Reading this article put together the vague idea I've had for a long time that throwing money into poor countries doesn't seem to work. But I wasn't sure why. But after reading Der Spiegel's (German paper) interview with a Kenyan Economic expert, things are gelling for me. He says that when countries, or even groups simply give money to the African countries he has found that countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape.
Der Spiegel asked this expert, James Shikwati, how Kenyans for instance would fare if they didn't have this aid. The answer was very surprising.
Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
Der Spiegel then asked what happens when food is given? Shikwati replied the Kenyans, for a change, would be forced to initiate trade relations with Uganda or Tanzania, and buy their food there. He said that this type of trade is vital for Africa. It would force Africans to improve their own infrastructure, while making national borders more permeable. It would also force them to establish laws favoring market economy.
"But would Africa actually be able to solve these problems on its own?" asked Der Spiegel. Shikwati answered,
"Of course. 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. Africa is always only portrayed as a continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrial nations, there's a sense that Africa would go under without development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans came along. And we didn't do all that poorly either."
Der Spiegel then brought up the AIDS epidemic and Shitwaki's answer is really surprising. He says,
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 here, and we should be very skeptical.
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."
Der Spiegel asked if we should still send used clothes. Shitwaki replied,
"Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products. 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. "
Shitwaki finished by making this powerful statement,
We have to stop perceiving ourselves as beggars. These days, Africans only perceive themselves as victims. On the other hand, no one can really picture an African as a businessman. In order to change the current situation, it would be helpful if the aid organizations were to pull out.
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