Can poverty and corruption be eliminated?

International security policy

Siegmar Schmidt

Prof. Dr. Siegmar Schmidt is Professor of Analysis and Comparison of Political Systems and International Politics at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Koblenz-Landau in Landau. His main research interests are democracy and development in Sub-Saharan Africa, European foreign and security policy, German foreign and development policy.
Contact: [email protected]

Poverty has many facets that contribute to the development of conflicts and wars. In order to escape poverty and insecurity, many of those affected are trying to move to safer and more prosperous countries. This poses considerable challenges for the host countries, and the positive effects of immigration are often overlooked.

Shortly before the world economic summit in Davos, Switzerland in 2014, the British non-governmental organization (NGO) Oxfam published a sensational piece of information: According to this, the 85 richest people in the world have as much wealth as 3.5 billion people - the poorer half of the world's population - put together. Although this number impressively demonstrates the overall increase in social inequality, at most it says something indirectly about poverty. Because the poverty balance of the last few years has been very different between individual continents and countries.

Poverty also has a security dimension. As early as 2004, the UN established a direct link between poverty and the emergence of wars and conflicts in a report on global security and its threats. One possible response to poverty, whether forced or voluntary, is migration to more prosperous and safer countries. Therefore, the strong increase in irregular migration from Africa and the Middle East will be discussed and asked about its security-relevant dimension.

Forms of poverty



Absolute and relative poverty

According to the German political scientist Franz Nuscheler, absolute poverty can be understood as a life situation that is characterized by a lack of elementary goods such as food, education and clothing. Absolute poverty therefore always comprises different dimensions, for each of which there are different characteristics, which makes a general definition of poverty very difficult.

Relative poverty, on the other hand, describes the living conditions of parts of the population in rich, industrialized and economically more developed countries that live at the lower end of the prosperity level. In contrast to many developing countries, however, the proportion of the poor in the total population is low there and poverty is relative: the supply of food and basic health care is guaranteed, and people's livelihoods are not threatened. People below a certain nationally or internationally fixed minimum income limit are usually referred to as poor.

There are various ways of measuring the extent of absolute poverty, i.e. statistically recording the proportion of the absolute poor. The World Bank advocates a monetary definition. Accordingly, people are considered to be absolutely poor if they have less than 1.25 US dollars a day to live on, taking their purchasing power into account. Even if it is criticized that this limit is set too low and that it says nothing about the income distribution within societies, this indicator is often used.

The World Development Report 2014 published by the World Bank assumes that slightly more than 20 percent of the world's population will live on less than 1.25 US dollars and 50 percent that has less than 2.50 US dollars a day. In absolute numbers, this is around 1.5 billion and around 3.5 billion people worldwide. However, the level of absolute poverty varies greatly from one continent to another.

Absolute poverty decreased in all regions of the world between 1990 and 2010. However, this decline is very different from region to region: Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest proportion of absolute poor in the total population, followed by South Asia and Southeast Asia. The decline in China is very striking: while 60 percent of the population there lived in absolute poverty in 1990, 20 years later it was only 12 percent. The global decline is mainly due to this development in China. Without them, poverty would have increased even worldwide. Even if there is still poverty in China, mass poverty has decreased significantly due to the strong economic growth of recent years. However, the differences in income have increased significantly, which has increased social polarization.

The particularly critical situation in Africa is shown by the Human Development Index (HDI) developed by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP): It combines values ​​for per capita income, life expectancy and school enrollment rates and provides information on the development balance of almost all countries . In 2014 there were 44 states out of a total of 185 with a low level of development, 35 of which were in sub-Saharan Africa.

A success story in the fight against poverty was Brazil under the presidency of Lula da Silva (2003 to 2011). Extensive social welfare (Bolsa Familia) and housing (Minha casa) programs have helped to improve the standard of living of broad sections of the population, up to 50 million Brazilians in total, almost a quarter of the population.

Monetary and non-monetary poverty

Poverty is usually defined by a lack of material resources: poverty was and is therefore above all income poverty, because only a sufficient income ensures the supply of goods. This traditional, in the broadest sense monetary understanding of poverty still dominates the ideas of international organizations and donors of development cooperation. Following this logic, what is needed above all is income-increasing measures, the prerequisite for which is economic growth in order to combat poverty.

An alternative approach emerged in the 1980s. It expanded the concept of poverty with reference to the cultural diversity of societies and non-material, but fundamentally important values. The advocates of this view, who mainly come from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), argue that there is not only material but also political and cultural poverty.

Political poverty exists when there are no or only inadequate opportunities to participate in political decisions and, for example, to organize oneself in order to improve one's own situation. Amartya Sen, an Indian-born economist and Nobel Prize laureate in 1998, believed that people living in poverty had no chance of career advancement and self-fulfillment and could not exercise their rights due to poor education and political disadvantage. Successful poverty reduction must therefore aim at increasing chances and opportunities for self-fulfillment - for example by promoting education - so that people can independently change their precarious situation.

"Poverty is female"

In the course of the poverty discussion in the 1990s, it became clear that women are far more affected by poverty than men. Women earn much less on average, their share of illiterate people is much higher and they have less education and training. There are also culture-specific factors. Women in Africa often do field work, look after the children and take care of the food supply. In many countries women are also disadvantaged in inheritance law and - especially in some Arab countries - are barely allowed to take part in public life. The proportion of women in management positions and political offices is usually significantly lower there than in industrialized countries, although women are also less represented here. Poverty research is paying increasing attention to so-called vulnerable groups, such as single women and ethnic or religious minorities, as they are particularly vulnerable to poverty.

The expansion of the definition of poverty and the fact that women are particularly affected have led to a partial reorientation of international development cooperation between international organizations and many countries. Under the heading "Women in Development", which emphasized the potential of women for the development of a country, donors increasingly took gender aspects into account in their projects or launched specific programs to promote women. Success has also been achieved here: the proportion of women in Africa who can read and write has increased from 40 to 58 percent since the early 1990s. The World Bank required states that received funds for large-scale poverty reduction programs to integrate civil society groups into the planning and implementation of these programs (so-called Poverty Reduction Strategy).

Balance of poverty reduction

The fight against poverty and its various dimensions is the declared main objective of the development efforts of the states that give or receive funds for development cooperation. In September 2000 189 countries signed the UN Millennium Declaration. For development policy, so-called Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were set, which are the key document in the fight against poverty that is still valid today. With the "Action Program 2015", the Federal Government launched its own program to support the goals shortly after the MDGs were adopted. The MDGs represent an ambitious program with 8 main and 21 sub-goals, whereby the targets have been specified for the first time and given deadlines. The first and most important goal of halving the number of the absolute poor by 2015 was achieved in 2010, five years earlier than planned. It should be noted again that this was only possible thanks to China's development success and that over a billion people still live in abject poverty. Other MDG goals, such as reducing maternal mortality or gender equality in education, were only partially achieved.

Goal 1: Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger (& copy source: United Nations, Millennium Development Goals - Report 2014, p. 8; www.un.org/depts/german/millennium/MDG Report 2014 German.pdf)
The foreseeable mixed balance of the MDGs has revitalized the international discussion about the causes of poverty and how to combat it. The more recent discussion of poverty includes both structural factors and the behavior of actors. The structural causes of poverty include climatic conditions and the geographic location of a country. Countries without sea access are disadvantaged due to long and often unsafe transport routes.

The endowment with mineral resources is - contrary to the classic assumption that this is an advantage for development - currently judged to be problematic for the development opportunities of a society. From this perspective, it is argued that resources can be a "curse" for development, as they fix dependence on resource exports, lead to the neglect of other economic sectors ("Dutch disease") and, in weak states, motivate violent actors to take possession of resources bring - especially if these, like diamonds and coltan, are easily "plundered". The thesis of the resource curse can be countered by the fact that not all resource-rich countries are involved in civil wars or processes of state collapse. The positive development in Namibia, South Africa and Botswana, whose resource abundance benefits society (to varying degrees), contrasts with catastrophic developments in Liberia, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which have suffered or (as in Eastern Congo) suffered the most cruel civil wars for years always suffer. Social science research has worked out various explanations for these very different developments: Functioning statehood with a legitimate government monopoly on the use of force and effective, not excessively corrupt, transparent and democratic governance can limit the negative effects of the resource curse.

Source text

"The raw materials are a curse"

Frankfurter Rundschau: Mr Nkunzi, your homeland, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is rich in natural resources. Why do you speak of "blood minerals"?

Justin Nkunzi: Because rebels in the east of the Congo illegally exploit the deposits of coltan and gold, which is important for the electronics industry, and thus finance the civil war. So there is a direct connection between laptops and cell phones and our suffering and our blood. The abundance of raw materials is more of a curse than a blessing. [...]

FR: Above all, who are the victims of the conflicts?

Nkunzi: The rebels terrorize the entire population, rape women, massacre men and also force minors to fetch coltan and gold from the ground. Sexual violence is a big problem. Above all, traumatized women and children who have emerged from rape suffer. They are often stigmatized and find it difficult to find their way back into their village community and to regain a foothold in life.

FR: How do the minerals get out of the country?

Nkunzi: It's a criminal business. We do not exactly know the delivery relationships and transport routes. But Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, plays an important role as a transshipment point.

FR: Who are the actors on the customer side?

Nkunzi: That too is difficult to say. From reports from women who were abducted in rebel camps and are now being treated in trauma centers in the Bukavu diocese, we know that helicopters regularly land in the camps bringing weapons and food to the rebel militias and taking coltan and gold on board.

FR: Why isn't the Congolese government taking action?

Nkunzi: The state is weak - and that is a result of the illegal exploitation of our natural resources. Coltan and other valuable minerals are taken out of the country without paying taxes. This is another reason why the state cannot pay its soldiers adequate wages. Instead, members of the army cooperate with the rebels for money. [...]

FR: Should electronics companies boycott raw materials from the Congo?

Nkunzi: No, that is not our request. Minerals are part of our problem, but also a crucial part of the solution. A dirty business must turn into a win-win business. When cell phone manufacturers no longer get their raw materials from rebels but from state mines and pay fair prices, taxes and fees for them, then people benefit too.

FR: But isn't corruption still a big problem? The money often ends up in dark channels and does not benefit the local population.

Nkunzi: I had great hopes for the Dodd-Frank Act. American law obliges all companies that are subject to the US Securities and Exchange Commission to document the origin of the minerals and to ensure that they do not finance armed conflicts in the Congo or neighboring countries. And the corporations have to disclose their payments to foreign states for these conflict raw materials, broken down by project. This gives civil society an overview of financial flows and the ability to demand that the government invest in health, education and infrastructure. [...]

FR: Isn't it to be feared that the Dodd-Frank Act will lead to companies withdrawing entirely from the Congo?

Nkunzi: Why should they do this? The alternative would be to source coltan from Australia, where labor costs are much higher. There are certified huts in the Congo where the minerals are not extracted at the expense of human rights. Companies should have an interest in working with them as reliable partners instead of purchasing raw materials from rebels.

FR: What can consumers in Germany do?

Nkunzi: Civil society must put pressure on and hold Apple, Nokia, Samsung and Co. accountable. So that the companies change their procurement policy and only process conflict-free minerals. [...]

Interview by Tobias Schwab with Justin Nkunzi, priest of the Archdiocese of Bukavu in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. As the human rights representative, he heads the “Justice and Peace” committee of the Catholic diocese, in: Frankfurter Rundschau of December 30, 2014

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Poverty and security



The relationship between poverty and security is complex and has different dimensions. First of all, poverty is a fundamental threat to the security of those affected, as in its extreme form it endangers survival or leaves people in catastrophic living conditions. In addition to this individual dimension known from media reporting, the relationship between poverty and security in states and societies must also be asked. In his book "The Lowest Billion" (2008), the former World Bank economist Paul Collier found a correlation between poverty and security.On the one hand, the risk of civil war in poor countries without sufficient economic growth is significantly higher than in more affluent countries. The high vulnerability of poor countries to civil war - 73 percent of the absolute poor have experienced civil war or are in civil war countries - explains Collier, among other things, with the large number of unemployed, often poorly (educated) young men who, due to a lack of alternatives, easily abandon unscrupulous militia leaders recruited. On the other hand, civil wars prevented development: According to his calculation, economies in civil war states shrink by an average of 2.3 percent annually, which, given an average civil war of seven years, can sustainably reduce development opportunities. In addition, internal wars often destroy all development efforts, including development aid projects, for years. From this perspective, the fight against poverty also has a clear security policy dimension.