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Why Rajat Gupta’s Rwanda proposal should affront the world’s poor

“I would rather go to Rwanda”.

This is what Rajat Gupta told the district court in New York as it was calculating his possible jail term for indulging in insider trading. The court, of course, didn’t agree with his Rwanda-for-jail barter proposal and gave him a light sentence.

“If the reports of Mr Gupta’s charitable endeavours are at all accurate, he can be counted on to devote himself to community service when he finishes any prison term, regardless of any order of the Court,” Judge Jed S Rackoff said.

Translated into layman’s language, it may read like this: if he indeed wants to go to Rwanda, he can go there after his jail term.

But why Rwanda?

Is life in Rwanda similar to that in American jails? Or is Rwanda infested with criminals? Or does it have an America-run correctional facility?

No; Instead, Rwanda is a metaphor.

A metaphor for hopeless lives, poverty and ill-health; a metaphor for America’s corporate benevolence; and a metaphor for the white man’s burden.

It’s not surprising that the Rwanda plan was not something that the defendants of Gupta pulled out of their hat. Instead, it was a plan devised in consultation with the the country’s government. AP

Gupta was in effect trying for a barter — living with hopelessly poor and sick people than with the criminals in a depressing jail.

Didn’t his words sound as if life in Rwanda is comparable to the life in an American jail. Of course they did.

One of the poorest countries in the world (ranked 166th in human development) with a bloody past of ethnic violence, endemic poverty and ill-health, Rwanda has the ideal setting where American Foundations would like to spend the excess cash that their parent corporations have handed over for charity. They also have a lot of influence with rulers of such countries who wouldn’t mind agreeing to host another country’s criminal in exchange for aid and charity.

It’s not surprising that the Rwanda plan was not something that the defendants of Gupta pulled out of their hat. Instead, it was a plan devised in consultation with the the country’s government.

“The Rwandan government has expressed support for a program of service in which Mr Gupta would work with rural districts to ensure that the needs to end HIV, malaria, extreme poverty and food security are implemented,” New York Times reported, quoting Gary P Naftalis, a lawyer for Gupta.

Foundation-funding is not a new story. In India, starting long ago, Ford Foundation had supported the country’s green revolution and funded many of its civil society activists including some of the apolitical corruption crusaders; and Bill and Melinda Gates foundation had spent about $200 million on AIDS prevention and control.

Ford was old school of tied-assistance, and Gates Foundation, its new age equivalent. But the corporate style Foundation funding is the new way of meddling with government policies in poor countries. The Foundations come with big sounding money, which often is only a fraction of the national budget of the countries concerned, and a number of unseen strings attached.

The icons associated with the Foundations and the associated media overdrive ensure that the native rules agree to most of their prescriptions, which in the long run can harm the country. This is why Haiti is still a basket case after receiving cash and kind support for generations, while Cuba, its ditto in the Caribbean, is a shining case of human development and sustenance without this kind of aid and advice.

Bangladesh and Nepal are typical examples from our region.

Thank heavens, Rajat Gupta didn’t mention India. Perhaps because the people who backed him in his Rwanda idea such as Bill Gates and Clinton have already done Corporate America’s bit in India. Also probably India’s doesn’t sound as dramatic as Rwanda, and the touchy Indian establishment might take it as an affront.

Now that he has been sentenced, the poor and the poor countries in the world should take strong exception to the Rwanda-plea by Gupta and the jet-setting philanthropists.

It’s an affront to the poor people of the world. And an opportunistic idea to exploit people’s desperation, not an offer for help.

If Gupta is indeed interested to improve the lives of people in Rwanda, he need not go there; but stay back in America and dissuade the country’s government and corporate charity from meddling with the policies of other countries.

Since he has specified HIV and malaria in his proposal to the court, it will make tremendous sense if he can join thousands of activists who are fighting for fair prices and better access to lifesaving medicines. He should join them in dissuading America and rich countries from pursuing bilateral trade agreements with poor countries that innocuously circumvent TRIPS — flexibilities the latter are entitled to, and silly patent cases in developing countries.

He can also campaign for voluntary licensing of life saving medicines by big drug companies, differential pricing and extensive use of generics.

In terms of food security, if he is really serious, he should at a minimum, campaign against the corporations which are trying to control even farmers’ rights over their seeds. In the fight against poverty, he can leverage his influence in reducing structural violence, including by rich countries.

Anyway, let’s wait for him to come out of jail in January 2014. If he is still interested in community service, perhaps he may be well advised to change his model of philanthropy.

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