The Answer for Africa

November 15th, 2008

People dying from hunger. The victims of genocide and war dying at the hands of murderous militias or their own governments. Huge numbers of people dying from curable diseases, including the inexorable AIDS epidemic.

Despite over four decades of massive foreign aid and development assistance in sub-Saharan Africa, little seems to change. Nevertheless, leaders of international organizations and many of the world’s successful countries, abetted by the development assistance “community” and a few entertainment stars, want to throw more money at the problem and forgive the massive foreign debts of some African countries.

Africa may well be helpless and hopeless, and it’s likely to stay that way if the rest of the world can’t arrive at approaches more effective than inundating the subcontinent and it’s corrupt elites with more money. A few countries are doing better than most, of course, but they are fragile, and their limited successes will inevitably be overwhelmed by continued deterioration of the rest of the subcontinent.

This is not a politically correct opinion. Many experts in international development, some of whom have “gone native” in Africa, will disagree. They’re steeped in a certain mindset and co-opted by international development professionals, many of them U.S. Agency for International Development contractors and their beneficiaries, and they simply can’t see the reality before them. They’re also blinded by political correctness. One USAID mission director in Africa told me, in a manner clearly intended to close the conversation, that any effort to reduce the amount of money spent on aid to Africa is, by definition, racist.

One of the most common excuses for the abysmal failure of development in Africa is the long history of European colonization. Don’t believe it. Despite the rhetoric, replete with atypical examples of atrocious treatment of native populations, the reality that emerges is more Africans lived better during colonization than before and after that period. Since the end of colonization, the region has been characterized by wildly corrupt leadership, tribal warfare, mass murder, the AIDS epidemic and other diseases, and losses in all other measures of quality of life.

Moreover, the massive wealth of natural resources found in many parts of the subcontinent have meant virtually nothing to the average African. Where these resources are productively exploited, it’s almost always done by western companies and foreign experts. The wealth this exploitation generates does little more than further enrich a handful of corrupt elites. In some other cases, “blood diamonds” being the best known, these resources are exploited in support of violent revolution, crime, and terrorism.

So, what is the answer for Africa? Is it simply more money, the failed response of the past? In Nigeria alone, corrupt leaders have stolen and squandered perhaps as much money as the total amount of foreign aid poured into Africa during the past quarter century. Throwing more aid money at Africa is unlikely to accomplish anything beyond further enabling elite kleptocrats to steal even more, while perhaps reducing the pressure for change from their starving masses.

Forgiving debts of some African nations to other nations and international institutions is also unlikely to make much difference. Part of the flawed rationale for forgiving foreign debt is the fact that much of it was caused by theft and corruption among former dictators and the elites that supported them. Where is the evidence that indicates the next generation of elites will be different? In any case, it doesn’t make much difference because the debts aren’t going to be paid. However, that fact should inform future decisions on massive loans to African nations.

One of the very few initiatives with some chance of success is the Bush Administration’s Millennium Challenge initiative. It rewards countries that improve governance and economic policy with additional amounts of aid. However, few African countries have met the standards, and it seems likely that most never will. Another U.S. effort directed at HIV/AIDS┬ácould also have some impact, but even with the huge amounts of money involved, the problem may remain intractable.

The western world cannot sit back and do nothing, nor can it keep throwing money at the problem and hoping for a miracle. The suffering people of African have already begun moving toward the countries of Europe and the U.S., and that trickle is likely to become a flood. This kind of immigration will not enrich us. It will drag us down as the problems of Africa are exported to our shores.

Solving the problems of Africa exceeds the financial and political capabilities of any one nation, even the U.S. International gatherings of politicians, actors, and rock stars, no matter how sincere, have failed to produce anything meaningful. If the United Nations, founded to preserve international peace and stability, can’t successfully plan and coordinate effective efforts to deal with Africa, then there may be no answer.


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3 Responses to “The Answer for Africa”



  1. No Oil for Pacifists |

    This was my attempted answer three years ago.


  2. Tom |

    I originally posted this article in an earlier blog, then re-published it here. The “attempted answer” referred to above is one of the best posts I’ve ever seen, and I very strongly recommend it.


  3. Brian |

    Carl, good article. The answer, of course, is freedom (and everything that freedom entails). Unfortunately, enough of the people must want it and be educated enough about it in order to be able to sustain it. People must love rational discourse more than they love violence – in overwhelming numbers. In the West, those who engage in activities that violate mala en se laws number around 1%. I don’t think we’d have economic viability here if the number of savages (defined, says me, as someone that prefers violence to rational discourse) grew much larger than that.

    For all of that, education is paramount. They must know of Locke and Montesquieu and Bastiat and Rand, and they must honestly recognize themselves in Rousseau and Marx, utterly rejecting where they have come from.

    On a different note, it needs to be recognized that malaria is a much larger problem for them than HIV/AIDS. Malaria could probably be minimized in 5 to 10 years. HIV/AIDS will not change over there without lots of the aforementioned education, which I imagine would take decades


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