This morning I listened to Simon Anholt on his study on ‘good countries’. The quality that he looks for is contribution to the people of the earth and to the planet. ‘Good’ as opposed to ‘selfish’; not as opposed to ‘bad’, which is a totally other animal and not relevant here. The Good Country index, developed by Dr Robert Govers considers countries’ contributions to:
✔ Science and technology,
✔ International peace and security,
✔ World order,
✔ Planet and Climate),
✔ Prosperity and equality,
✔ Health and Wellbeing.
The full index ranks 125 countries on the above criteria.
It feels like a good time to contemplate the choice I made to become a Canadian. Am I living in a good country?
When I was twelve my parents took us on a 6-week North-African/European tour, visiting Egypt, Greece, and Italy – all countries I would learn about in my history classes in the following year, and then skiing in Switzerland. In St. Moritz I learnt the horrible truth: that I came from a pariah continent. Patrice Lumumba, of whom I’d never heard, had become the very outspoken Prime Minister in the newly independent former Belgian Congo. (He would be killed by firing squad after a coup about 6 weeks after I first heard his name.) There were some other kids in the Hotel du Lac – Belgians – who found out that we were South Africans. A serious snowball war broke out between them and my Afrikaans cousins. The issue: We were Bad People. Somehow we were responsible for Lumumba’s struggle against Belgian oppression – we were Africans. We were/are white Africans though. Did we not stand apart and above the rest of the continent?
In the pristine snowy mountains of Switzerland I gained my first insight into world politics. Back home, within four months, the Sharpeville massacre would take place. White government – white police – black protesters – real bullets – shot in the back.
It was the beginning of political consciousness for me – coinciding nicely with puberty and being sent to an English high school where I had to learn English ways (I’m an Afrikaner). Increasingly I sought the company of people who were critical of apartheid, all the while living quite comfortably in my large white suburban home where our cook, housemaid and two gardeners lived in cramped quarters in the back yard. I felt it was unfair that I should be born to a nation beleaguered by violence and racial hatred. I wanted to come from a good country.
I lived in a not-good country. I discovered that there were countries that were highly respected internationally. Canada was one of those. Canada looked like a good country. It was the time of the Vietnam War. American backpackers in Europe were allegedly stitching Canadian flags on their bags to hide their embarrassment at having been born in the USA. They wanted the invisibility and/or goodwill that come from being from a good country. Canadian backpackers did the same, in self-defence. The Canadian accent became its own flag.
I’ve been a Canadian since 1978. Was it the power of attraction to a “good country” or was I running away from the impending racial war? Both.
My youngest son was born here. I developed an interest in Canadian politics despite a total ignorance of its history and the struggles of its first nations, but I’m learning. At a Canadian university, doing a graduate degree, I finally learnt to think and question rather than to regurgitate. I am an environmentalist. I recycle and regularly pick up other people’s garbage on the beach, although I am intimidated by the draconian rules of my city on how to deal with my domestic garbage and recyclables. I drive more respectfully and more generously when I’m in Canada. I smilingly allow merging traffic to merge into my lane. Both my countries have had Truth and Reconciliation Commissions.
Segue to 2014.
Canada’s stature on the international stage is slipping. We refuse to commit ourselves to environmental goals that would make the world a better place for all of us. Somehow we do something at the UN to lose our position on the Security Council. We drag our heels in responding to the Syrian refugee crisis. There seems to be a creeping erosion of civil rights. New proposed legislation makes me less than sure about my Canadian citizenship. Can I still say what I think? I’m not a fundamentalist terrorist, yet I feel uneasy. Can my citizenship be revoked?
Is Canada a ‘good country’? According to Anholt’s research we’re at No. 12: after France and Belgium, and ahead of Germany, Austria and Australia. We’re way ahead of our neighbours to the south: USA is at 21 and Mexico at 66. The winners are Ireland, Finland and Switzerland as nos. 1,2,3. And the country of my origin: South Africa drags itself in at 44th place. Ahead of Jamaica, Croatia, Korea and Brazil. Wonderful that Belgium has moved beyond its sorry history in the Congo. I wonder if they’re still engaged in making reparation, as is expected of the colonizing nations.
But so it seems, despite my misgivings, Canada is still in the broader sense a Good Country, with room for improvement (even Ireland, with its No. 1 position on the dimension of prosperity and equality in addition to its overall Number One ranking, has significant room for improvement in taking care of the planet).
When I look at the index in detail, Canada’s scored 2 – TWO on Planet and Climate?!). What about the tar sands? Does it mean that the angry environmentalists who publish the stuff I’m prone to reading are getting it wrong? Are the recylists and cyclists cancelling out the environmental damage in Alberta?
On Health and Wellbeing Canada ranks no. 4. Can it be that the health care system we’re so attached to is working, despite all our complaints about long waiting periods and overworked nurses?
We’re not doing so well on International peace and security – we sit at 106. What’s happened since Senator Romeo Dallaire donned his blue UN peacekeeping beret in Rwanda? Kenya’s at 20, Russia at 90. (Mind, the FAQs on the website acknowledge that their data are historical and do not reflect recent events.)
Quite frankly, I don’t know what to make of this study. I have serious questions about some of the scores. Yet, I feel better about being at no 12 than being at no. 44. I will look at my Irish-heritage friends with new eyes. And, I have to revisit my Tanzanian dry ice manufacturing company‘s strategy. We committed ourselves to supporting the UN Millennium Goals, but we’re not tracking very well. We need to do something about Tanzania being at 93 on Planet and Climate). I want to run my business in a good country too. But I must remain vigilant about the bad things that can happen in “good countries”.
© Delphine du Toit, July 7 2014