Saturday, August 31, 2002

Crackling with Laughter?

I just had a flashback to Tuesday’s George Monbiot column in the Guardian about Western affluence and its discontents. In the piece, GM makes the vague and unlikely observation that people in desperately poor nations are more happy than the average Brit:

“I hardly dare to mention this for fear of being accused of romanticizing poverty or somehow conspiring to keep people in the picturesque state to which I would never submit myself. But it is impossible not to notice that, in some of the poorest parts of the world, most people, most of the time, appear to be happier than we are. In southern Ethiopia, for example, the poorest half of the poorest nation on earth, the streets and fields crackle with laughter. In homes constructed from packing cases and palm leaves, people engage more freely, smile more often, express more affection than we do behind our double glazing, surrounded by remote controls.”

Flash forward to yesterday’s BBC reports of the Ethiopian government bulldozing a slum village built by just the sort of grinning natives Monbiot wishes all of us alienated rich folks could be more like:

“Thousands of people are being made homeless in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

“Under the orders of the city administration, bulldozers began moving into the Bole Bulbula area, near Ethiopia's International Airport, on Thursday morning and began demolishing the houses of more than 10,000 people.

“[BBC correspondent Nita Bhalla] witnessed them arrive to finish the job on Friday morning.

“As people heard the sound of the great machines approaching, they ran inside their homes and began removing all the possessions they could, before their mud and wood houses collapsed to the ground.

“The government says that these houses are illegal and that they would obstruct the planned development of the city.


“Mekasha Zebene has five children and has lived in Bole Bulbula for 11 years.

‘“The people here have big families...many have seven, four or three children. They are poor and most work as day labourers or do small jobs around the city.’

‘“It would have been better if the government had killed us rather than destroying our homes. They have violated our rights as people and as citizens of Ethiopia.’”

Well, at least they don’t have to worry about being separated from their neighbors by double-glazed windows. And I doubt any of them have ever even seen a remote control.


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