Jewish World Review July 18, 2005/ 11 Taamuz,
Snapping fingers at African aid
Will Smith, the host at Philadelphia's Live 8 concert, told his
audience to snap their fingers at three-second intervals to mark the death
of a malnourished, diseased child in Africa who, he confidently said, dies
every three seconds. Snap. Snap. Snap.
The stars have been praised (most eloquently by themselves) for
focusing attention on poverty in Africa, but their glitter and flash don't
quite rise to the level of effective policy. While they were rappin' and
rockin', James Shikwati, a distinguished Kenyan economist, was singing
another song: "For G-d's sake, please just stop the aid."
In an interview in der Spiegel, the German magazine, Mr.
Shikwati describes what he sees as the disastrous result of aid to Africa.
Not only do African leaders exploit it for their own purposes, stuffing
their pocketbooks and adding to their power, but aid weakens local markets,
destroys incentives and fosters corruption and complacency. He scoffs at the
motives of the United Nations World Food Program, "which is a massive agency
of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of . . . being dedicated to
the fight against hunger while . . . being faced with unemployment were
hunger actually eliminated."
What the Kenyans have to learn, he says of his own country, is
how to help themselves by encouraging sustainable markets. He cites the
distribution of corn and clothes as examples of "do-goodism" gone wrong,
hurting those it sets out to help in an endless circle of vicious venality.
Corn arrives from highly subsidized European and American farmers. African
politicians take portions of it to distribute to their constituents. What
isn't given away is dumped on the black market, and sold at such bargain
prices that an African farmer can't compete, so he puts down his hoe. When
the next famine arrives, begging begins again.
African children receive generous packages of clothes. Good? Not
necessarily. Local merchants lose their livelihoods because no one in the
low-wage world of Africa can compete with the donated products that find
their way to the black market. In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in
Nigeria's textile industry; six years later, the figure had fallen to
57,000. The results, Mr. Shikwati says, are similar in other areas "where
overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide."
Increasing numbers of Africans decry the damages of paternalism,
but you didn't hear those voices at the Live 8 concerts. Rage and protest
were not directed at corrupt local leaders, either. Nelson Mandela's heroism
directed at whites who oppressed blacks is needed now directed at black
politicians who oppress the black masses.
The developed world rightly directs its generosity to crises of
health and hunger, but aid must be part of a larger package to educate and
encourage private incentive and enterprise. It's not enough to teach an
African how to fish, but we must show the African how to sell the fish in a
market where competition is fair. He has to learn how to keep government
officials from cutting in on his business. Aid without reform is a dead-end
Bill Gates, who has established a foundation to find innovative
ways to fight disease in poor countries, says his money will be monitored
carefully for its effectiveness and will be withdrawn from inefficient
programs. We should follow his business example. "Success depends on knowing
what works," he told the Live 8 audience in London.
Jean-Bedel Bokassa, once the leader of the Central African
Republic, got it right: "We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we
waste it." James Shikwati sums up the problem today. "Africa is like a child
that immediately cries for its baby sitter when something goes wrong. Africa
should stand on its own two feet." This is not the feel-good message easy
for feel-good masses to applaud, but snapping fingers only adds to mindless
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