Law School Focuses on Africa

Harvard Law School Professor Duncan M. Kennedy ’64 and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Jeffrey D. Sachs ’76 discussed the implications of international development in Africa before a large audience at the Law School last Friday.

Kennedy and Sachs debated opposite approaches to facilitating international development, ranging from community-based organizations to more centralized international bodies. Kennedy highlighted the mobilization of activists in impoverished countries as a major step to improving conditions, while Sachs emphasized the duty of the rich to help break what he viewed as a vicious cycle of destitution.

Sachs attributed the persistent poverty of developing nations to a cycle in which impoverished countries only become more impoverished by remaining trapped in their conditions.

But according to him, today’s society is equipped with such advanced technology and tools that it has an "opportunity in history to see the end of that kind of poverty."

Kennedy criticized the poverty trap described by Sachs, arguing that such a cycle overlooks the heavy influence of capitalist development programs in producing extreme conditions of poverty.

Kennedy cited as an example the Muslim population living in the poorest area of Ghana, who are "not left behind, not trapped" by the Ghanean environment, but instead are hindered by imposition of one-size-fits-all development programs, many of which fail to take into account the needs of individual areas.

According to Kennedy, only on-ground, community-based bottom up approaches that mobilize the developing nation’s population can successfully create a sustainable plan for alleviating extreme poverty.

"Human rights or technical guidance of foreign money does not help," he added.

Sachs said that the development process leads to inevitable exploitation along the way, but added that "development is not the cause [of poverty], but an unfinished process" towards moving out of widespread poverty.

Only by continuing the development process can the most destitute nations reach a stage in which they are no longer as vulnerable to such exploitation, he said.

Friday’s talk highlighted the publication of the recent book "Stones of Hope: How African Activist Reclaim Human Rights to Challenge Global Poverty," which compiles in-field experiences of various activists throughout Africa and theoretical essays on development.

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