Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Africa

In a change from the Middle East, I'm going to comment on an interesting - if controversial - article that I just read on Spiegel Online.

Here's the beginning of the interview:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa...

Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.


In essence, our good will is perpetuating a system of rentier states in Africa based on aid money. The principle is the same - getting money for no productive work - and the result is the same: a huge, overweaning and corrupt bureaucracy that is the main distributive channel of the rents and the main locus of political power.

I'm reminded of Marx's observation that capitalism was a necessary waypoint towards communism. It does seem that the disaggregated decision-making and the diffusion of political and economic power that are characteristic of free market economies are the greatest bulwarks against the centralisation of power in an elite class.

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