Tuesday, June 28, 2005


There has been a lot of talk recently about Africa: debt-relief, increased aid, the G8 summit, the Live 8 concert and so on. The increased focus on this problem is very positive as it represents a scandal of the modern world that an entire continent lives under such dire circumstances. Unfortunately, these things are not as simple as most people think ("the West has cruelly exploited Africa for centuries, and should now do the right thing and give more money"). There is plenty of evidence that not only is all this money not being spent appropriately, but that it might even be counter-productive.
The Spectator has an excellent article on how the money is spent. This, at any rate is really comforting:
Take, for example, Malawi's 'Benz Aid' scandal. In the year 2000 Bakili Muluzi was hailed as a paragon of African 'good governance' following the demise of Life President Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The Economist rated Blantyre as the best city to live in in the world. Britain promised to increase its aid from £30.8 million to £52.4 million in a single year specifically to help the 65 per cent of Malawians existing on less than 50 pence a day. Malawi's government celebrated by purchasing 39 top-of-the-range S-class Mercedes at a cost of £1.7 million. In the furore that followed, Clare Short, then international development secretary, ruled out a ban on aid to Malawi, explaining that the money used for the car purchases had not been skimmed off British aid but some other donor's.
Last year King Mswati III of Swaziland went against the grain. He passed over Mercedes and went for a £264,000 Maybach 62 for himself plus a fleet of BMWs for each of his 10 wives and three virginal fiancées selected annually at the football stadium ‘dance of the impalas’. Imagine if he continues buying BMW for his wives; his dad collected 50 spouses and 350 kids. In May southern Africa’s Mr Toad changed his mind about Mercedes and roared up to his rubber-stamp parliament in a new S600L limo. The total bill for his car purchases alone will be about £750,000, or three quarters of the annual figure for British assistance. Of the £14 million Swaziland gets in foreign aid, £9 million goes on the king’s balls, picnics and parties — and cars. Yet 70 per cent of Swazis languish in absolute poverty and four out of ten have HIV/Aids, the highest rate in the world.
Do read the whole thing. And see this excellent article in openDemocracy with an alternative suggestion. See here and here for further comments.
Even more worryingly, it seems that it isn't only states that foul things up - NGO's also create problems. Additionally the African leaders themselves often spread rumours and falsehoods that exacerbate problems: denying that HIV causes AIDS, claiming that Western donated vaccines are ploys to make Africans infertile; government sponsored AIDS education programs in South Africa teach that fat people do not contract AIDS. What is one to say to that? Help comes to those who help themselves.
Clearly what is needed is significant aid and debt-relief, with extensive follow-up on the money's use, only for those countries which can prove that they are not genocidal, repressive and corrupt. This should have the double benefit of helping the poor people there and giving strong incentives to the other countries to shape up.
The problem with this idea is that it will be hard to find suitable candidates for this largesse. Even Kenya, a relatively advanced country is terribly corrupt:
One of the most flagrant abuses of 'good governance' in Africa today is occurring in Kenya — original home of the WaBenzi. After decades of dictatorship voters in December 2002 swept Mwai Kibaki to power at the head of his NARC rainbow coalition on an anti-corruption ticket. 'Corruption will now cease to be a way of life in Kenya,’ Kibaki promised. The very first law Kibaki's parliament passed rewarded politicians with a 172 per cent salary increase. MPs’ take-home pay is now about £65,000 per annum (compared with a British MP's £57,485 gross) and the Kenyan MPs' fat package of allowances includes a £23,600 grant to buy a duty-free car, together with a monthly £535 fuel and maintenance allowance.
Take a look at Kenya's 2005–06 budget, read out by finance minister David Mwiraria to a cheering parliament in Nairobi on 8 June. According to the local Daily Nation, the government has allocated £3 million for the purchase of a fleet of new vehicles for the Office of the President. A further £2.9 million has been set aside for the maintenance of the existing car-pool of vehicles. One has to wonder if this expenditure of nearly £6 million, no doubt a lot of it on Mercedes-Benzes and far in excess of the sums involved in Malawi's 'Benz Aid' scandal, has anything to do with the increased aid supply.
And these are the elected leaders - imagine the dictators! How depressing.

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