Nestle has long been a company that the Left, anti-globalizers, and assorted NGOs have liked to blame for, well, just about everything. Recently the company has been threatened with an international boycott for trying to claim around $6 million from the Ethiopian government for assets confiscated by the country’s Marxist regime back in the 1970s. The objection is that Nestle should not be doing this at a time when famine may be approaching. The London Spectator takes up the story in a recent editorial and runs with it.
“Nestle wants the money in order to invest it within Ethiopia, and the world’s most successful food company has a better chance of investing the money than would any government, let alone the grasping, corrupt ones that have brought sub-Saharan Africa to its knees in recent decades. If the principle were to be established that African governments need not bother compensating the owners of nationalized assets, then the Mugabe tendency would have won a famous victory. No company would wish to risk investing in Africa again.”
Well, that last sentence might be an exaggeration, but the idea is sound. It reminds me of a meeting in Estonia in 1992, not long after that country recovered its independence from Moscow. I was interviewing the then prime minister, Mart Laar, for NRODT. Laar was a splendid reformer then in his early 30s, who, it was said, had two heroes – Margaret Thatcher and Axl Rose. At the time the privatization program was being bogged by down his government’s insistence in restoring the property nationalized by the Soviets to their original owners. As these confiscations dated back to the 1940s, tracking down the surviving owners or their descendants was a tricky and time-consuming business, but, as Laar explained, it was the correct thing to do. Not only was it morally right, but it would establish the principle that the notion of private property was something that endured beyond the whims of whatever regime happened to be in power at any one time. If Estonians (and foreigners) could believe that, they might be persuaded to invest in the future of that country.
He was right. For years now Estonia has been the most successful former Soviet ‘republic’.
The same thing needs to happen in Africa, but it won’t so long as dictatorship and kleptocracy persist, particularly when their effects are so often made worse by the interventions of those sanctimonious NGOs. The Spectator’s editorial includes a long discussion of the ‘formula milk’ controversy. It concludes as follows:
“The only thing standing in the way of Africa making the same transition to low infant-mortality rates is Western ideologues who want to see African people as noble peasants, unsullied by modern commerce. Nestle should be praised not boycotted…”