TUMBY BAY – This may surprise you, but it’s a statement of truth: Many countries we term ‘developing’ don’t need development to create democracy.
And this is because traditional societies in countries like Papua New Guinea were always democratic, possibly more so than countries like Australia and the USA which boast about their democracies.
What these former colonised countries now need are governments that uphold the democracies they once knew.
Western countries like Australia and the USA, present ‘development’ as something good but is that really true?
A lot of development, particularly of a commercial nature, can lead to societal inequity.
Those who profit from this kind of development laud it but the many who miss out are less enthusiastic.
They resent elites that have greatly benefited from development and are jealous of them and aspire to be like them.
Is this kind of development a social good? Many people would argue that it is because it is a positive driving force.
However it can be contended that such a force is ultimately destructive because it changes the nature of society and its processes in rendering economic, social and cultural change, it destroys positive elements along the way.
These elements include community solidarity and cooperation, close family, kin and clan relationships, collective ownership, environmental awareness, known roles, jobs matched to natural talents and skills, and production with little or no waste.
With colonialism came change, and with change came development, a mantra that inspires many people, governments included.
Governments and communities need to take care of what development actually means. What is their understanding of it.
Development supposedly increases living standards, but the material change generated by the acquisition of goods like refrigerators and smart phones are poor indicators of living standards.
Of much greater importance are the more pervasive and useful changes rendered by universal education, the arrival of health services and agricultural improvements.
And this raises the issue of the development rhetoric more often being linked to economic growth, the catch cry of capitalism.
Neo-liberalism – with us since the late 20th century – used the catch cry ‘development’ as it formed an ideology favouring free-market capitalism, deregulation and limitations on the role of government.
Those sprawling and soulless new suburbs that surround most Australian cities are development incarnate but many citizens of the ‘urban jungle’ live on the borderline of poverty and struggle to rise above their desperate lives.
Neo-liberalism favours a relatively small number of wealthy people and marginalises and deprives the majority.
Unregulated economic growth is often the perpetrator of environmental and social destruction.
And the perpetrators of unregulated growth have given the world a changing climate that threatens our survival as a species.
Foisting economic growth on ‘underdeveloped’ countries brings them into the camp of those responsible for climate change.
And the impacts of climate change, which if unchecked ultimately threaten all of humanity, threaten the less empowered and uninfluential more than the developed world.
Being labelled ‘underdeveloped’ is a derogatory and shaming thing for a country and its people to endure. But the guilt is misplaced.
Being underdeveloped might really mean that a country has not given in to the greed motive and actually cares about its people and its environment.
You find that sort of sentiment widespread in places like Papua New Guinea where an increasing number of communities oppose so-called economic development, even in the face of their corrupted polity and the elites who benefit from lax government.
I doubt those people are against development per se. If they were offered help to improve their education and health services they would undoubtedly accept it graciously.
On the other hand, when they are offered help to build a new mine, log their forests, build a military base or export their young people as labourers, they should think twice.
Because there is ‘good development’ and there’s ‘bad development’.
Underdeveloped countries have to be careful about what they accept from the developed world.
As the old adage says, ‘beware of Greeks bearing gifts’.
The adage is a warning that what appears to be a gift, expression of friendship or act of virtue in reality covers a hidden threat.
It is an adage that applies in many respects to the processes that drive development.