By Eddie Cross
Casting your mind back over the last two centuries, you can see that the challenges facing mankind have changed dramatically. The main driver of this change has been technology. When Germany and Japan launched their global campaign for domination in 1939, it was on the basis of a sense of superiority and strength in terms of their conventional armed forces. What they achieved in a short period of time was a tribute to their armed forces and the technologies at their disposal.
Such a computation today would be ridiculous. The time is fast approaching when conventional armed forces will have little real function except to maintain law and order on a limited scale in specific localities.
Interstate armed conflict, especially involving the major powers is most likely to be so overwhelmingly destructive, that it has become almost impossible. Dirty wars at a local level are the game today – ISIS, Myanmar, Kashmir, Mali – the list is very long and growing by the day, but the idea of a global conflagration such as the two World Wars of the last century is now unthinkable.
Even 20 years ago, Governments believed they could control what their people read and believed. The generation of leaders who grew up in Communist States or in Islamic countries, thought they could dictate what their people thought. Control of the newspapers, the media and physical movement would be enough, they imagined, and then the cell phone arrived and the ubiquitous internet.
Every Dictator’s nightmare.
Today the era of the powerful editors of great newspapers, the giant presses that poured out the news for sale on the streets, all gone. There was a time, not long ago when an editorial in a great newspaper could influence the world. Now no one even knows their names. Newspapers will soon be a thing of the past.
The acceleration of change seems to know no boundaries. I cannot remember when I last had to go and see my bank manager. I cannot remember making out my last cheque. We never bank any money in cash anymore. What about the telex or the typewriter, even the ultimate – the Fax Machine with its rolls of paper. My Grandson does not even know the name of some of these agents of change in the last century.
Yet, the challenges remain.
I want to list just four: Education, health, poverty and security.
Why these four in particular? It is because these are the four elements that really determine the quality of life for all of us. Education because it has always been the main driver and manager of change in society. Do you want to liberate women in a harsh patrilineal society, educate the girls!
Do you want to liberate your children from the crushing poverty and insecurity that surrounds your family, educate your children! Are your afraid your children will not cope with the new world order that will confront them when they leave home, give them the one thing that will pay dividends all their lives – a decent education.
I was raised by a woman who had just two years in a primary school and who thereafter taught herself secretarial skills that made her a sought after employee. She raised 4 children, almost on her own, when my father became an alcoholic and lost everything. We got the best education she could afford, assisted by a State that gave us as whites, preference when it came to services like schooling. I was the very first in my family to get a University education.
I have a vision of a new world order, where in every country of the world, rich and poor, when a child leaves home to walk to school, they cross the threshold into a secure, safe environment where if they did not get breakfast they will get something to eat and when they enter the classroom, there is electricity, clean water, with dedicated teachers who are well paid and motivated and every child has access to a computer and the internet. Is such a thing possible? Yes, it is because never in world history has the world economy generated such surpluses! It is simply a question of re-ordering our priorities.
In our Men’s Fellowship at Church, we invited a business person to talk to us about long term security. He was a person who had made and lost several fortunes and was a wealthy man in his own right. He began his talk by saying that the most important aspect of securing our individual futures was not the latest pension plan or savings and investments, it was ensuring that we were healthy. Simple, it hit me like a blow in the face, the truth of that statement has remained with me since then.
If you do not have your health, everything else fades into insignificance. So access to health services must be one of the great challenges of our time and maybe the Covid pandemic is a timely reminder. Those burning pyres in India will remain in our minds forever.
And do not think that the developed world has found the answer – the NHS in the UK and the Health Insurance industry in the USA are in fact examples of costly health systems built by societies that have the resources, but even so they do not meet the basic needs of everyone and the services they supply are often snarled in red tape and available only to the better off after lengthy delays.
I think the world can do better, we need more competition, we need to use new technologies and we need to ensure that basic health services – diagnosis and treatment, are available to everyone. We may not be able to give heart transplants to everyone who needs it, but we can treat 85 percent of the problems that everyone faces every day. Covid, as Obama said during his Presidency, would be a wakeup call to the world where you have to treat everyone in order for everyone to be safe.
Then we need to tackle poverty. Have you ever walked into a village where everyone was starving and near death? I have, and it is not pleasant. I remember a Sunday Service in our Church when two girls who had volunteered to work in a refugee camp in Somalia came home and testified to what they had seen.
They started to talk and then broke down, unable to describe what they had seen in the camps. Jesus said you will always have the poor among you, but he also said that if you have two coats, and your brother none, you should give him one. He also said that the greatest law in all of creation was that we should serve one another.
We live in an unequal world made more unequal by the new economy and the new world order. Billionaires abound. We need men like David Bussau who, when he reached the ripe old age of 40, sold almost everything he owned and put it into a Trust and has spent the rest of his life investing in people. I visited a project in India where a simple investment of US$500 per family and title rights to 50 square metres of land had transformed the lives of thousands.
Then the issue of personal security. It is astonishing to me that so little change and progress is seen in this sector and to me this is one of the great challenges of our time.
Corruption and crime is bigger than ever, terrorism, using simple technologies and equipment is becoming universal. Even low levels of terrorist activity can dislocate a whole community and have devastating impact on economies in an age where news is instantly available across the world.
Anybody who is involved will tell you that this is the toughest assignment and as the UA and the Russians have discovered, even the best armies cannot cope.
If we can address these four challenges, we can be assured that our children will be able to make their way in what has become a computer driven jungle.
Eddie Cross is a former opposition MDC MP for Bulawayo South and a respected economist. You can follow his blog African Herd