Is it ethical to give a goat to Africa?

Ethan Greenhart

Topics Politics

Dear Ethan,

Every year I give the gift of a goat to Africa, on the basis that a goat provides poor Africans with milk, cheese, grass-grazing skills, and company during those long, TV-less nights in the jungle – and it also helps them to continue living sustainable, machine-free lives. Yet now Animal Aid tells us it is wrong to give animals to Africans at Christmas time, because these beasts ‘add to rather than diminish poverty’, and what’s more ‘where impoverished people cannot afford to feed and care for their animals, those animals endure extreme suffering and die’. Aaah! I don’t want my paid-for goat to suffer at the hands of some witless African! Ethan, what should I do? Keep giving the goats – or rein them in?

Peaches Ciccone
West London

Dear Peaches,

Ah yes, the goat dilemma. The question of What To Give To Africans is such a source of enormous, sleepless torment for we ethical souls. Do we ‘let them know it’s Christmas’, as Bob Geldof suggests, or will that only offend against their possibly Muslim, paganistic or cannibalistic cultural traditions? Do we give them old, cast-off clothes, even if that means having innocent black boys and girls running around the jungle in garments made from worm-torturing silk or stitched together by enslaved Indonesian four-year-olds high on Coca Cola in a factory in the back-end of nowhere?

Do we send them condoms, even though these foul objects are made by hacking at the hearts of rubber trees and never biodegrade… or do we not send them condoms and risk Africa becoming even more wildly overpopulated by more mouths to feed and more bottoms to adorn in unethically-constructed grass skirts?

Just the other night, over the most divine organic turnip flan you will ever taste (£5.99 from Waitrose: rush out and get one NOW), me, Sheba, Zac and Margo had a blazing row about the goat dilemma. Margo said it is unethical in the extreme to send goats to Africa, since goats are not ‘mere chattel’ to be passed from one human being to another. Zac disagreed and said it’s better to send goats to Africa than to have them ‘imprisoned without trial in children’s petting zoos in places like Bermondsey where children deranged by turkey twizzlers poke them in the eye or insert fireworks in their anuses’.

My partner Sheba (the unbeliever) said the most unbelievably stupid thing (come on Sheba, you know you did): that we should send money to Africa! As Zac, Margo and I pointed out to her – in a rare moment of agreement on that heated night – most of that money would only be stolen by African tyrants and spent on limousines or aeroplanes or factories or Afro hair products and other unspeakable Crimes Against Gaia.

The debate went on ALL night. Sometimes I wonder if Africans know how much emotional torture people like me endure in order to work out how we might help them. Voices were raised; organic, freight ship-imported red wine from Portugal was spilt in anger; napkins made from undyed recycled sackcloth were thrown down in fury; and at the end of the night, Margo, by this stage in tears, brought her own goat (who lives an entirely free-range existence in her backyard and only trims the weeds around her allotment if and when he wants to) into the dining space and yelled: ‘Would you want to send such a beautiful creature to RWANDA?’ We all had to agree that, no, such a peaceable and innocent beast as Lynas should never be shipped to such a volatile and angry place as Rwanda, or Sierra Leone, or Zimbabwe, or even Kenya, which used to be quite respectable and touristy but which earlier this year also succumbed to that innate human instinct to burn things down and chop things off.

After listening to all the evidence, and all the arguments, I have come to the conclusion, Peaches, that it is NOT ethical to send goats to Africa. Don’t get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for the well-meaning, well-to-do inhabitants of respectable London and the Home Counties who every year dig deep in order to fund the provision of goats, ducks, llamas, donkeys and other livestock to poor African families. They instinctively recognise that the authenticity and austerity of rural African life, the glorious muddiness of living hand-to-mouth in a mudhut on the outskirts of Freetown – a lifestyle that I look upon with deep green envy from my polluted, car-packed, shop-filled town in Kent – MUST be preserved. And how better to preserve it than to furnish Africans with the simplest things in life, such as plimsolls (with rubber-free soles), lead-free pencils so that they can learn how to write, solar panels that allow them to heat water, and goats, which are such a superb alternative to lawnmowers and to the industrialisation of milk production and milk provision, such as we have instituted in animalphobic Britain.

However, we must also ask: is this in the best interests of the goat? And I’m afraid the answer is usually ‘no’. Sheba and I once sponsored a girl in Liberia called Chloe. Well, we called he Chloe. Her birth name – Abeiuwa Bombata Obakhavbaye – wouldn’t fit on the eco-friendly wristbands that we had made to remind ourselves and our friends of our selfless love and respect for Africa. We sent Chloe £5 a month, which helped to sustain both her and her donkey. It kept Chloe in school and kept her donkey in rude health.

However, when we paid Chloe a surprise visit in 2003 – with the ultimate aim of adopting her and bringing her to Britain so that she might educate our own two boys about how to live in tune with nature – we discovered that she had saved up our monthly donations to buy a tiny bungalow, with a gas heater (!!!), and was making extra money by charging local kids a penny to ride on her donkey. We were disgusted, disturbed, traumatised. We immediately withdrew our monthly donation, and the latest I heard is that Chloe is selling shoelaces on roadsides in Monrovia and making tuppence a week. So I hope she has learned an important lesson: do NOT abuse donkeys, and more fundamentally do NOT abuse the kindness of strangers.

Peaches, it is too risky to entrust animals to a continent where the RSPCA has very little clout and where PETA has tried but failed to bring about a cultural shift in attitudes to wildlife and pet-life. So instead of giving a goat to Africa, I suggest you sign up with Oxfam and ‘give the gift of dung’ to Africa, as that wonderful charity describes it. Yes, for the price of a Starbucks coffee (if you are inclined to drink from that evil capitalist establishment), you can send a bucket of manure to a poor African family, which allows them to fertilise enough crops to keep them alive for exactly one year. And if you’ve already bought a goat, fear not – just collect together its shit, put it in a well-sealed box, and post it to Sierra Leone for the attention of ‘Poor Farmers In Need of Assistance’. Africans will certainly ‘know it’s Christmas’ when they receive a box of juicy, life-giving animal faeces.

Ethan Greenhart’s book Can I Recycle my Granny? and 39 Other Eco-Dilemmas is published by Hodder & Stoughton in October (for more details, visit Amazon(UK)). Ethan is here to answer all your questions about ethical living in the twenty-first century. Email him {encode=”” title=”here”}. Read his earlier columns here.

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Topics Politics


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