The Bottom Billion, Diverging From the Rest of Mankind


Photo by Anastasia Giannoulas, Sierra Leone 2008

Photo by Anastasia Giannoulas, Sierra Leone 2008

The “bottom billion” are “a cesspool of misery next to a world of growing prosperity,” (p 99). Inside Paul Collier’s book it’s apparent that providing support to poverty stricken countries is a slippery slope. Increased educational efforts often create a “passport” for citizens to travel away from turmoil. Although, without educated people it is hard to build strong reliable governments, industry and communities to strike for reform. It is a balancing act, and this might contribute to some hesitation in thinking these countries will ever dig their way out. Education seems to be the key in helping make a country successful, but only if they can retain their talent by subsequently offering opportunity.

The book spells out a sad story that most people already know. Within the first few paragraphs Collier talks about the reason the “bottom billion” are failing: because they are not living up to 21st century standards. These standards, like communication structures, government and industry are sometimes too far to reach; “their reality is the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance,” (p 3). These two worlds are so brilliantly dissimilar because of their difference; the bottom billion has failed to integrate. 

Humans are individuals, but there is an innate need to belong to the larger population, and if you don’t belong a wedge is driven between the two. In a TED talk, Collier states that these people are “diverging from the rest of mankind.” This books touches on a larger vision of human individuality in a cultural sense; we are a part of a specific culture that defines who we are. He states the future implications of divergence are grand, “by 2050 the development gulf will no longer be between a rich billion in the most developed countries and five billion in the developing countries; rather, it will be between the trapped billion and the rest of humankind,” (p 11).

Within the traps he defines: conflict, natural resources, landlocked with bad neighbors and bad governance, I see an opportunity for digital media to help unite. “There is a black hole, and many counties are indisputably heading into it, rather than being drawn towards success,” (p 6). Technology might be able to aid in bringing corruption to light by generating more communication channels. But I feel the technology curve doesn’t need to continue here in the US, it needs to happen inside these “bottom billion” communities. Charity given from the developed world is often donated with some sense of guilt, guilt that they lived a decent life and have only recently been introduced to the gravity of the bottom billion. Therefore I believe focusing on internal communication programs with area sponsors could be a valuable option.

Much like a football fan waving their arms in disapproval of a play, it’s easier to look into a situation like in sub Saharan Africa and dictate how order should be achieved; being on the field brings a completely different perspective. As we see in Collier’s book the slightest ripple of charity, support, industry and much more can make a big difference depending on the time it’s introduced. Building a stronger internal structure for communication that promotes alternatives for citizens could have a brighter outcome than being dictated by policies and parties 10,000 miles away.

TED: Paul Collier on the “bottom billion”

“The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It” by Paul Collier, 2007

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