Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Irish Sporting Colonialism and Some of the Perils of Charity

Initially the sight of a Zambian guy walking down the road in an Irish club gaa jersey used to send me into an absolute tizzy of excitement and deliria.  As it happened more frequently I managed to deal to deal with the situation with a bit more composure and decorum.  Although not enough to stop me approaching the guy to announce the relevance of his sporting regalia to my life.  Utterly bemused, they listen to me spit my words out, gasping for breath with the excitement of it all.  They look down at the jersey that they had plucked from their pile of clothes that morning, unknowing that it would cause such a reaction from this strange white boy.  They treat the whole situation with a few smiles and shakes of their head, as they deal with most things in life and accept my request for a photo.  I walk away like a child clutching the autograph of their favourite sportsperson.

The less spurious and humourous side to this is story and impact of how these guys came to wear this stuff.  90% of Zambians wear western clothing.  All of it comes as charitable donations from rich countries in Europe and North America.  I myself have donated shitloads of my old clothes like this, thinking of the benefit that it was bringing.  I didn’t realise that I was contributing to the destruction of the textile industries of these countries.  They have all collapsed over the past few decades, unable to survive the arrival of these donations which are sold cheaply in every town in Zambia (I imagine it’s the same situation in most African countries).  

One place it doesn’t happen is South Africa. They don’t accept this wonderful charity.  They see it as a threat to their own industry.  This protectionism is highly discouraged as it is seen as distorting ‘free trade’ (more on the fallacy of that in later posts).  I would stress though the difference between donations to countries recovering from humanitarian crises, who are in desperate need of any provisions they can avail of.

The other countries, like Zambia, don’t need free clothes sent to them. They need jobs.  They need their own industries. 

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