number exceeds the population of Haiti.

The reality is rather different — and shines a stark light on the assumptions, arrogance and deficiencies of the ever-growing global relief industry. As promises were broken, mistakes were made and money was wasted, prices of food and basic supplies for local people soared, sanitation deteriorated, there was less safe water to drink and well-meaning interventions made matters infinitely worse.

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