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Second Edition of Duncan Green’s From Poverty to Power Launched at Ike’s Books and Collectables

Duncan Green

From Poverty to PowerJacana Media and Oxfam jointly launched the second edition of Duncan Green’s book, From Poverty to Power, on a balmy evening last Thursday night in Durban, at Ike’s Bookshop. The quality of the questions after the author’s address revealed excellent focus and attention on the part of the audience.

Inger Harber, Student Liaison Officer at Oxfam SA, welcomed Green to SA, noting that he is a senior strategic adviser for Oxfam Great Britain. Taking the microphone, Green explained that in development two issues are key: firstly, that of active citizenship where people assert their rights and secondly, that of effective states, which invest in infrastructure, energy and the rule of law. He noted that SA has a long tradition of active citizenship, but that all is not well with the state. His concern is to enable citizens to fix this.

Duncan said he spent a part of last year updating the first edition of From Poverty to Power, analysing what has changed in the world. He honed in on three “systemic shocks” which have affected development i.e. the global financial crisis of 2008, a food crisis prompted by land grabs across Africa, and the Arab Spring. He noted that the “essence of political, social, and economic change is that you don’t know what is going to happen”, saying this is the challenge for Oxfam: “how to plan work when the future is unpredictable”. He ended his speech, surprisingly, with a quote from the US Marines, which he said he felt applied to his organisation: “keep moving, take the high ground, and stay in communication”.

Bookseller Cedric Sissing asked Green about a statement he made on SABC Morning Live earlier in the week where he said he thought SA was not a developmental state. Green said that the word “development” has become a “fuzz word, a buzz word”, with no real consensus around what it actually means. He said with its growing educational problems and poor implementation of government policy, he did not believe that SA was a developmental state.

Later, someone in the audience asked Green why he was not punting his ideas more directly to the South African government, which has the power to facilitate change nationally. He replied by saying that Trevor Manuel has read this book, and also that Oxfam has met with the national Secretariat to discuss issues it raised. He reiterated his belief that Oxfam should be helping local citizens to negotiate with government on their own behalf.

Asked about charismatic leader Hugo Chavez, Green humourously commented: “He has done an Elvis, dying before the problems precipitated by his leadership kick in”. He praised Chavez for addressing poverty in Venezuela, but criticised him for undermining state institutions.

As regards the issue of China’s meteoric rise to economic and political power, Green recommended not listening to the “Washington Consensus”, noting that the Chinese Communist Party is still going strong, and is aware of issues of legitimacy and social cohesion. He said however, there is every chance of a major upheaval as the government is limited by the fact that it is not democratic. Although he labelled it “crystal ball stuff,” Green said the middle class may drive a revolution in China by demanding political rights.

Wrapping up, Sissing thanked Green for piquing his interest in buying the book, and commended Jacana Media on producing a “readable” book. From Poverty to Power is also published by Pluto Press in the United Kingdom.

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