TORONTO – If globalization is necessary and inevitable, then economic progress everywhere is connected ethically to development in countries like Zambia, said a prominent U.S. Jesuit.
True globalization is not just economic, Jesuit Father Peter Henriot, director of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Lusaka, Zambia, told audiences in Canada as they marked the 40th anniversary of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace.
He said if Canadians look at today’s economy through the eyes of Catholic social teaching, they will embrace globalization.
“It’s beyond the economic and political interdependence,” he said. “We’re ethically interconnected.”
Father Henriot said when he arrived in Zambia 19 years ago, life expectancy in the landlocked, southern African country was a rather dismal 52 years. Today, life expectancy of Zambians is about 37 years.
While Zambia’s life expectancy has dropped, the country’s economic indicators, such as gross domestic product and investment, are looking up.
Aid agencies like Development and Peace are unlikely to change the basic economics that drive poverty in Africa, but that’s not their purpose, said Father Henriot. Catholic social teaching is about the relations between people, and Development and Peace exists to make the idea of solidarity real.
“Development and Peace needs to constantly link to people,” he said. “We are a people organization.”
Ultimately, Africans will solve their continent’s economic and political problems, but they need to do it in the context of international solidarity, Father Henriot said.
Father Henriot told The Catholic Register in Toronto Oct. 26 that Zambians’ premature deaths have obvious and undeniable causes.
Foremost, more than 70 percent of Zambians are in desperate poverty, he said. For the majority, food, water and a safe place to sleep are daily challenges, he added. For Zambians ages 15-49, there is a 17 percent HIV prevalence rate.
Combine that with the collapse of public health care, public education and many other government services in the 1980s and ‘90s, he said. Basic public services disappeared when the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and others urged Zambia to take drastic measures to reform its economy and reduce its crushing international debt burden, which reached more than $6 billion when the country qualified for the Highly Indebted Poor Countries program in 2000.
Zambia’s debt problem began when copper prices went into a two-decade slump in the 1970s. Zambia’s copper mines were almost the only way the former British colony earned hard currency on international markets, and the industry was plagued by chronic underinvestment.
Father Henriot said the sort of companies that would invest in copper in Zambia were the sort that would dump toxic waste into people’s drinking water.
Attempts to diversify Zambia’s economy have been cut off by U.S. and European trade barriers that make it next to impossible for African agriculture to compete on world markets, he said.