Tuesday, January 04, 2005

A 'Marshall Plan' for Africa?

Chippla, over at his blog writes about an International Herald Tribune article on international development aid. In recent years, there have been various calls for a "Marshall Plan" for Africa.

Yet compared to the original Marshall Plan (which helped rebuild Western Europe following World War II), Africa is already relatively flooded with aid. The continent as a whole receives development assistance worth almost 8 percent of its gross domestic product. Exclude South Africa and Nigeria, and aid jumps to more than 13 percent of GDP - or more than four times the Marshall Plan at its height - for the other 46 African countries.

It then added a point that mirrors one of my pet peeves: It's true that the United States now gives less as a share of its own economy, but that's a measure of donor generosity rather than help to a needy country.

I'm sorry to say but development aid should generally bypass governments or at least require government structures to work with local civil society organizations. Aid should take into account the governments' records on democracy, human rights, rule of law, respect for private property and good governance. Though I don't object to blanket debt cancellation for African governments, future loans and aid should be conditioned upon a demonstrable record of money being used for its intended purposes.

Money has been poured into Africa, yet Africa's the only continent where the standards of living is LOWER than it was decades ago. The money's been there but it just hasn't been used wisely by the continent's mis-leaders. And in most cases, that it be used wisely was never a priority with donors. This is why money was still loaned to crooks like the kleptocratic Mobutu in Zaire (now DR Congo), when any sane standards of banking would've cut him off after a few years. The money went into Mobutu's Swiss bank accounts but the Congolese people are now responsible for that debt.

Aid was often used by donor countries for a plethora of reasons which usually had more to do with buying the support of leaders on various issues than anything else. The US used aid to prop up regimes that called themselves anti-communist such as Mobutu or the savage Guatemalan regime (genocide as good development policy, there's a novel idea). China and Taiwan only use aid to buy diplomatic recognition from countries (a clever recipient country can go back and forth between the two). In the absence of self-interest, aid allows leaders of donor countries to tell their citizens "we're doing SOMETHING," when they're really not.. Donors have only demanded accountability of regimes which have proven not as pliant as expected.

The problems of Africa will not be solved by more foreign money. Maybe this is a non-leftist thing to say, but perhaps it's down to my first-hand experience in Africa. Saying "we're stingy and we need to give them more money" may assuage liberal guilt. But an equally common impulse among liberals and progressives is to want to help people and if that money isn't actually helping people, then what's the point? The point should be to help people, not to make your conscience feel a little better by some token nothing. Handouts might be a short term solution, but they're not a long term solution, as demonstrated by the last four decades.

And having lived there, I observed that Africans, or at least the Guineans, generally don't like handouts. When I lived in Guinea, there were two families who regularly had me over for dinner. I offered to buy one of them a bag of rice every so often since he was so nice to feed me. His salary was about the same amount as my Peace Corps living allowance. Except I was living by myself and his salary had to support a wife, several children, a nephew and leeches masquerading as relatives; and that's when his salary was actually paid. When I made the offer, he looked offended, like no person in his position with a shred of dignity could possibly have even considered accepting my offer, like my offer was an implicit suggestion that he couldn't provide for his family. I don't know if he was actually offended or if he wrote it off to a western tendency to see relationships in commercial terms, but that's what his expression implied. And that was for a proposed exchange, reimbursement if you will, not an actual handout.

Africa's problems will be solved, in part, by a more effective use of the money that's already being given. Right now, some African countries, most notably Ethiopia, are totally dependent on foreign aid. In the absence of conditions, these governments have no incentive to reform. Aid, if structured properly, can help countries transition back to a more self-sufficient situation. It can't be done overnight, but the process has to start somewhere and it has to be maintained with consistency. No exceptions for anti-communists or terrorist warriors or Clinton haters.

Simply put, development aid has to be used for its intended purposes in order to work. If your gas tank has a hole in it, putting ever more gas into it isn't a very good solution. This has to be recognized not just by recipient countries, but also by donor countries.

To that end, development aid must require standards of good governance, rule of law and respect for human rights and private property. In other words, it must require those things which will set the groundwork for sustainable, long-term development, not just temporary feelgood projects that will disappear as soon as the foreign money does.


At 4:02 PM, Blogger Chippla Vandu said...

I will also like to think that most African countries need less government and more private participation in their economies. By private participation, I do not simply mean multinationals but firms, industries and institutions owned by locals as well.

Handing over large chunks of their economies to private hands is something most African governments seem to dread. But why? If the government cannot, let those who can do it. In Nigeria for instance, the Catholic Church is known for the role it has played in educating young people from the 1940s to date. At one stage, in the 70s, the government chose to nationalize all Catholic schools, which ended up as a big disaster – declining enrollment, falling standards and decrepit schools! Now, schools are gradually being returned to the church.

There is little to fear about regulated private participation in the economy. Not all private enterprises are solely profit driven. NGOs make a world a difference in a number of African countries (you’ve got first hand experience). Yet, the bottom line is that Africa’s development is intrinsically linked to its ability to educate its citizens. Education is the bedrock of a society in the modern world. Without education, all hope will be lost.


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