What you need to know:
- ... decide what the non-negotiables are and what can be conveniently shelved to be returned to later. This is exactly what the West does.
What do you do if your employer requires you to execute a task that goes against your core beliefs? Do you say no and risk getting sent back to the streets to suffer the consequences of not having an income while maintaining your self-respect? Or do you acquiesce and do their bidding because bills can’t differentiate between what is moral and what isn’t? In my years preparing young people for the world of work, that question has come up quite often.
In fact, it is a near-permanent fixture in our mock job interview activities, where we ask job seekers what they would do if their supervisors asked or forced them to take an action that was inconsistent with their inner selves.
There is a near-right answer to give when you are seated before an interview panel but it is not exactly clear if anybody believes it. The more I have interacted with young people who are, on a daily, required to negotiate these moral and ethical contradictions when they are juxtaposed with issues of bread and butter by their employers, the more I realize the complexities in which most of us work.
Take for example an African scholar or Middle Eastern civil society whose work is funded by a Western foundation. Supposing they had the sense to condemn the acts of terror committed by Hamas, but also feel convinced that Israel is an apartheid state, itself engaged in violations that on the merit of it, outstrip what Hamas can do. How are they to engage with their Western partners on the subject?
Inversely, it has also made me a lot more sympathetic to our leaders because the reality is usually far from the ideal. You might remember a few months into his presidency, William Ruto of Kenya, while responding to the Sudanese philanthropist and billionaire, Mo Ibrahim, said that “they” were done trooping to Western and Asian capitals to hold meetings and have photo opportunities with global leaders.
Instead, he said, African leaders had resolved that other such summits in Washington, the United Kingdom, Moscow, Beijing, Riyadh, etc, would be the business of the Secretariat of the African Union. Otherwise, what pride is in seeing the continent’s leaders getting bused through cities – especially if their favorite pastime is blocking city roads and holding traffic for eons, as they head to the bathroom to get ready to launch a borehole or water a tree during the rain?
Ruto wasn’t the first to make this pronouncement. President Museveni and his Rwandan counterpart have been riling about the West every so often. However, they continue to go and attend these meetings.
But if that is not divisive, how about homosexuality? In about 30 African countries, the practice is illegal – and even attracts the death penalty in some. The argument usually made is that it is ungodly and the handiwork of foreigners eager to spread their immoral cultures. We shall not have a back-and-forth over the arguments from both sides because that’s not today’s angle.
Except to say that it always makes for interesting takes when, like an employee who has to decide between their morals and the job requirements, countries from the Global South are forced to decide whether they want money from those whose morals they say they despise. No need to explain that every time the question is asked, the answer is Yes!
This week, Henry Kissinger, the pragmatic architect of the United States’ contemporary raw foreign policy that was responsible for the lives and blood of a reported 3 million people spread across the world, died at 100 years old. The bet is he will be celebrated by Western capitals, who will gloss over his war crimes and transgressions because they know how to do double-standards quite well.
It might help to ask what the interests of the Global South, its leaders and scholars, and its human resources are. To decide what the non-negotiables are and what can be conveniently shelved to be returned to later. This is exactly what the West does. It is what employers do. It is what benefactors do.
Benjamin Rukwengye is the founder Boundless Minds. @Rukwengye