Barack Obama arrives, today, the final part of a highly symbolic visit abroad started earlier this week. He will deliver a speech in Ghana tomorrow addressing the African people. This is a speech that one would believe to be as substantial and important as that address in Cairo to the Muslim world.
As the son of a Kenyan father and the spouse of a descendant of slaves, will the president of the United States take a fresh look at Africa? Will he do so in a world whose problems desperately need to be approached from a new angle?
The signals that Obama have recently sent on this matter (including in an interview with ALLAfrica.com) are mixed. He has not fundamentally questioned the form of aid that has existed for half a century, simply noting that good governance and accountability are prerequisites for progress.
Perhaps that’s true. However, it is not sufficient.
The reality is that the development aid provided to Africa over the past half century has failed miserably. Rich countries are just throwing money down the drain, motivated both by guilt, self-interest, and a “glamorous” humanism. In the West, in fact, the unquestionable authority on African development seems to be Bono, lead singer of U2!
“The public speech on Africa has become a public disco and we are not fighting against an electric guitar!” said Dambisa Moyo, a Zambian economist, sarcastically. She is the author of a remarkable book entitled Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa.
Moyo calls “Bono’s thesis” urging Western countries to double or even triple development aid provided to Africa a moral plea that comforts those who are nestled in the opulence of rich countries. However, it will not work.
To date, $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa. However, between 1970 and 1998, during which the manna was the most significant, the poverty rate on the continent increased from 11% to 66%! Kenya was more prosperous than South Korea: the former is now miserable while the latter is rich, as Barack Obama himself noted.
“The most depressing aspect of this fiasco is that donors, policy makers, governments, intellectuals, economists and development specialists know in their hearts, that the aid does not work,” said Moyo, “everyone knows that [aid] doesn’t work, but it sells t-shirts!”
In Dead Aid, she argues that not only aid doesn’t help, but in fact harms countries by enforcing corruption, conflict, inefficiency, dependency – for details, see the blog on the editorial Cyberpresse.
In fact, the African economist is not the first to question the old ways. In The White Man’s Burden, American economist William Easterly wrote the same. Even the former boss of CARE Canada, John Watson, has declared, “We live in the wreck of dreams.”
Will Obama find a way?
He must first fix the things in America. If the United States is looking to be the largest distributor of aid to Africa, the huge subsidies paid to U.S. farmers are an obstacle to the enrichment of the African continent.
Tomorrow, in Ghana, he will have to talk about these issues.
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