Wednesday, February 16, 2005

This will have to stop

Another article by Rod Liddle one agrees with? What is the world coming to? Actually, there have been several articles I have found remarkably sensible and the same goes for Andrew Gilligan. (Though his latest piece in the Spectator is muddle-headed but I shall deal with it in a separate posting.)

This makes one wonder what they do to these people in the BBC? How do they all become brainless, spineless, banality-mouthing robots? Don’t bother to tell me how brave Gilligan was. He was slipshod and gormless. The merest rookie of a journalist would have avoided his mistakes in the past.

Anyway, Liddle. He has an article in this week’s Spectator entitled Make naivety history. Clear references there to that ridiculous campaign, espoused by so many celebs and wannabe celebs, Make poverty history.

Mr Liddle makes the entirely sensible point that while there is a great deal of shouting and jumping up and down by celebrities, whose opinion is of dubious value, little attention is afforded to people who really know about poverty and what might be done about it. In other words, nobody who talks about it, really cares about what happens in those very far-off countries, they just want to feel good and warm inside.

His description of the whole process is so brilliantly funny and vicious that I feel compelled to quote him:
“What you will certainly have noticed, on the other side of the living-room, on your television screens, is an endless procession of stars and superstars and megastars and the fabulously rich and famous all wringing their hands over the Third World debt burden, over all those poor people in terribly impoverished countries who are forced, through the iniquities of Western capitalism, to hand over their meagre earnings to the evil international debt collectors.

The procession is led by Bono, the lead singer of the popular, if pompous, Irish rock group U2. Bono is much fêted by politicians and by the great and the good. He has audiences with the Pope and the President of the USA and Blair and Brown, and he lectures them on the urgent need to write off Third World debt. And, mystifyingly, they listen to him, this rock singer.

Now, more and more celebs and pseudo or crypto celebs are getting in on the act demanding much the same thing. They’ve banded together under the catchy heading ‘Make Poverty History’ — because, of course, that’s exactly what would happen if you wrote off all that debt: poverty would just disappear.”
Mr Liddle is a little too liberal and generous for my tastes. He thinks that in a democracy celebrities “have as much right to get exercised by things as plumbers, traffic wardens and insurance loss-adjusters”. Don’t know about that.

The problem is that while we know all about what the entire cast of the Vicar of Dibley think on what should be done about poverty (send more aid and write off debts), this amazingly well-founded and well-argued opinion is contradicted by “economists and people who work in the debt industry”.

Their opinion is that writing off debts is a very bad idea. It undermines the whole financial process and destroys world-wide ideas of probity.

It penalizes countries that have made stupendous efforts to pay off debts and, as Mr Liddle says, there is “a very strong correlation between countries which meet their debt repayments and later, long-term strong financial performance”.

Furthermore, cancelling or rescheduling debt repayment affects a country’s credit rating and leaves it vulnerable to higher interest rates on subsequent loans. Many of the poor countries are begging not to have their debts rescheduled. They seem to understand economics, unlike our own Chancellor of the Exchequer. Perhaps they have no celebs to listen to.

In the end, the real problem of the poor countries, particularly those in Africa, is one of governance; the attitude people have towards their governments and the attitude of the governments towards the people.

Pumping more money in or letting dictators who have mis-spent every penny of money their countries had and money they have been given since, will only strengthen the misgovernment of Africa. It will not reduce poverty, eradicate diseases or provide people with better lives.
“There are scores of reports which suggest that the net impact of aid on Africa has been negative; that it has damaged the capacity of each individual country to govern its own affairs, but allowed despotic elites to borrow more money and wage war against their neighbours.

Carol Lancaster has worked in the aid industry all her life, and she served in the Carter administration. Believe me, she ain’t no hard-headed supply side ├╝bermoppet. She has this to say: ‘Aid may have unintentionally encouraged the misrule that led to collapse and civil conflict.’

And here’s Michael Edwards, formerly of the Ford Foundation and the World Bank: ‘Africa’s crisis is really one of governance,’ adding that almost all public development in Africa is paid for by overseas aid. In fact the 1996 World Bank Report made this observation: ‘Almost every African country has witnessed a systematic regression of capacity in the last 30 years. The majority had better capacity at independence than they now possess.’”
It is that last sentence that is so damning. This is not a single comment. Most people who know about Africa say the same. It ought to make all the transnational organizations and NGOs hang their collective heads in shame, instead of demanding that we pour more money down the same drain of their misguided and destructive good intentions.