The industrialised nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty in the least developed countries of Africa.
These good intentions have been damaging the continent for the past 40 years.
I want to paint you a very different picture of Africa in the future. One with which you might not be quite so familiar.
If the industrialised nations really want to help the Africans, except for occasional humanitarian emergencies, they would wind-down and terminate aid altogether. Why? Because the countries that have received the most development aid are the ones that are in the worst shape now.
Despite the billions that have been poured into Africa, a lot of the continent remains poor, and more people are getting poorer. And as Einstein once said, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
The explanation for this paradox is twofold. Huge bureaucracies are financed with the aid money ~ voters are disconnected from their politicians, corruption and complacency are promoted ~ and Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. Additionally, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship they so desperately need.
As absurd as it may sound, development aid is one of the primary reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, most Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would feel hard done-by. Which is why they maintain that the world would ‘stop turning’ without overseas development assistance (ODA).
Take Kenya for an example ~ even with all that aid, people are still starving to death there each year. So someone should help them, right? But unless Kenya is going to be holding out its begging bowl forever, it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. But right now, whenever there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, the corrupt politicians instinctively cry out for more help rather than ask themselves, what can we do?
This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program ~ which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of being, on the one hand, dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other, faced with unemployment were hunger actually to be eliminated. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help.
And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousand more tons of corn is shipped to Africa. Corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidised European and American farmers.
And at some point, this corn ends up in the harbour of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices.
Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. And because the farmers then give up or ‘go under’ in the face of this pressure, Kenya will have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It’s a simple but brutally fatal cycle.
So you might ask, what if the World Food Program wound down their operation and eventually didn’t do anything ~ would the people of Africa starve?
I don’t think they would. In such a case, the Kenyans, for example, would be forced to initiate trade relations with Uganda or Tanzania, and buy their food there. This type of inter-state trade is vital for Africa. It would force them to improve their own infrastructure, while making national borders ~ drawn by the Europeans, by the way ~ more permeable. It would also force Africans to establish laws favouring a market economy.
Would Africa actually be able to solve these kinds of problems on its own? Of course they would. Hunger should not be a problem in most of the countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds etc.
Africa is always portrayed as a continent of suffering, war and disease, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrialised nations, there’s a sense that Africa would ‘go under’ without development aid. But it has to be said, Africa existed before us Europeans came along. Their civilisations were highly advanced and they didn’t do that poorly.
It is certainly true that AIDS didn’t exist at that time. But if one were to believe all the horrifying reports, then all Africans should actually be dead already. Now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. Again, in Kenya, for example, its not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it’s about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that.
Why? Because AIDS is ‘big business’, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a ‘political disease’ in Africa, and we all should be very sceptical of most things we see published about it there.
In the past, both the Americans and Europeans have frozen funds previously pledged to Africa ~ “the country is too corrupt”, they said. But before too long, that money was being transferred anyway. After all, it has to go somewhere ~ its aid money! Unfortunately, it seems, our devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason.
It makes no sense whatsoever that directly after the new Kenyan government was elected, for example ~ a leadership change that ended the dictatorship of Daniel Arap Mois ~ the aid taps were suddenly opened wide and streams of money deluged into the country.
Such aid is usually earmarked for a specific objective, but that doesn’t change anything. Millions of dollars earmarked for the fight against AIDS are still stashed away in Kenyan bank accounts and have not been spent. Kenya’s politicians were overwhelmed with money, so they tried to siphon off as much as possible. In the face of such willingness by the fool to be parted from his money, some would argue, its only human nature to oblige.
The late tyrant of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokassa, cynically summed it up by saying: "The French government pays for everything in our country. We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we waste it."
What if we were as realistic about our own efforts? In the West, there are many compassionate citizens wanting to help Africa. Each year, they donate money and pack their old clothes into collection bags and they flood African markets with that stuff. In Africa, if they want to, they can buy these donated clothes cheaply at, so-called, Mitumba markets.
Why do we send these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing in Africa. Instead, their tailors, clothes store owners and employees lose their livelihoods. They’re in the same position as the farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products.
For example, in 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.
There doesn’t seem to be much joined-up thinking going on. UNICEF, for instance, just announced it is to save $20 million over the next 12 months with open-sourcing, and a price reduction of 20% for mosquito nets. And what about when celebrities just decide to helicopter in and dump thousands of free mosquito nets bought in other countries; putting the local mosquito net manufacturers out of business?
Surely its not beyond their wit to see, albeit with hindsight, even a fraction of that $20 million would be much better invested in local bed-net manufacturers, who in turn would create employment for thousands of people, who can then feed and educate their families?
The answer is, of course, they can. But they have other agendas. The aid agencies need to keep donor nations sweet, to keep aid flowing, and often ageing pop-stars are far more interested in spending their money to enhance their own fame and fortune, than the lives of others.
The modern concept of overseas aid came out of the last World War. Following World War II, Germany only managed to get back on its feet because the Americans poured money into their country through the Marshall Plan. So wouldn’t that qualify as a successful development aid model? And if it worked there, why doesn’t it work in Africa?
The Marshall Plan had an outer shell ~ the European Recovery Programme ~ and an inner core ~ the economic reconstruction of Europe on the basis of debt forgiveness to, and trade integration with, Germany. So I guess there are one or two similarities.
But lets not forget what they really wanted was to curry favour with of as many European countries as possible, so that they would join NATO, and support the USA instead of the USSR, who were doing similar things in East Europe in the hopes that they would join the Warsaw Pact, and support the USSR instead of the USA. Trade and looking like the ‘good guys’, was just a bonus ~ the main reason was to halt ‘Joe Stalin’ and delay the spread of Communism.
However, in Germany’s case, only the destroyed infrastructure had to be repaired. Despite the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic, Germany was a highly- industrialised country before the war. And lets not forget, although the prime beneficiaries were the German people; US companies didn’t do too badly either.
Similarly, the damage created by the Tsunami in Thailand, for example, can also be fixed with a little money and some reconstruction aid.
Africa, however, is only just taking the first steps into modernity on its own. And for that to be successful, first there must be a real change in mentality. Right now, many Africans can only perceive themselves as victims. They have first to stop thinking of themselves as beggars in need of charity ~ something I am afraid aid has taught them to rely on for years.
On the other hand, due to the focus of aid agencies, charities and the media, on wars, famine and corruption; nobody can really picture an African as a businessman ~ unless, that is, he’s writing you some kind of dodgy email offering free $millions, or if your name is Kweku Adoboli, who’s just been jailed for the UK’s biggest bank fraud of £1.5bn.
In order to change the current perception of Africa and Africans, it would be really helpful if the aid organisations were to wind down and pull out, and the media would do their job properly and portray Africa as it really is, not as a disaster zone full of warlords, dictators, pirates, famine victims and disease.
Right now, jobs are being created artificially for all the wrong reasons, and this too distorts reality. Jobs with foreign aid organisations are, of course, quite popular, but these organisations can be very selective in choosing the best people. When an aid organisation needs a driver, dozens apply. And because it’s unacceptable that the aid worker’s chauffeur only speaks his own tribal language, an applicant is needed who also speaks English fluently and, ideally, one who is also well mannered.
So you end up with some poor African biochemist driving a young aid worker intern around in a shiny white Landcruiser, distributing unwanted European food, forcing local farmers out of their livelihoods. Now that’s just plain crazy!
Somewhat belatedly ~ better late than never, I suppose ~ some Governments and a few aid organisations are now starting to put real effort into monitoring precisely the recipients/beneficiaries of its funding.
And what’s the result? Yet another disaster. The German government, for example, ignored the warning signs and threw money at Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame and inadvertently (?) helped finance his war. Now this is a man who has the deaths of a million people on his conscience ~ if he had one ~ people that his army killed and are still killing in the neighbouring country of Congo.
If the Germans really wanted to fight poverty, they would completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity and the assistance it needs to ensure its own survival.
Much of Africa is like a spoilt child who immediately cries for its nanny when something goes wrong, because that’s what we’ve taught it to do.
What Africa really needs is help to stand on its own two feet.
We should be giving that hand up, not a hand out, and certainly not trying to decide that for them.