Let Africa Fight its own Devils
IPN Opinion article
written in response to "Blair in Africa" (The Times, 8 October 2004)
Sir, in recent weeks, my continent has attracted much media attention in the West thanks to the likes of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Bob Geodolf. Their aim is to rally international action for what to them has become “a scar on the conscience” of the world. In that vein, your editorial of October 8, 2004 titled, “Blair in Africa” sought to give support to their cause. I have some comments regarding your analysis.
You state: “The solutions to Africa’s problems have been well rehearsed over the years. Developed nations must grant more aid and write off debt. The US and the EU must cut agricultural subsidies and open their markets. Pharmaceutical companies must make anti-retroviral drugs cheaper and more readily available.”
Your first recommendation, like many in recent times, smacks of a misplaced idea of Western guilt for the poverty of the third world and in particular Africa. Before the Brandt Commission on Africa in the 1970s suggested this lame duck approach, post independent African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, virtually coerced Western leaders into assuming responsibility for all the ills on the continent. Perhaps for ideological reasons Western leaders went for the bait with billions of dollars ‘invested’ and it has since become big business. Alas, it is an unprofitable one with losses in the form of the politicisation of life on the continent and many failed states. Much of Western aid money went on financing the killing machines of African governments while some was stashed away in Swiss banks. The World Bank itself agrees that over US$200 billion poured into the continent in the last three decades has returned negative results. The Millennium Development Goals set by the UN will not be achieved, not because I’m a cynic, but because history tells me that no amount of foreign aid has ever solved the ‘bedlam’ in Africa.
Ethiopia is in the news today because foreign aid robbed that country off its ability to feed itself and perhaps the rest of Africa. People are so emotive about Ethiopia that they tend to forget that over 60 % of that country is fertile yet only 10 per cent has been cultivated. The reason is that when socialism replaced feudalism in 1975, state land redistribution coerced everyone in to subsistence production with marketing boards doing their worst with price controls. Farmers had no incentive to grow food and famine resulted. Tons of food aid never got to the famished people. Mengistu’s thugs sold the food and purchased arms to kill and maim his own people, yet the aid continued. Somalia was the largest recipient of foreign aid in sub-Saharan Africa until it imploded in 1990, yet it was also the food basket of the region. Zimbabwe has, since independence in 1980, received billions of dollars to finance its land redistribution programme but today more that 60 people die there daily due to hunger, yet before it was the food basket of Southern Africa. There are many examples.
Do you forgive debt and increase aid when over 70 percent of it would be used to finance budget deficits perpetuating a vicious circle of unmanageable debt? This approach has left many African countries with debts greater that 100 percent of their incomes. Who bears the burden of repayments? Not the governing elite, but the poor producers of export crops such as cocoa, coffee, peanuts, palm oil, and in some cases local labor employed in oil and other mineral extracting industries.
You have my full marks for your second solution. The EU and the US must not only cut export subsidies, they should remove all agricultural barriers that prevent African agricultural products from entering their markets. While this is a legitimate demand, you shouldn’t be surprised to learn that there are many more trade barriers between African countries than exist with the US or EU. As the World Trade Organisation’s 2001 statistics show, Africa’s share of intra and inter regional trade flows to Western Europe alone was 51.8 %, while it was a paltry 7.8% within Africa.
On pharmaceuticals and anti-retroviral drugs, I think the desire has always been there to reach as many patients as possible. But there is a need to incentivise innovators in the pharmaceutical world so they are able to maximise output and reduce prices in the long run. One effective way is to recognise their intellectual property rights to the drugs. Unfortunately, many in the NGO world see this as a means to make profit at the expense of the poor with total disregard for where the investment capital is to come from.
Finally you say: “But Africa's only truly continental challenge is its Aids pandemic, and yet another layer of foreign governmental oversight is unlikely to speed the delivery of drugs to patients.” Try including the devastating effects of other diseases like Malaria and TB and then ask yourself what the underlying cause really is. I can but attribute all that to poverty even though some leaders on the continent have failed to acknowledge this.
Africa’s real devils are the continent’s own creatures who are busily harvesting the proceeds of the toiling entrepreneurial masses and burdening them with obstacles that defy economic rationality. Most of these obstacles range from complex, obnoxious and unpredictable laws, the absence of secured property rights, the rule of law and free markets. A functionally corrupt leadership and civil service is enough to entrench bureaucracy and fatten government at the expense of the citizens. In my mind, significant institutional reforms are needed. It is the only way innovation and entrepreneurship can be encouraged since they empower ordinary people economically. As economies grow and develop, people will be able to afford better technologies, clean water, superior energy sources, better healthcare, and insurance. This is what gives a fair chance to everyone to succeed, not aid.
Franklin Cudjoe, Director Imani: The Centre for Humane Education, Ghana.
Imani: The Centre for Humane Education
P.O.Box AT 411