Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Knowledge Divide

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

The Knowledge Divide

Article excerpt

Globalization looks very different when it is seen, not from the capitals of the West, but from the cities and villages of the South, where most of humanity lives. Four examples taken from my own country, Peru, illustrate how the paradoxical forces shaping globalization look when seen from the other side.

In October 1999, 28 schoolchildren died in Taucamarca, a remote village in the highlands of Peru, after drinking water and powdered milk mixed in a vat that had contained a powerful insecticide. Nobody could read the label on the vat and the children were poisoned. The insecticide in question has been banned in practically every industrialized nation; its sale continues only in places like my country.

Secondly, an important annual event recently took place in Cajamarca, in the north of Peru. Potato growers gather there to exchange the best seeds they have produced in the last year. It is an act of pride for communities to share with others seeds that will help improve the production of potatoes. In 1999, transnational corporations attended the festival and are now working to patent the genes of these traditional foodstuffs in order to sell them at profit.

Peru's macro-economic indicators are excellent. In the offices of investment bankers, you will be told that Peru is a great investment opportunity. The situation is not so rosy however, when considered from the perspective of Peruvians. Fifty per cent of the population have been living below the poverty line for the last ten years. Twenty per cent of the population are living below the critical poverty line: their income is insufficient to pay for even minimal nourishment. Two-thirds of the workforce is unemployed or underemployed, and between now and 2005, more people will enter the labour market in Peru than in the whole of the European Union.

A distinguished North American political scientist, Dr. Benjamin Barber, recently pointed out that in the United States democracy had degenerated into bringing one group of rascals in for four years, and then throwing them out and replacing them with another group of rascals for four years. From the perspective of the South, that looks very good! In a context where rascals manipulate elections and stay in power for fifteen or sixteen years, I would appreciate the chance to throw them out through peaceful elections every four years.

Thus, the complaints of the North are often the aspirations of the South. Progress in industrialized nations can be a threat to developing countries. …

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