Friday, November 23, 2007

Aid wiped out by war

I hate to succomb to Afro-pessimism, let alone be seen to perpetuate it. But sometimes it's hard to avoid when you read the news. Pessimism in general is not in my nature. And having lived in West Africa, I know that the place has some of the most in innovative and resilient people in the world. I love the continent and its people and that's why events piss me off so much. I can't simply shrug my shoulders and say, "Ah, that's just the way people are there" because I know it's not true. At least not of the vast majority.

I am convinced that if the continent's post-colonial leaders had been just mediocre, if its leaders had simply stayed out of the way, then Africa would be in far better shape than it is now. Instead, it's been cursed with morons, megalomaniacs, gangsters, psychopaths and, at the best, mere crooks.

In recent weeks, I've read stories like this...

-Sudanese strongman Gen. Omar al-Bashir is preparing for a return to war in the south of the country. Perhaps the general is trying to prove his grim multitasking abilities by conducting a war and a genocide simultaneously;

-Renewed conflict in Somalia, primarily Mogadishu, has caused the homelessness of some one million people;

-The head of the DR Congo's army insists that a return to all-out war is the only solution to the crisis in the east of the country;

-There are rumbles that Ethiopia and Eritrea may start another installment of the 'world's stupidest war';

-The Nigerian parliament is trying to reverse the handover of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. The handover was agreed by former president Olesegun Obasanjo after the International Court of Justice ruled that the land belonged to Cameroon;

-As usual, Zimbabwe's collapsing dictatorship is whipping up hysteria, this time by accusing Britain of preparing to invade the country. This wouldn't be a surprise. After all, the UK already stands accused by the regime of manipulating the weather.

All this comes in the wake of a report showing how armed conflict has cost Africa nearly $300 billion during the period 1990-2005.

The non-governmental organization (NGO) Oxfam says the cost of conflict was equal to the amount of money received in aid during the same period.

Being on the board of an NGO, I follow development issues pretty closely and receive a lot of news from and about the NGO world. I always read about this or that charity damning the western world for not giving enough in development aid. They use words like 'shame' and 'disgrace' and 'pitiful.'

Incidentally, African leaders tend to be more focused on securing fairer trade deals that getting more western handouts.

I understand the tactic. NGOs are trying to appeal to liberal western guilt to get more money.

But the biggest problem isn't western 'stinginess' but a small minority of armed African thugs who hold the majority hostage.

There are many reasons aid hasn't improved things in Africa. Africans like to point to things like neo-colonialism, like foreign exploitation of natural resources, like unfair trade deals. And all of these are legitimate complaints.

But one of the biggest can't be addressed by blaming others.

Aid isn't contributing to African economies. It's merely replacing the money that's being lost because of insane wars. So the continent is staying stagnant in absolute terms and regressing in relative terms.

Africa's so-called intelligentsia likes blaming everything on Europe and the United States. And these parties hardly have clean hands on the continent. After all, where do the arms for all these armed conflicts come from?

However, the result is that anyone who ever was an anti-colonial freedom fighter (Zimbabwe's Mugabe, Ethiopia's Meles, Eritrea's Isaias) seems to get a free pass... no matter how gravely they've betrayed the ideas of their own 'liberation' struggles... no matter how much they've destroyed their own countries or their neighbor's.

The US government spendt 'only' 0.14 percent of GNP (in 2003) on international development assistance. Bear in mind that this 'mere' 0.14 percent translated to $15.7 billion, by far the biggest of any country... and that PRIVATE donations by Americans accounts for another $15 billion.

People aren't being killed in the Central African Republic because the US provided 'only' $30.7 billion in aid instead of, say, $35 billion or $50 billion. Europeans aren't killing Sudanese in Darfur. Americans aren't killing Congolese in Kivu. Canadians aren't starving people in Bulawayo or making them homeless in Harare.

Ending all armed conflict won't instantaneously eradicate all poverty in Africa. But if you want to get out of a hole, the first step is to stop digging.

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At 6:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree, the west specially the US has as much hand in the horn of africa crisis, even if we don't want to admit it.
see comment below


They are jamming VOA, DW, Eritrean Radio/TV because their badly span lies including by Jendayi Frazer are crumbling and coming to haunt them. The worst one was the beans that were spilled by the neocon hawk John Bolton.
He wrote on his memoir and interviews that he was asked by our Jendayi to take Ethiopia's side on the Ethio-Eritrea border decision and try to reopen the case in UN, while taking opposite position in public.
Frazer said the U.N. plan requires concessions by both parties and said the United States does not take sides in the border issue despite strained relations with the Asmara government.

John Bolton's memoir entry and interview.,english/

It is a funny world.

Posted by: Dan | November 23, 2007 at 04:48 AM

Irony of ironies,it is rumored chinese technology and expertise are being used to jamm VOA.

Posted by: Zeudu | November 23, 2007 at 05:10 AM

At 6:36 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I am aware of the US' role in backing the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia and resulting destabalization of the country. I've written about it before and condemned the meddling on this blog.

However, I am not sure which part of my essay you are disagreeing with.

At 6:37 PM, Blogger Brian said...

PS-In the future, please sign all notes, at least with a nickname or something, so I can follow a line of argument. Click 'other' and just fill it in.

At 7:00 PM, Anonymous Simon said...

Sorry Brian,

My point is, it is convenient for us in the west to point at African countries for squandering apportunities, when our governments are manipulating things behind the scene be it arms, aid, trade etc.

Still I am not giving African leaders free card.

We should encourage African leaders when they try to extricate themselves from poverty and aid rather putting them down.,1,954669.story?


At 7:06 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Many essays of this blog (and my other one) are dedicated to exposing and denoucing western countries' meddling, particularly in Africa. Just because I write one essay in which I try to hold Africa's leaders accountable doesn't mean I'm giving western governments a free pass.

I do try to give credit where credit is due. This very essay praised African leaders for focusing more on a fairer trade deal than western handouts. I think this is a marked improvement with promise for the future if it succeeds.

And this very essay also mentioned unfair trade deals and the western element of the arms trade.

I'm not being convenient at all. I'm merely making sure I give NO ONE a free pass.

At 7:11 PM, Blogger Brian said...

Incidentally, I already read that piece on Eritrea and others like it. However, I can't bring myself to praise the Eritrean dictatorship. Because in addition to widespread human rights abuses and practically zero civil liberties, the Eritrean regime was part of arguably the flat out stupidest and most pointless war of the 20th century. A war over a worthless triangle of land with nothing in it that cost some 70,000 lives.

And because of all the the money Eritrea wasted on this idiotic war, the country, which had been self-sufficient, is so no more.

(see: )

In fact, Eritrea serves as perhaps the best (in a tragic way) example of a country that went from self-sufficiency to dependency solely because of assinine armed conflict.

At 7:36 PM, Anonymous Simon said...

I just found out your blog and I am sure to check it out more. :)

Going back to Eritrea, althoug I can not excuse all their actions, I have great sypathy for them.
When you have unruly giant neighbour and was abused by the super powers similar to today Somalia you can understand the prickliness.

If you have got a chance, read the book by Michaela wrong "I did not do it for you "

Here is her interview with NPR.

Thanks for the great blog and outlook on Africa.


At 7:59 PM, Blogger Brian said...

I did read Wrong's book. It was quite good. I share her conclusion in that the fact that Eritrea had so much promise is precisely what makes the last decade even more disappointing.

I agree that it faces external threats. And that's precisely the Eritrean people must be mobilized and united. A real unity based on consensus and consultation, not by the decree of one man.

As we've seen in places like Zimbabwe and elsewhere, the omnipotent Leader model may work well in a liberation struggle, but it's ill-suited to the needs of nation building. It's easier for peoples to unite against something than for something. But it's the latter that results in progress.


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