Africa for the Africans

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 17, 2006 | Go to article overview

Africa for the Africans


Dr Paul Moorcraft argues that Bob Geldof and Tony Blair should leave Africa well alone

GIVING more aid to Africa is like telling an alcoholic he needs a stiff drink to help kick his addiction. That's my view after spending much of the last 30 years travelling in, or writing about a continent which is going backwards.

This conviction was confirmed last week when I attended the Tswalu dialogue in South Africa, an annual event for African leaders and foreign experts, funded by the generosity of the continent's richest family, the Oppenheimers.

But much of the continent is starving, especially next-door Zimbabwe. So what to do about it? Despite the exceptions - the British armed forces' impressive recent role in Sierra Leone, for example - as a general rule Western governments, their military and their arms dealers should stay out of Africa. More important, Western aid agencies should also be banned (though not emergency humanitarian relief).

Rock singers' alliances with Tony Blair may stir the soul of voters, but they are unlikely to benefit Africa's poor. Opening markets, and ending particularly the European Union's protectionist subsidies, which cosset the French farmer, would be a more effective strategy.

Of course, there are moral, feel-good arguments for stepping into Africa. Stopping genocide, for example, in Rwanda. But last-minute French military intercession made the 1994 Rwanda tragedy worse. And UN intervention, instead of bolstering the African Union solution, may make the Darfur crisis more severe.

Africa cannot be left to rot. The answer is to let Africans largely resolve their own issues. The continent's politicians who advocate the so-called African renaissance know that it is pointless blaming everything on colonialism. They know that progress can come only when African leaders invest by preference in their own countries, not Swiss banks.

What Africa needs is investment by business. The oil majors have shown that Africa need not be stable or even developing to make a profit. Angola is a good example. Elsewhere, Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea demonstrate that oil brings in money, but rarely benefits the masses, who are increasingly trying to emigrate out of Africa.

African oil is important, so is the impact of the 'war on terror' especially in the Islamic regions.

After nearly 50 years of independence and more than half a trillion dollars of western aid, most African citizens are poorer than ever. Part of the reason was Western support for tin-pot dictators in the Cold War.

Afterwards, Western governments tried to impose good governance by lending or giving money with strings attached.

It's worse with aid. International non-government organisations (NGOs) have long patrolled the moral high ground of what they think is in Africa's best interests, but they are the foremost profiteers of the aid business.

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