Fair Trade Is What Africa Needs And Not Much Of Aid

By: Dr. Wollor E. Topor
Iloilo City, Philippines



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 5, 2005

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Aid to the poor in Africa from the North has never had passing marks; all have ended in big failures. For example, few decades ago Ethiopian famine was the issue. Much media publicity and awareness was created, showing Ethiopian malnourish children on western TV, with Celebrities in the west organizing mega concerts to create awareness and raise the much needed funds to help arrest the worst calamity of that decade. There are many questions left unanswered in this episode: How can the success story of Ethiopia be measured? Who is accountable, and to whom? Has the situation come under control? Has the aid contributed to the recent brutal killing spree administered the Ethiopian leadership?

Even if basic needs such as education, health and research, which boost development were successfully satisfying human needs, there are still no sustainable reduction of acute poverty and human suffering. Liberia is a case in point. Through the USAID grants, the John F. Kennedy Medical Center, the Center for Agriculture Research Institution and schools like William V.S. Tubman High School were built. Have these contributed to reducing Liberian suffering? From all indications, this is a ‘BIG NO.’ The unbearable suffering of Liberians has even intensified: the incidence of poverty, high unemployment, malnutrition, illiteracy and poor health and worst of all civil war for almost two decades. These suggest that the aid models and approaches in development need examination in order to know what has gone wrong in these plans.

Let us glance at some realities of aid to Africa. The truth of the matter is that no aid from the developed world comes without a string attached. The recipient nation must be a trade partner with the donor; the common policy that almost all imported inputs must be the brand of the donor; and the donor creates employment for its citizens in sending them as “experts and advisors” taking the big chunk of the funds-to the donors profits. Despite the fact that there are qualified trained manpower in the recipient nation that could do the job better than the foreign experts, holding to the fact that citizen better understands the socio-cultural interwoven factors of his or her country. Such an unjust practices can easily be seen from the record of international aid agencies showing who has the power and where the money is highly concentrated. Yet, African leaders are said to miss use the donations.

Aid such as technical assistance could be necessary tools in the fight against poverty in Africa. But aid in the form of consumable such as food aid and others do weaken the local institutions and blew corruption, internal conflicts as well as create dependence on the aid. Therefore, what Africa needs a fair trade that includes a fair price for its raw materials. Liberia exported rubber, timber and iron ore which created economic growth in the sense that there was a rise in national or per-capital and yet there has never been never been economic development. Liberians had little to do with the production due to their inadequate skills. Experts were brought from outside. With the widespread of under-involving of exports and under-reporting of income, it was likely that the net benefits to Liberia as a nation were even lower; and yet imported items such as the nation’s staple food (rice) and others were subsidized by the government of the day to perpetuate the elite in power. This was President Tubman’s Open Door Policy. Growth only benefited a tiny wealthy minority. This was never economic development.

With this new trade approach, Africa’s raw materials could be processed for an added value and create more employment opportunities. For instance, Ghana is one of the African countries producing cocoa; this cocoa could be process to chocolate bars and exported. This will bring about economic development. The key element of economic development is that Ghanaians must be major participants in the process that creates the wealth that is to be shared.

There is no need to start pointing fingers as to who is responsible for Africa’s underdevelopment. Instead, let us take time and be more positive in clearly identifying Africa’s urgent needs such as schools and competent teachers, improved medical services, improved roads and communication and means of earning honest income-job creation. Progress is being made each year for economic “takeoff” point in Africa. However, South Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan development models are good examples for study and possible replication of suitable aspects into Africa’s development agenda. Japan has really succeeded although with a certain price of pollution.

Africa says thanks to the G8 for a ‘small-drop’ in the mighty ocean. Africa can make it provided the west and other wealthy nations like Japan are honest to work with the Africans.