Those of us who love Africa almost never recognize it in the press (Michael Wines of the New York Times, based in Cape Town, is a refreshing exception), or the movies (typically portraying “natural” Africans suffering an unfair destiny of drought, famine, disease, and colonialism). The racist stereotypes of Africans are so deeply ingrained in the guilt-driven worldview of Western elites that it is almost impossible to get to the truth. Even many Africans, who in my experience are generally the most clear-eyed people on earth about their own circumstances, have bought into the conventional wisdom of a continent doomed to starvation and disease, for whom the only hope is first-world largesse.
The truth is precisely the opposite, as the young Kenyan economist James Shikwati told Germany’s Der Spiegel on the Fourth of July, on the eve of the G8 Summit. The Spiegel interviewer spoke enthusiastically about the steps the G8 countries were about to take (forgiving debt, increasing aid, etc.) and Shikwati erupted, “for God’s sake, just stop.” He went on: The good intentions of the West were terribly damaging to Africans.
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.
Quite right. Because most of the aid goes either directly into the pockets of corrupt “leaders,” or indirectly to sponsor their tribes and political parties (usually one and the same). Shikwati gives a great example: Famine hits Kenya, so Kenya goes to the U.N. and begs. So corn is shipped to Kenya. Whereupon
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 if there were another famine next year, the Kenyan farmers, having been wiped out by the U.N.’s aid program, wouldn’t be able to help. A fine mess. Shikwati quotes the legendary “emperor” of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokassa: “The French Government pays for everything in our country. We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we waste it.”
And the French prime minister gets diamonds, and invitations to cannibal feasts. But I digress.
For Africa to work, at least two of the big four countries (South Africa, Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia) have to function reasonably well, and at the moment only South Africa can make anything like a reasonable claim. It was great fun to read a lead editorial in the London Telegraph while flying to Johannesburg the other day, entitled “Nigeria comes clean and shows the way for Africa.” I wonder if the editorial writer has been to Lagos recently. President Obasanjo has created a huge fund into which “excess” oil revenues (the profits over $25 a barrel) are pumped, and it will be spent for good works. Obasanjo has promised that the accounts of the fund will be totally transparent; we will see where the money is going.
But the problem is not how the money is allocated; it’s that the money is all allocated by the central government, and that is always a guarantee of corruption. Just as Africa needs less aid, it needs less government. In South Africa, for example, which is the best of the big states, the government is murdering its own people by urging them to use traditional remedies (ginger and garlic, sometimes flavored with lemon zest) for AIDS, rather than anti-retroviral drugs. And the leaders of the African National Congress–the governing party that holds more than two-thirds of the seats in parliament, and can therefore pass any legislation it wishes–has not lost its traditional zeal for Communism. Here’s a newspaper account from The Star on the Fourth of July:
The ANC is not only set for a serious review of the constitutionally entrenched right to property (perhaps inspired by our very own Supreme Court?), but is also considering a moratorium on the sale of land to foreigners…
Delegates (to the party’s national general council) also called for an investigation into the inaccessibility of prime land due to high prices and for property prices to be regulated.
This is the party of Saint Nelson Mandela, who continues to bounce around the continent hand in hand with his tyrannical buddies like Muammar Khadaffi, and who has yet to denounce the murderous policies of Robert Mugabe in the once-flourishing Zimbabwe (by the way, if you go to Victoria Falls, as you should, stay on the Zambian side. Zambia is no bargain, but it’s a great deal better than the other side). The Zimbabwe fiasco has exposed another major element of African corruption. Since almost all the leaders consider themselves president-for-life, they support one another, afraid that democratic change in some other place might threaten their own rule. In South Africa, Thabo Mbeke, the current president, is theoretically term limited (one of Mandela’s finest moments), but since the ANC can do anything it wants, some of my South African friends believe that Mbeke may change the rules and stay on.
Here and there you can find some brighter niches, and we visited two of them: Mozambique and Botswana. Two beautiful countries, both have done quite well in recent years, thanks to good leadership. But Chissano in Mozambique has retired, and his successors seem tempted by the same sort of sin that is corrupting South Africa. It is hard to imagine Mozambique withstanding a wave of state control next door.
Botswana is not only one of the most gorgeous spots on earth, but a remarkably good government as well. When we crossed the Zambezi river from Zambia, you could see the difference in a matter of minutes. On the Zambian side passport control was very slow, probably because the office was overstaffed and everyone had to play some role. Once through that minor nuisance, you have to wash your shoes before entering Botwsana, because there has been foot-and-mouth disease in Zambia and the Botswanans don’t want it. Passport control is efficient, the office is well organized, and you’re on your way. It’s only fair that, in high season, the small airport at Maun is the second busiest in all of sub Saharan Africa (Johannesburg is number one).
The best hope for Africa is tough love. Cut off the aid. Above all, give nothing to governments. If you want to treat disease–and we must–then do it through private organizations and hold them accountable both financially and operationally. If you want real development, then invest in those countries that are well managed and honestly administered. That would give the Africans a chance, and there are millions of talented Africans who would take it.
It won’t happen, of course. Capitalism doesn’t get rock concerts.