Salvation from Gleneagles?

By Zack Jeh



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 15, 2005

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It has been dubbed a moral crusade. Its proponents run the gamut from Nelson Mandela and Bill Gates to dirt poor African farmers; its public voices include Tony Blair, Bono and Bob Geldorf. It has harnessed star power quite well. It is endowed with substantial emotional and promotional capital. Its battle cry Make Poverty History” resonates well. The project for $55 billion in debt relief for Africa is, thankfully, one of the few areas in which the world is almost unanimous in its endorsement.

What about the vexing issues that reside on the African side of the equation (debilitating graft in officialdom, pervasive nepotism, absence of transparency, indifference to fiscal frugality, etc) , the dramatic reduction which are moral and technical imperatives if aid is to dent ubiquitous poverty? Will Africans meet the G8 halfway by at least slaying the beast of continental hunger in a decade? Or will it be the same decade from now, prompting a quantum jump in the index of misery? Will fair critics of failure be rejoined with tired cries of Africa bashing? Will apologists for failure bemoan the manifesto for debt relief? A good document for debt relief is not a proxy for prudent behavior.

Development aid’s shortfalls outdistance successes too many times in Africa that cynics describe it as a zero sum exercise. The current aid regime with its archaic cold war accent has shortchanged the economic program, producing white elephants and sapping initiative while viewing colossal graft and incompetence with staggering apathy. The sad result is political stability is the exception and grinding poverty and regression the norm in huge swaths of Africa-potential grounds for terrorism’s recruits. Witness Somalia, where a state akin to the Dark Ages obtains. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, goons governed for close to a quarter century, rendering armed crime gangs formidable players in the body politic. In Congo, lawlessness reigns in most of the country.

In fashioning an effective framework for debt relief, the prevailing aid paradigm must be retired. The G8 must be quite selective in dispensing relief. Should Angola, brimming with diamonds and oil, but managed by a corrupt regime, be a beneficiary of G8 largesse? What about Nigeria, an OPEC member, whose vast oil wealth ends up in the Swiss bank accounts of dictators and government ministers? Robert Mugabe has ruined agriculture to clobber dissent, how should debt relief be used to penalize his tyranny and not the people of Zimbabwe? And Sudan, where the inane ambition to build a theocratic state enlists mindless brutality and acts of genocide?

Europeans , especially, because of colonialism’s foibles must not see debt relief as a guilt trip but rather as an exercise in market development and a strategic counter to global terrorism-a grand bargain in which the good guys always win. Where poverty is self-inflicted the G8 must point this out; where graft and ineptitude are barriers to an effective assault on poverty non-governmental organizations may hold greater promise. Projects that engender self-help should receive the lion’s share of relief: that means starving misguided military programs and boondoggles; it also means quota and timetables must be insisted upon and met. Of course, insistence on transparency and accountability will lead to fervid cries of the loss of sovereignty. In exchange for aid something must give.
The lunch of debt forgiveness must not be free.

Debt relief as an antidote to Africa’s advancement is an illusion that has great appeal, yet history teaches otherwise. Societies that have made great strides in the last hundred years have nurtured stability, a culture of initiative, science and technology, the rule of law, and free trade-generosity by former colonial masters did not do it. There are things magnanimity by the G8 cannot do. The road to African development does not begin in Europe; it runs from the Cape of Good Hope to Cairo and points in between.

Walter Rodney, the West Indian intellectual, theorized how Europe under-developed Africa, now it is Africans that are raping Mother Africa, rendering a highly endowed continent the poster child for the worst in the human condition.