U.S. Navy Builder 3rd Class Zavier Favila, center, and a Cambodian worker apply stucco to the walls of a school in Cambodia. Photo: U.S. Navy/Released
A US Navy officer and a local worker apply stucco to the walls of a school in Cambodia. Photo: US Navy

Civilization is supposed to promote the well-being of people, allowing them to live in dignity and prosperity. People advance science that cures illnesses, invent things that make their lives easier, create institutions that support peace and well-being of all mankind, leaving no one behind.

In what we claim to be human civilization, unfortunately there is still a huge divide between rich and poor countries. While the rich demand rights, the poor demand rice.

Rights and freedom for the poor are freedom from hunger, freedom from dying without health care, freedom from fear of not being able to raise the next generation, and leaving them to the streets on piles of garbage.

The freedom to demand whatever they want is the natural desire of human beings. Whether states and societies can provide them this freedom or not is a totally different issue.

This is the core of the issue that the world should focus upon: states’ capacity to deliver.

In poor countries, it is not freedoms and rights that matter. In poor countries, the capacity to deliver matters.

Spending hundreds of millions of dollars just to produce reports and global rankings of how poor or weak countries are does not help.

It is merely narcissism.

It is merely an act of self-satisfaction, and the original good intentions to help in fact turn out to be a punishment, discouragement and obstruction of development.

Poor and weak countries don’t need other countries to tell them that they are poor and weak. They need support to work out their problems and strengthen their weak institutions. They know they are weak and poor. They are trying to fight the problems of poverty and development, and they don’t want to fight distraction and obstruction.

Like people, countries also need self-esteem. How would you, as an individual human being, feel if someone keeps saying you are a loser? It does not create encouragement, it only creates anger and disappointment.

If a foreign non-governmental organization has more capable human and financial resources than a poor country’s ministerial portfolio, do the criticisms of weakness and this asymmetric situation mean anything at all? It is just a confirmation of the obvious.

Poor countries don’t need millions of dollars’ worth of reports just to confirm their weaknesses; they need those dollars in the form of education that gives them real job skills. They need those dollars in the form of roads, bridges, hospitals, medicines and medical equipment, electricity, railways, ports, airports, markets, investments, factories – all the basic things that countries need to run their economy and support people’s livelihoods.

Civilization should not create a culture that make countries feel good when they punish the poor and the weak for their poverty and weaknesses. Civilization should create a culture that makes countries enjoy helping each other, not through pointing out weaknesses, but through concrete actions and tangible outputs in overcoming developmental challenges and poverty that have been the core issues for human civilization since time immemorial. 

Sim Vireak

Sim Vireak is a strategic adviser to the Asian Vision Institute based in Phnom Penh. He has written articles on a variety of topics pertaining to Cambodia's political economy, development and foreign affairs. The views expressed are his own and do not represent those of his affiliation.