Sunday, November 25, 2007

The influence of private foundations on development assistance

Speaking of aid, the IRIN news service has a piece on the increasing influence of private philanthropic foundations on international development assistance.

On a related note, a Reuters story wonders if journalists are too soft on aid agencies.

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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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Monday, November 12, 2007

Is Gambia's strongman killing Ghanaians?

That's what The Accra Mail wonders. According to the paper, civil society organizations in Ghana have urged their country's president to cut ties with The Gambia.

This is in relation to the killing of 44 Ghanaians and other nationals in Gambia and other alleged serious human rights violations and media repression said to be orchestrated by President Jammeh of The Gambia.

The governments of Nigeria, Senegal and Togo, which also had their citizens killed, have been urged to also cut ties with The Gambia.

The group heard "first-hand accounts of gruesome human rights violations by the Gambian authorities, including the murder of 50 nationals of Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo".

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

The brain drain

The South African Daily Mail and Guardian ran a good piece about the African brain drain.

Some of the staggering numbers:

Less than 10% of doctors trained in Zambia since its independence in 1964 are still in the country: the other 90% have migrated, mainly to Europe and the United States. No less staggeringly, there are more Sierra Leonean-trained doctors in Chicago alone than in the country itself and cash-strapped Benin provides more medical professionals to France than there are in the whole of its own health system.

According to the UN, African countries are spending a whopping $4 billion a year training professionals, most of whom end up benefitting the economies of developed countries.

A professor from the University of Dar es Salaam insisted that “internal brain drain” had to be factored in as part of the problem. Low academic salaries and poor working conditions (such as huge class sizes) in Tanzania had forced many academics into other fields -- including into the country’s Cabinet.


Thursday, November 08, 2007

It's the fault of the other 105 percent!

I was listening to a BBC World Service report on affirmative action in South Africa. The report mentioned how under the old apartheid system, poor whites were guaranteed jobs.

Now, such perks are no longer available to whites.

One bitter white South African bemoaned, "You go to a company now and they tell you it's 55% black, 40% coloured (mixed race), 5% Indian and 5% white" and won't give you a job.

Perhaps the reason the man can't get a job is because he thinks that 55 plus 40 plus 5 plus 5 adds up to 100.

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