There is rising moment in the blogosphere on the subject of how Africa should be helped. And in increasing numbers, learned scholars, members of the African diaspora and donor organizations are starting to realize that writing the big checks isn’t the way to help Africa. In fact, it’s a step backwards. Donor money directed at African governments and their organizations breeds nothing but dependency. This has been a non-productive cycle that has resulted in Europe’s donor aid to Africa equaling $26 billion annually over the last several years. In equal measure, there are calls to increase this funding every year. But, no one is asking where the $26 billion worth of improvements are. Where are the infrastructural improvements? Where are the modernized hospitals? Where are the updated schools?We are talking decades of increasing aid and still,
“… the majority of the continent resembles something approaching one big emergency military hospital.”
It would seem that the Developed World’s answer to Africa’s call is to throw money at the problem. In a post by my colleague Tracy1314 earlier today, there was a source article from Spiegel.com that caught my attention. In it, was a discussion on Norway’s decision to grant Sudan $4.5 billion in post-civil war reconstruction aid. Even Norway’s minister of development aid, Hilde Frahjord Johnson, actually disagreed with the decision, stating that:
“Much more aid has been agreed on than I think we actually need.”
Dutch aid worker, Lammart Zwaagstra, in the region, commented upon hearing the news that “if we carry on like this, then people will never stand on their own two feet.”
We’ve all heard it time and time again, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Let me take a moment to address that.
Riddle me this. If you give me several million dollars to build/modernize/strengthen whatever mandate you deem appropriate and I know that in the back of my mind, if I stall long enough, there’s going to be pressure on you to not only forgive that debt, but to actually give me more money! Forget that I am not pressured to prove to you what I did with the aid money in the first place or if any of it was actually spent on any mandates you specified. What actually makes you think that I am going to to be motivated as to the appropriate usage of that money?What, pray tell, am I going to learn from misusing that money with no recourse in sight? I am going to learn that I can depend on you to solve my problems for me instead of learning to do it myself. I am going to learn that I have a rich uncle in the West who writes hugemongous guilt checks because they can’t stand the sight of bloated children swatting flies from their noses.
If the world keeps giving fish to Africans, then we will never learn how to provide for ourselves. We are always going to look to the West to solve our problems. But even with this wisdom and decades of this failed aid strategy, donor calls for more money to Africa still persist. Bono’s (Product)Red, while newsworthy, and a commendable effort, is the worst possible publicity for Africa, ever. The campaign aims to “sexy up” Africa’s image. Instead, it re-enforces Africa’s need for more economic assistance and debt relief.As an African I contend that I am sexy enough, thank you very much, now buy my products and stop force-feeding me fish. I want you to put your money where your microphone and editor’s pen are and create a market for my product. Better yet, include me as a measurable and equal member to your economic round table. A member that can contribute to discussions about your bottom line. Don’t spend $100 million to tell the world to buy $100 pairs of jeans made in CHINA, so you can help us fight AIDS. Tell the world to buy my cotton, my textiles, my coffee, or my aloe vera gel, so I can contribute a portion of my earnings towards OUR fight against AIDS.
Campaigns like this are going to train Africa right out of the belief that it is fully capable and responsible for solving it’s own problems. We are just going to sit on the Savannah waiting for the next celebrity to feel a tinge of guilt because of the money he/she rightly made, feels a call to do something, and launches the latest and greatest “save Africa’s blady blah blah” campaign. And on this news, and right on schedule, Africa’s Heads of State roll out the welcome wagon and parade our bloated, shirtless, fly-infested children before the World’s cameras. Then we’ll sit back in our Acacia tree branches squawking for more fish like featherless, and helpless baby birds.
Now, don’t get me wrong, if I had the kind of money and access that some of these cause-hungry celebrities have, I would rightly pick a cause and try to make the world better with my money. But this paradigm has to end. Africa isn’t Hollywood’s problem, or Europe’s problem, or Asia’s problem. Africa is Africa’s problem. If everybody wants Africa to work, then do just that, put us to work. The misguided assumption is that Africa can’t do for itself.
I was reading Bono’s beautifully edited piece of work in Vanity Fair. I ran across an article about China’s increasing economic involvement in Africa. Of particular interest was a picture on page 138 of a railroad under construction deep in Angola’s red soil hills. There were 9 sweaty hard-working men hammering away with chisel and iron. Nothing wrong with that, until you realize there is not a single black face in the picture. Now, I could be simply misinformed and don’t realize that there generations of Chinese-Angolan railroad builders, but I doubt it. This is exactly the problem. What’s so hard about hammering down a railroad spike that your average Angolan can’t be trained to do? What’s so technologically challenging that you have to import an entire Chinese work force to build a railroad in middle of Africa? What about when those same Angolans need roads and office buildings? Which Chinese-Angolan company do we call?
I repeat, Africa should be Africa’s problem. Here’s why. According to NationMaster.com, there are roughly 166 million Africans living in the diaspora. That’s 166 million Africans! Why is this number important? Let’s look at what’s called remittance. According to The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), a special agency of the United Nations, an estimated 30 million Africans in the diaspora sent a total of $39 billion to their families, up from $12 billion in 2002. (Yes, that includes the meager $3,200 of Uganda’s $642 million in remittances, that I send to pay for my sister’s Business Administration degree at Makerere University annually).
$39 billion is nearly, if not more than the combined effort of European and American aid monies. Care to guess which monies have a more immediate impact to your average African peasant? This from IFAD,
“These funds are used primarily to meet immediate family needs (consumption) but a significant portion is also available for savings, credit mobilization and other forms of investment. In other words, the world’s largest poverty alleviation programme could also become an effective grass roots economic development programme, particularly in the rural areas that present some of the greatest challenges to financial inclusion.”
Remittances by Africans in the diaspora are on the increase, and I think it is important that we pay attention to this number more than any other number. Africans in the diaspora are becoming important if not the most important economic sector in Africa. On average, Africans in the diaspora are sending back northwards of $1,300. Now multiply that by, say, just half of the 166 million of us in the diaspora and you have yourself an economic powerhouse not tied into government-sponsored flat-footedness. This is an achievable goal.
The focus needs to be less on begging for aid and more on making it easier for Africans abroad to economically engage in their homelands. That’s the first step. The next step is making it easier for entrepreneurs benefiting from those remittances to bring their products to market. This should be the job of African governments – not begging for money, applying for grants, or World Bank loans – they should be out there at the negotiating tables securing factories and plants, markets and customers. This should be the role of governments in the new Africa.