Monday, September 25, 2006

Coke Actually Does Add Life


In an article published in Counterpunch, commentator Brian Cloughley has taken issue with the new Coke plant in Kabul, which I wrote about a week or so back. Cloughley says essentially that making Coke in a country with little safe drinking water is misguided:

Three quarters of Afghans drink filthy water--when they can get any water at all. So what's the international solution?

Coca Cola, of course. The great American export.

Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote in his 'Confessions' that "I recollected the thoughtless saying of a great princess, who, on being told that the country people had no bread, replied : 'Let them eat cake'."

On September 10 President Hamid Karzai opened a 25 million-dollar Coca-Cola bottling plant in Kabul.

The charity Christian Aid reported last week that "Most of the water has dried up in the provinces of Herat, Badghis and Ghor, and the wheat harvest is down by 90% to 100% in parts of Faryab province." But why worry? ---- Send for Coca Cola to use up even more water.

Never mind that Kabul isn’t near any of the provinces noted above, and that Herat is largely desert, while neighboring Badghis and Ghor are Afghanistan’s usual dry mountains. Never mind that Coca-Cola made in Kabul is hardly an “American export.”

The point of Coca-Cola being in Kabul is that someone in the country has the capacity to purify water in very large amounts, and this over time leads to more people being able to do the same. The people at Coke aren’t stupid; if they’re in Afghanistan it’s because a) Coke (and its local bottler) thinks there’s a market, and b) Coke can do business there, which means it can assure access to a water supply, electricity, glass bottles, trucks, pallets, gasoline and so on.

Coke’s need for these civilizational essentials creates infrastructure, and so Afghan civilians should eventually benefit from the Coke plant both directly (jobs) and indirectly (steadier supplies of the items needed to make Coke, which are the same items needed for at least 20th-century life).

As much as I’d like to share Counterpunch’s endlessly suspicious anti-corporate outlook, I believe that what’s good for Coke Afghanistan is eventually good for Afghans to the extent that it encourages other companies to invest in the country.

Where Cloughley and I probably agree, unfortunately, is that a distracted U.S. government hasn't done nearly enough to fulfill its promises to rebuild Afghanistan, leaving international corporations to perform the task piecemeal if at all.

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