Amanda Howe : An Interview with June Arunga

June shows the world not only that Africa is a continent in need but also that Africans themselves have the resourcefulness to confront their own hardships.

Date Posted on Global Envision: September 07, 2005

Africa has found a powerful new economic voice in a Kenyan woman named June Arunga. June is a journalist and law student at the University of Buckingham in England. She previously studied law at the University of Nairobi in Kenya and directed Youth Programs at the Inter-Region Economic Network . Her experiences include serving as a youth representative at the 2003 African Youth Parliament in Nairobi, Kenya and in the summer of 2003 June completed an internship at the United Nations. The next year, June was featured on a 20/20 segment with John Stossel about the WTO meetings in Cancun. In the interview June argues that American college students don’t know what they are talking about when they oppose factories ("sweatshops") in poor countries like Kenya.

June is an Honorary Advisor to Global Envision and a passionate advocate of the philosophy that the best means of tackling Africa’s poverty is by pursuing free market economics. According to June, "The unilateral removal of tariffs, quotas and subsidies would go a long way to improve people’s standards of living." In a BBC-produced documentary, The Devil’s Footpath , June shows the world not only that Africa is a continent in need, but also that Africans themselves have the resourcefulness to confront their own hardships.

Amanda Howe: What was it like working with the BBC to document your six-week trek through Egypt, Sudan, Congo, Angola, Namibia and,
finally, South Africa in The Devil’s Footpath ?

June Arunga: The BBC contacted me and I was positively surprised. I had never thought of visiting these places in Africa and, like many Western audiences, I had only seen them on TV. Making the documentary helped put things in perspective for me as a Kenyan. I thought my country was doing poorly until I visited Sudan, Angola and Congo. It was amazing to see how resilient the human spirit is. I saw people living in war-torn countries and surviving under conditions of extreme poverty who were still able to offer a smile and hospitality to me.

The biggest things I learned were that there is so much work to be done in Africa and that Africans must help themselves. We can no longer afford to rely on rich countries to provide us with foreign aid. It’s the person who the shoe pinches who knows how it needs to be adjusted.

It doesn’t matter how well intentioned foreign governments are in providing aid. They can’t possibly understand the cycle of poverty like an African can. Only an African can understand the tribal politics that perpetuate failed economies.

AH: Who influenced your economic thinking?

JA: My mother taught me as a child that you don’t take other peoples’ property without asking. She also taught me that we are all endowed with the ability to improve our lot in life. It’s an individual’s responsibility to be a good steward of her talents by using them to enrich herself and her society.

As my interest in economics matured I read books describing the structures of wealthy societies. In them, I recognized the basic principles my mother taught me. The difference between a country like my native Kenya and a wealthy country like the U.S. is not difficult to identify. In countries where basic property rights are respected as law, people prosper. In places where this idea is disregarded, people suffer.

I am also greatly affected by the work of French political economist Frederic Bastiat and, in particular, his book The Law . Bastiat based his idea of justice on respect for private property rights. His words sparked my interest in studying African laws and their relation to individuals’ ability to prosper.

AH: How do these laws affect Africans?

JA: Many of our laws breed corruption. For example, until eight years ago the Kenyan government, by law, had a monopoly on telephone service. Anyone who wanted to have this service had to go through a government employee and there was no other option. A law of this kind is not unjust but its impact is to create injustice.

The law cannot replace character. It’s the individual’s choice to take a bribe or not. People who pay the bribes also perpetuate the problem of corruption. And sometimes, it’s not even a question of morality but one of survival. For example, the government worker who accepts a bribe may need the money for a sick child or to meet a similar financial crisis and there is no way to find a better-paying job because the private sector jobs aren’t there. And this scenario repeats itself all over Africa.

AH: You direct youth programs at the Inter-Region Economic Network. How does this organization reach out to Africa’s youth and provide hope for a better economic future?

JA: We teach the public not to wait for the government to do something to improve economic conditions. Self-reliance reduces government power because politicians can no longer use peoples’ expectations of them as an excuse to ask rich countries for more aid.

We conduct seminars for African journalists to familiarize them with the economics behind the day’s headlines. This gives reporters the tools they need to analyze information. We also conduct programs for high school and university students. Our annual Africa Resource Bank meeting for academics produces white papers and opinion editorials.

Understanding the relationship between politics and economics will open Africans’ eyes and hopefully lead to a brighter future.

About the Author

Amanda Howe is a regular writer for Global Envision. She is an attorney specializing in Comparative Intellectual Property and Banking Law, and currently works as a Legislative Analyst for the National Write Your Congressman in Dallas, Texas.