Saturday 25 June 2011
with alterations from the original
WRITTEN in 1995
When in early 2005 Tony Blair suggested 1 that more aid should be given to Africa, there had already been much talk the previous decade or so in the national and international 2 press about corruption and the dire need for the ‘wealthy’ nations to provide massive funds to Africa in order to eviscerate the disease of poverty that has so determinedly taken up permanent residence in the continent’s voracious gut.
“Why?” I ask. “Why, in Heaven’s name, more foreign aid to Africa?”
How about (as just one example) first assuring medical insurance for our fellow citizens here at home before squandering more money abroad? or aiding U.S. citizens currently ‘under water’ on their mortgages through no fault of their own?
Since the liberation movements of the second half of the last century in the former colonial empires of Africa, Africa has been the black monetary hole down which uncounted billions of European and American aid moneys have poured in an unending Zambesi of waste. What has happened to all this money? The tired apologist myth and mystification that European colonization so indelibly ruined Africa that it will never recover, along with the laying on of guilt for African slavery by Europe and America, no longer resonate with the immediacy they once may have. Somehow, one may perhaps suggest – without incurring the glib charge of racism – that some fifty years of aid should have been enough to help a struggling continent get back on its feet.
The disingenuous blame for Africa’s plight often heaped on institutions like the World Bank and the IMF (which steps in when decades of local mismanagement and corruptions have drained an economy to its dregs) is akin to faulting specialists on a cancer ward for the steep mortality rate of their patients when viewed against the comparable statistics for an outpatient dermatology service.
As to the slavery in the past (only, it might perhaps be noted en passant, made possible by Africans selling Africans to Europeans), well, think of today’s Sudan, think of today’s Niger 3. Does de facto slavery still exist as openly acceptable within Western cultures – with no compensation by the slavers to the still enslaved in sight?
And as to the ruin allegedly wrought by the colonial masters who built railroads and hospitals in their empires and established schools and universities, well, why is that ruin more of an impediment to subsequent rehabilitation and progress than the ruin wrought on Germany and Japan at the end of World War II? Furthermore, if Africa’s descent was so horrendous that it is beyond recovering, why pour good money after bad in an admittedly futile effort? No, I think the beam in the eye of the African apologist has distorted the view of the mote in the Western eye. Africa’s mess is Africa’s mess.
Let me hasten to add, however, that I do not mean in the above comments to dismiss or even minimize the horrific aspects of colonialism, not the least of which often involved a kind of serfdom if not outright enslavement of the indigenous populations. To take just two (of many possible) examples, books like those by Hochschild and Elkins 4 lay out in grizzly and numbing detail the heinous downside of colonialism in, respectively, the Belgian Congo and Kenya. At the same time, did the transformation of the Belgian Congo into Zaire and the replacement of a King Leopold by a Mobutu Sese Seko entail much practical or functional difference for the locals? Did the savage trashing of fellow humans by the civilized British in Kenya cease with the coming to power of leaders like Daniel arap Moi? Perhaps, sadly, this is all a matter of what the Roman playwright Plautus generalized (Asinaria 495) over two millennia ago as the chilling doctrine of lupus est homo homini non homo (‘wolf is what man is to man, not man’). In this connection one may be excused for thinking of our generation’s indigenously sponsored messes in Rwanda, Algeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Ivory Coast, Uganda under Idi Amin, Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe …
Nor am I singling out Africa, for I am not without full cognizance that corruption and poverty exist in depressing plenty on all continents, not least in our very own United States. But here I am not talking about all these other places: this one is about Africa.
So let’s take a brief, desultory tour of financial Africa. And why not, appropriately, begin in the land of the original mau-maus, Kenya? The astonishing levels of corruption attained in that country by Daniel arap Moi and his Kalenjin cronies during a tortured quarter-century rule (1978-2002) of plunder that drained the public treasury of its inflows of Western ‘aid’ are remarkable even for Africa, surpassed perhaps only by the cataclysmic reign of Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire. In 2002, exhausted, Kenya got a new President, one Mwai Kibaki, who — energetic reformer that he purports to be – is said to have made his promise to root out corruption a central aspect of his campaign but “sleeps 12 hours a night and has a nap after lunch” 5. Indeed, things have gotten so bad under this ‘reformer’ that even guilt-ridden dupes like the United States have joined others in suspending further payments on “an aid package worth $2.5m for anti-corruption efforts in Kenya. Larger amounts are imperilled [sic], as donors grow tired of seeing so much of their money wasted.” [Ibid.] Now, Kenya gained independence 12 December 1963 and thus has had over forty years to get its act together. Is there really any serious person who honestly believes that another forty years of pouring gushers of money into this country will finally solve its vast home-grown poverty and corruption-driven misery – despite President Kibaki’s AG announcing that a new Corruption Prosecution Unit is to be launched (on 9 February)?
Let’s move south, to Tanzania, a political chimaera made up of Tanganyika, independent on 9 December 1961, and Zanzibar, independent 19 December 1963, the two joining their destinies as Tanzania in 1964. It is one of the world’s poorest nations, a genuine horror story of infant mortality, illiteracy, hunger and general societal implosion. The typical African problems of corrupt politicians and tribal jockeying for power aside, the attainment of this dubious honor was helped along in large measure by the economically illiterate and thorough-going ‘African socialism’ of the country’s founding father, the dictator Julius Kambarage Nyerere, who became Tanzania’s first president. To avoid being Lumumba-ed, he relied on British commandos — the very emblem of the supposedly loathed imperialism against which he was supposedly fighting on behalf of ‘his people’ — for maintaining his power during an early revolt (during which he himself wisely went into hiding) by his people against his despotic kleptocracy, and then jumped from the alleged frying pan of British imperialism straight down into the incendiary reality of Soviet foreign aid and the wan terrors of socialism.
Wishing, supposedly, to lift ‘his people’ out of poverty, he nationalized business and banking, and, collectivizing agriculture in a move even he was himself forced later to acknowledge as a huge mistake, ran an African-style socialist economy for years of ever increasing impoverishment of his country in the service of a grand theory now finally discredited by an intractable reality. Not only did he not rid the country of poverty, but plunged it into a seemingly inextricable chaos of political corruption and murder, hopeless debt, and a legacy of impotent dependence on foreign loans, loans nobody in her right mind ever expected to be repaid. After twenty years in power, he stepped down in 1985, leaving the country such a mess that even now, twenty years on, such measures as were undertaken to undo the devastation of the previous twenty, have made little difference. The unimaginable poverty is still there, as central to the national consciousness today as it was over forty years ago at the time of independence.
Indeed, a recent editorial in the Tanzanian Express Online 6 dutifully commends efforts by Britain’s Tony Blair and Tanzania’s President Benjamin Mkapa (this the leader who “denied that Zimbabwe was ill-governed” 7) to work towards a final elimination of poverty. Here is Mr Blair: “… British Prime Minister Tony Blair, was optimistic that Africa will eventually improve the well being of its people of whom the majority are still trapped in abject poverty and hunger” – by the way, that’s a very tricky hedge, that lurking little adverb “eventually.” Déjà lu all over again, or what? Remember Lyndon Johnson’s launch of the ‘war against poverty’ in these United States with the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964: “… it is possible to conquer poverty …”. The degree of deep seriousness with which the international aid community takes this latest version of the eternal initiative at last to solve an apparently unsolvable problem in Africa may be fairly judged by the further promotion of the project in the form of a munificent UNESCO grant totaling US$10,000 8 for Tanzanian university researchers to engage in “poverty eradication research.” Again, one wonders who truly looks beyond the dribbled dimes and rhetorical white noise to the dark meaninglessness. Will another forty years of keeping Tanzania on international life support in fact eradicate its poverty? On the basis of what real-world experience in Tanzania could one possibly entertain such a ludicrous notion?
Mozambique, just down the East African coast from former British Kenya and Tanzania, circles in a Portuguese orbit. It is a country just beginning to free itself from the free-floating anxiety that was daily life until the end of civil war in 1992, a conflict begun in 1975 when the Portuguese high-tailed it from this beautiful outpost of empire five centuries in the building and half a generation in the dismantling. This sixteen-year internecine struggle of the Renamo (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana) movement against the Frelimo (Frente de Libertaçâo de Moçambique) government ensured the death of over a million people and created some five million refugees (in a nation of some nineteen million souls), and the Frelimo’s disastrous and poisonous embrace (like that of Mozambique’s northern neighbor, Tanzania) of Marxism guaranteed that by the time hostilities formally came to a close the country had been reduced to economic rubble, a soggy salad of unspeakable personal poverty and national impoverishment on a fabled scale. Still and all, there is some hope here for a better future than seems to be the case in either Tanzania or Kenya.
All the same, some 80% of Mozambique’s population live in the most abject poverty, masked from the welcome tourists by flashy new hotels, gaudy night clubs, and sleek European cars racing down the broad Portuguese boulevards of Maputo, the capital city. Life expectancy is 41 years (HIV infects some 13% of the populace), about 40% of those of school-age are actually in school, there are 6 doctors for every 100,000 people (in 2002 the U.S. statistic was 256 per 100,000 9), some 65% of the population eke out life on less than one U.S. dollar a day, and adult illiteracy is 54%. There is a Grand Canyon of need separating the richest few from the poorest many. The country ranks near the bottom of Africa’s most corrupt countries 10 , and exports, dependent on the world’s insatiable yearning for cashews and the large Indian Ocean tiger shrimp, help make only a small dent in retirement of the external debt (which has already been written down on a number of occasions). The country’s rampant crime and corruption are seen as a function of the pervasive poverty, and Maputo’s mayor, Eneas Comiche, comments that the “need to fight corruption is crucial” 11 One must surely agree with the good mayor, but is it up to the United States or the IMF or any other external agency to do neocolonial end-runs around autonomy and monitor malfeasance or coerce a change of cultural course in order to wipe out poverty? Is there any reasonable expectation that massive infusions of anti-poverty dollars, pounds, or euros to the government (i.e., the rich, insulated elites with their hands on the levers of local power and slick access to that vast wonderful murky world of off-shore banking) would, this time, in any significant amounts seep into the slums in productive ways?
If I continue this journey to other African countries staggering into chaos to the accompaniment of corruption and poverty — countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, Togo, Nigeria, Gambia, Sudan, Somalia and on and on – will the story be essentially different? The names and the players will certainly change, but would the plot diverge in any significant fashion?
What is to be done, then?
A brutal solution would be simply to leave the continent entirely to its own devices and allow it gradually to implode. But this seems unconscionable. If intervention is to be on the agenda, however, how would or could the inevitable and sanctimonious charge of neo-colonialism be eschewed? Damned if you do, damned if you don’t!
It’s not that many, many Africans in positions of power are unaware of the corruption and consequent poverty that is corroding the soul of the continent. Just a little hunting in the African news media themselves12 makes it clear that this is a favorite topos in the columns and editorials of newspapers all across the entire continent. Indeed, until one realizes that the problem usually affects some other country and some other ruler, it is astonishing that nothing appears to be done to rectify this widely acknowledged catastrophe in the making. Consider the ringing challenge of the former president of Tanzania, Ali Hassan Mwinyi: “We must fight corruption tooth and nail, … . Corruption is a very bad thing. If it is left to thrive, there will be no country and in the end there will be no Africa. All the African countries must fight corruption. We must get rid of it because it is a terrible disease which we cannot allow to see growing.” 13 And here is what Buchy Enyinnaya, a member of Nigeria’s Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), has to say 14 : “I must have to say that this country despite our wealth we are still classified as the second most corrupt nation in the world. … There are a lot of saboteurs, but by the time the country realises [sic] what damage we are doing to ourselves through corrupt practices we will all get involved in the fight against corruption.”
Yet, somehow, the beat goes on.
Personally I believe that the experience of the past half century categorically demonstrates that simply pouring money at the problem is not the solution. Dwelling on pasts that few alive today even remember, much less experienced, is pointless and irrational. If, as many of today’s Africans and Western apologists are fond of asserting, today’s Africans should not be held accountable for debts incurred by the first post-liberation kleptocrats, why should today’s West be held accountable for horrors committed by even more remote Western ancestors? It’s clear that very little of such funds as have been given or ‘lent’ to Africa during the past fifty-odd years ever reached the impoverished and oppressed masses of Africa, most of this money mysteriously disappearing without trace into Swiss accounts, Cayman Islands bank vaults, apartments in Paris’ sixteenth arrondissement, condos on the Costa Brava, palaces along the French Riviera, shadow investments in Monaco, gold bullion in Hong Kong, casinos in Macao, and other crypto-repositories of that ilk.
Finally, here is a telling quote from a review entitled “Money for Nothing: The road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions” in The Weekly Standard for 24 September 2007 (13:2 page 43):
“For God’s sake, please stop the aid!” The Kenyan economist James Shikwati made headlines a year ago when he pleaded with the West to stop sending relief to Africa. Foreign aid led to political corruption, he said, drove native industries out of business, sent faulty market signals, and encouraged perpetual dependency.
And a letter to the Wall Street Journal for 6 May 2008 (p. A22) comments on “ … the largest specters that loom over almost all dealings with Africa: critical infrastructure, political instability and corruption. How many times in the past have donations of food and money been derailed by warlords, tribalism, and the inability to deliver food into remote regions? How will this program be any different from previous ones where marauding groups kill their neighbors and take anything they can get their hands on? How can we break the back of these problems and deliver food to the needy and not just the connected?”
What I would like to see – and I am confident it will never happen, interfering directly as it would in the internal workings of a nation – is that external and (one hopes) disinterested oversight should control the actual disbursement of every single dollar, bypassing all local authorities (yes, dream on!).
For example, say that those prevail who want to see another round of massive grants of your and my taxes to Africa. O.K. Here are $100 billion dollars. Now, what are you going to do with them? Who will receive them? I mean, what person or persons will receive them? It is another way of asking a more fundamental question: what does it actually signify to say that the West should give money to Africa? Who is Africa? What is Africa? Africa in this context has no ontological status as such – I mean, you can’t just dump dollars and euros and pounds on the sere deserts of the Sudan or in the canopied jungles of the Congo or along the remote highlands of Kenya. What human or humans should get the money?
First, answer me that question, and then we may, finally, be able to start doing something about lending a hand.
Last, I am allowed to say all of this without fear of incurring the charges – as indignant as they would be ineluctable — of a toxic racism because I was myself born in Africa and am talking about ‘my continent’.
1. E.g., “Blair Asks the World to Help End Africa Misery” Los Angeles Times 12 March 2005; “How to End Poverty” Time 14 March 2005.
2. E.g., “A poisonous legacy of poverty and decay [in Zaire]” Sunday Times Business Times 25 May 1997; “Private Spenden lindern Not” [Germany’s] Die Zeit 16 April 2003; “Hjälpen går till Afrika igen” [Sweden’s] Dagens Nyheter 28 April 2002; “Africa’s Debt: Who Owes Whom?” Foreign Policy Forum 26 February 2004
( http://www.foreignpolicyforum.com/view_article.php?aid=148 ) [link valid as of 24 June 2011]; “L’Union africaine tente de trouver des moyens de lutter contre la pauvreté” [France’s] Le Monde 8 September 2004; “Progress at last [in Madagascar]?” The Economist 1 January 2005 page 34; “Gordon Brown appelle à l’annulation de la dette des pays africains” [France’s] Le Monde 17 January 2005; “Guerra a la pobreza extrema” [Spain’s] El País 29 January 2005; “Maputo: an African success story but 80 per cent still live in slums” The Guardian 2 Feb 2005 page 19; “Sida vill öka biståndet till Afrika” [Sweden’s] Svenska Dagbladet 10 March 2005; “Programa do governo inspira-se na redução da pobreza absoluta” [Mozambique’s] Agencia Informação Moçambique – Edição Nº3694 15 de Março de 2005.
3. “On the way to freedom, Niger’s slaves stuck in limbo” The Christian Science Monitor 10 March 2005.
4. Adam Hochschild King Leopold’s Ghost (Mariner Books, 1999); Caroline Elkins Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya (Henry Holt and Co., 2005).
5. “Corruption in Kenya: Feet of Clay” The Economist 12 Feb 2005 page 48.
6. #379, 3-9 March 2005 at http://www.theexpress.com/express%20379/opinion/opinion2.htm
[link valid as of 24 June 2011]
7. “Mugabe’s bogus ballot” The Economist 26 Feb 2005 page 45. President Mkapa, no doubt without irony, also “dismissed the idea that Zimbabwe’s problems might have something to do with bad governance. Instead he blamed the opposition, noting with disgust and apparently without irony that its leaders were seeking to get into the presidential mansion ‘by hook or crook'” (ibid., page 14).
8. Op. cit. [note 5] http://www.theexpress.com/express%20379/news/news2.htm#9
[link valid as of 24 June 2011]
9. Datum from the U.S. Census Bureau: http://www.census.gov/statab/ranks/rank18.html
[link valid as of 24 June 2011]
10. “Sub-Saharan Countries Most Corrupt in Africa” Africa News 21 October 2004.
11. E.g., “Maputo: an African success story but 80 per cent still live in slums” The Guardian 2 Feb 2005 page 19.
12. E.g., “Mozambique’s banking crisis: Killing the goose that laid the golden eggs” ? Moçambique on-line 17 September 2001; Joseph Hanlon “Are donors to Mozambique promoting corruption?” Moçambique on-line 3-4 July 2002 (http://www.mol.co.mz/analise/corrupcao/jhsheffielda.html);
[link valid as of 24 June 2011]
Buchy Enyinnaya “Corruption level in Nigeria embarrassing” Daily Sun: Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids 31 Dec 2004; “New Interior Minister (of Mozambique, Jose Pacheco) Promises Fight Against Corruption” Africa News 5 February 2005: ” Mozambique’s new Minister of the Interior, Jose Pacheco, has promised a battle ‘without quarter’ against corruption inside the police force.”; “Imo’s [Nigeria] House of Scandals” Newswatch 8 March 2005: “Imo State Assembly suspends two of its members over allegations of collecting bribe.”
13. “African Presidents Will Reap What They Sow, Says Mwinyi” Africa News 7 February 2005.
14. “Corruption level in Nigeria embarrassing” Daily Sun: Nigeria’s King of the Tabloids 31 Dec 2004.