Friday, June 08, 2007

You tell 'em!

James Shikwati is one of the best economists and commentators on the subject of foreign aid. He is a Kenyan who has fought tirelessly for a more sensible attitude towards Africa and among African countries.

As the self-congratulations about the supposed G8 handouts pour in, it is a good idea to re-read Mr Shikwati's different point of view given to the well-meaning (I think) and jaw-droppingly silly interviewer on Der Spiegel after the Gleneagles G8 Summit.

The interviewer's attitude seems to be "But, but, but, we want to help you. How can you not accept it?" Mr Shikwati's attitude is summed up simply in his own words: "for God's sake, please just stop".

Here is an extract:
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.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...
Read the whole piece. Then, if you feel like it, send it to Mr Hilary Benn, who sounds more and more like his father with every passing day.


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