Friday, August 05, 2005

The Answer for Africa

People dying from hunger in Niger. The victims of genocide in Darfur dying at the hands of murderous militias or just from starvation. Also, new tensions in the deadly north-south divide in Sudan. Starving people routed from their homes, such as they are, in Zimbabwe. People dying terrible deaths in civil strife in other African countries. And the inexorable AIDS epidemic.

Despite over four decades of massive foreign aid and development assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, little seems to change. Now leaders of many of the world's successful countries, especially the G8, abetted by the development assistance "community" and a few rock stars, want to throw more money at the problem and forgive the massive foreign debts of some African countries.

Africa may well be helpless and hopeless, and it's likely to stay that way if the rest of the world can't arrive at approaches more effective than inundating the subcontinent and it's corrupt elites with more money. A few countries are doing better than most, of course, but they are fragile, and their limited successes will inevitably be overwhelmed by continued deterioration of the rest of the subcontinent.

This is not a politically correct opinion. Many experts in international development, some of whom have "gone native" in Africa, will disagree. They're steeped in a certain mindset and co-opted by international development professionals, many of them U.S. Agency for International Development contractors and their beneficiaries, and they simply can't see the reality before them. They're also blinded by political correctness. One USAID mission director in Africa told me, in a manner clearly intended to close the conversation, that any effort to reduce the amount of money spent on aid to Africa is, by definition, racist.

One of the most common excuses for the abysmal failure of development in Africa is the long history of European colonization. Don't believe it. Despite the rhetoric, replete with atypical examples of atrocious treatment of native populations, the reality that emerges is more Africans lived better during colonization than before and after that period. Since the end of colonization, the region has been characterized by wildly corrupt leadership, tribal warfare, mass murder, the AIDS epidemic, and losses in all other measures of quality of life.

Moreover, the massive wealth of natural resources found in many parts of the subcontinent have meant virtually nothing to the average African. Where these resources are productively exploited, it's almost always done by western companies and foreign experts. The wealth this exploitation generates does little more than further enrich a handful of corrupt elites. In some other cases, "blood diamonds" being the best known, these resources are exploited in support of violent revolution, crime, and terrorism.

So, what is the answer for Africa? Is it simply more money, the failed response of the past? It's been recently reported from various sources that in Nigeria alone, corrupt leaders have stolen and squandered perhaps as much money as the total amount of foreign aid poured into Africa during the past quarter century. Throwing more aid money at Africa is unlikely to accomplish anything beyond further enabling elite kleptocrats to steal even more, while perhaps reducing the pressure for change from their starving masses.

Forgiving debts of some African nations to other nations and international institutions is also unlikely to make much difference. Part of the flawed rationale for forgiving foreign debt is the fact that much of it was caused by theft and corruption among former dictators and the elites that supported them. Where is the evidence that indicates the next generation of elites will be different? In any case, it doesn't make much difference because the debts aren't going to be paid. However, that fact should inform future decisions on massive loans to African nations.

As quoted in an article by Kathleen Millar of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a Kenyan farmer, Peter Kanans, said:

Even if they cancel the debt, even if they give our governments aid money, ordinary Africans will not benefit. That money will only make the corrupt people richer and Africans international beggars for decades to come.

Again, what is the answer? Millar's prescription is the only logical approach:

Africa's needs are overwhelming -- money, food, education, medical supplies, infrastructure -- but there is no assurance that any of this will get to the people who need it most unless we also make sure that withholding, appropriating or misusing these resources is punishable by law.

The problem is, no one knows how to make that happen. One positive approach is the Bush Administration's Millennium Challenge initiative. It rewards countries that improve governance and economic policy with additional amounts of aid. However, few African countries have met the standards, and it seems likely that most never will.

The western world cannot sit back and do nothing, nor can it keep throwing money at the problem and hoping for a miracle. The suffering people of African have already begun moving toward the countries of Europe and the U.S., and that trickle is likely to become a flood. This kind of immigration will not enrich us. It will drag us down as the problems of Africa are exported to our shores.

Solving the problems of Africa exceeds the financial and political capabilities of any one nation, even the U.S. International gatherings of politicians and rock stars, no matter how well-meaning, have failed to produce anything meaningful. If the United Nations, founded to preserve international peace and stability, can't successfully plan and coordinate effective efforts to deal with Africa, then there may be no answer.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't really have an answer to the problems in Africa. Maybe it is live and let live/die. They do not really seem to want our help. You cannot really force those things upon people. Why are we spending all of this money on AIDS medicine, when the spread of AIDS would be very limited with more disciplined lifestyles? I do not think it is my place to make them live their lives a certain way, but if we are going to help them, that is the way to do it. We don't have a cure for AIDS, we do not have a vaccine... bleeding heart liberals need to pull themselves together. We do not have a cure for any virus, if I recall correctly, what makes us think we can pull it off with AIDS? I think we should continue research on a vaccine, however.

Africa is a huge continent that, for the most part, is largely untouched. Liberals keep screaming about the environment, but they want to westernize Africa. Seems pretty hypocrtical.

10:33 AM, August 06, 2005  
Blogger Esther said...

If the United Nations, founded to preserve international peace and stability, can't successfully plan and coordinate effective efforts to deal with Africa, then there may be no answer.

And there may be no reason to have the UN if they can't even do what they're supposed to be doing. Bolton better get to work fast.

7:47 PM, August 06, 2005  
Blogger Carl said...


I think highly of the suggestions, and especially the ordering of suggestions, produced by The Copenhagen Consensus--final results here (link in .pdf).

8:54 PM, August 06, 2005  
Blogger profmarcus said...

only one country has fully qualified for millenium challenge and a second country is at the starting gate... the millenium challenge director recently resigned after heading the program since its inception two years ago and accomplishing virtually nothing... millenium challenge is not a bush priority and, as with so many other bush programs, the words are high and fine but the execution is miserable... smoke and mirrors may play well to our media-hypnotized citizens but they produce precious little in the way of results...

8:27 PM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Carl said...


I've set forth an extended, albeit still imperfect, consideration of the topic.

9:42 PM, August 09, 2005  
Blogger Anastasia said...

My comment doesn’t feature references from any source, it’s my observation from the last two decades. I think too much time is spent pushing paper, listening to people who like to hear themselves talk at the UN or at summits and focusing too much on the politics of everything, that its become so absurd because hardly anything is resolved whatever governments or parties are elected.
Africa is, and will be, a mystery for me. I think it’s up to every ordinary human being to sponsor at least one child. That’s how I simplify it now because the problems have been out of control for a long time and the reality is that not many people sponsor children in Africa. People can lay out a couple of hundred for that IPOD but they can’t be arsed with less than fifty dollars a month. The G8? I don’t think so. The UN? No way. It may be out of hand to say it, but if the UN’s security council couldn’t bring itself to warn a President, then what use is the UN anyway? If the Kofi Annan’s of this world think they force their solutions to a truly invaded country such as Cyprus, then what real hope is there for Africa? And Cyprus was more ‘illegal’ than Iraq, if that makes sense.
While I admire Bob Geldof’s passion, because Live8 isn’t a new venture for him, he’s done it before with Live Aid, seeing empty drink bottles and other ‘food’ rubbish left behind at these concerts is akin to vulgarity when people are supposedly attending them to raise money for people who are starving, however the concerts serve to maintain an awareness or awaken today’s youth on the bigger issues. Today’s youth, for the last decade have become more obsessed with mod cons promoted by the very corporations that exploit poorer nations; sweat shops, factories with little safety protocols and the like so they can all continue wearing what their favorite idols wear, whether it be Nike, Adidas, or whatever else. So in this way, Geldof attracts today’s youth through the music and the issue is entwined with the concerts and a seed is planted, and it’s never forgotten. And for this reason alone I’m all for it. The world at large is, every year, supposed to feel sorrow for the Holocaust victims of yester decade, but how is the world doing at considering those who die of famine each year, and if it’s not a famine it’s a lack of basic amenities we all take for granted; vaccinations, clean water, sanitation etc.
When the prime religious ‘leader’ of our world as well as political leaders who push papers, the person who has a public say, the Pope still sits there from the Vatican to ‘poo-poo’ contraception such as condoms in Africa, and makes proclamations of why contraception is against ‘God’, when HIV is rampant in some African regions, then what hope is there really? When politicians throw money, instead of forming organizations who work at ground level, so they’re ‘rid’ of the problem for a while as they spend hundreds of billions on armaments, what hope is there?
In effect, whether it’s politically correct or not, the wealthier ‘world’ is shitting on the cradle of humanity, because that’s where we all evolved from (regardless of what Klu Kluckers think, of what Aryans (who don’t know the meaning of the word Aryan or its derivation) ), that’s where the oldest carbon dated remnants of humans have been found and?
Not a day goes by where I don’t think about the fact that I’m using electricity that is unequally divided, even though I use it and have to use it. There are moments I hate this ‘modern’ life and I have difficulty reconciling everything that occurs. The other day I couldn’t care about the Discovery take off or landing because at the back of my mind I’m thinking ‘wow three billion dollars (or thereabouts) for a shuttle to go up for two weeks’. Who are these people who deserve three billion dollars to be spent on them to go up to bloody space? And I read this excerpt in a newspaper article yesterday and I don’t know which US politician it is but he mentioned that we have enough problems on ‘Earth’ rather than spend so much on space missions. Or is it, that problems that are Earthly are considered to be more complex than matters which humans are none the wiser about - space. It’s high time people realized that we are not going to be traveling to another galaxy at any time in the near future, Albert Einstein’s equation states that. Sigmund Freud wasn’t incorrect when he introduced the Id, Ego and Superego to the world. Behavioral ‘scientists’ may scoff at people like Freud, but that’s only because they haven’t come up with anything more profound.

These are the things that frustrate me as a human being.

Do I sponsor a child? No. Why is it? Because as a working citizen, I get taxed three times (when I get paid, from my savings, and when I buy basic anything, it’s a goods and services tax as well) so our federal and/or state governments can fund rubbish like military spending in Iraq (federal), fund ‘rallies’ for unionists (at half a million dollars, state government) when they book Railcorp for transport and other similar things. I can’t regularly afford the forty dollars a month, because it’s no use focusing on one child and not being able to make regular payments and I think millions of people have the same problem. But there are currently about three hundred thousand people who are sponsoring children through World Vision and thank God for that, because it does make a difference to the child on a long term basis, and it’s the long term that matters not the short term of ‘let’s throw a few millions here, we look good in the process, to a dictator, president and if it winds up in a Swiss bank account we can collectively say we didn’t know’(which is what the G8 nations usually do and have done for how long , long before they were baptized the ‘G8’)
This mentality of ‘spending’ that governments have reminds me of my foster mother while growing up. In order to uplift her public profile she decided to organize fund raising dances for the famine in Ethiopia (at the time) which were mentioned in some smaller ethnic newspapers here and then after she was ‘up there’ for a while, she stopped. The amount that was raised per dance (four in total) was around (AUD)$20,000 however when she was offered official work for this organization, more hands on help to continue on this route, she declined because it was more ‘fun’ to organize the dances. So on a small scale it’s very much like way governments throw money on a problem hoping it will go away and redeem them for a while (so they get re-elected, in my foster mother’s case so she could get dates, dress up etc). I remember being fifteen, seeing masses of ‘ethnic’ people sitting there eating, drinking, watching live bands and belly dances, thinking ‘shit they’re raising money for people who are dying because they don’t have food.’
It’s ironic and disgusting at the same time. I can’t explain it.
Why I find found it disgusting? (Perhaps I’m being judgmental) Because the people would buy a thirty dollar ticket for a three course meal, sit, eat and get pissed on drink, and then they’d walk out thinking ‘okay that’s sufficient’, and aid organizations don’t see it this way, it’s more adequate for one adult sponsoring one child, each year so they get adequate vaccinations, water, education, so they have some stability in their lives, hence why Live 8 doesn’t work (it focuses on the ‘one trip’ fund, people walk away after hearing Madonna thinking, ‘yep I’ve done my bit and that’s all that’s needed’) and why Geldof ought to have encouraged child sponsorship. Why not? There are wealthy celebrities sponsoring animals in zoos, some animals that aren’t even endangered. Why can’t people sponsor their fellow human beings?

6:10 AM, August 10, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

Carl, your post, Into Africa, is among the best I've read on a blog. I linked to it in a separate post, and I strongly urge everyone to read it.

One of the reasons for my pessimism about the possibility of finding practical answers to the problems of Africa is embedded in everything written about the subject. Democracy, better governance, and respect for the rule of law are prerequisites, of course, but there is little evidence that the countries of Africa are capable of achieving those goals and maintaining them. More trade and commerce, yes, but developed countries, particularly including the U.S. and most importantly the EU and France in particular, aren't interested in reducing subsidies, especially to agriculture, and trade barriers as would be necessary. The Millennium Challenge initiative, despite the petty nitpicking of opponents of the Bush Administration, is the best idea yet advanced, but it won't work if the countries of Africa can't meet the criteria, and that seems likely.

As long as Africans can't meet even minimal standards and developed countries won't take the painful steps necessary to help develop trade and commerce, how can anyone be optimistic? I think cynical politicians and idiot do-gooders will have their way, and we will do little more than throw more money at the problem.

I generally agree that the suggestions of the Copenhagen Consensus, including the priorities, are logical, in the context of conventional thinking. However, the three climate suggestions seem more a sop to western political sensitivities than anything else. And in reality, the Copenhagen Consensus seems to be little more than an attempt to validate failed approaches of the past.

12:23 PM, August 10, 2005  
Blogger Tom Carter said...

L'etranger, I understand your frustration. However, I think the principal point made by most informed observers is more money is not the answer. Beyond that, the money spent on efforts to extend the reach and understanding of mankind, such as the U.S. space program, mean more to all of us in real terms than additional money to spend on foreign aid to Africa, especially since much of it will be stolen, squandered, or ill-used.

Child-sponsorship programs are fine, assuming the money actually goes to benefit a child. I know it makes people feel good, but the contribution they're actually making to solving real problems in Africa is tiny at best. I'd recommend you read the post Carl linked to in his comment (above) to see how past programs that did little more than throw money at Africa have abysmally failed.

12:50 PM, August 10, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Im a 17 year old girl in London, just looking up information for the debate i have in debating society in school on thrusday ... and although i agree with some of your comments i think it is rather unfair to label africa as hopeless and helpless ... giving money to aid africa is obviously not the right solution as it is a well known fact that the corrupt government will use it on themselves however, there are many things leaders of the world could do do prevent such horrific events occuring in africa ... for one correct the corrupt government like in Zimbabwe ... and they can do it if they really want to for one look at Iraq government ... secondly to say that the avergae african person would not know how to use their resources is a sweeping statement ... places like Ghana they use their cocoa powder to manufacture chocolate etc. the gold that is left in the country is used to make jewelry and other sorts of goods so i think that comment that you made is narrow mineded .. also the one person who posted a comment stated how the people of africa do not want aid ... when have you ever heard of a person dying from stravation turning down aid ... i think you need to sort out your information and open you eyes ... but i agree with some parts of your article not everything can be blamed on european colonisation ... but you should also consider that it has played a part in the way africa is jus as well as corrupt leaders etc.

1:03 PM, January 15, 2007  

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