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The futility of throwing money at Africa

By Samuel L. Blumenfeld
web posted July 4, 2005

Tony Blair's new crusade to eliminate poverty in Africa makes as much sense as trying to eliminate poverty in the U.K. Even in America we still have poverty, despite the famous War Against Poverty launched by the Johnson administration and fought by an army of bureaucrats. After throwing billions of dollars at "poverty," the result has been the creation of an entrenched and well-fattened bureaucracy dedicated to the preservation of its own perks and the perpetuity of the war.

Why does poverty exist even in the richest nations? It has something to do with human nature and character. There are those people in all societies who do not have the desire, the capability, or ambition to raise themselves out of poverty. In Africa, despite all of the advances in agricultural technology made in the last two hundred years, you find rural Africans using the most primitive methods of farming used for thousands of years to eke out a subsistence living.

When you look at the refugees in Darfur, you see an entire society that has lived in huts, surviving at the edge of starvation, in which little of the modern world has had much of an influence. The Sudanese government has done nothing to lift its people into the modern age, mainly because of its thirteenth-century Islamic mindset. If it wasn't for oil, Saudi Arabia would be as poor as Darfur.

And, of course, African leaders blame all of their problems on the West. They were all liberated from their colonial overlords in the 1960s, and forty-five years later they are worse off than they were under colonial rule. If the colonial powers must share the blame, it is because they educated the future African leaders to adopt socialism as their economic system. The London School of Economics taught the Africans the glories of Fabian Socialism. The Fabians used the gradual method to take over England, but the Africans didn't have to use the gradual method. They could impose socialism immediately. According to Dr. George Ayittey, a native of Ghana, who advocates free markets and the rule of law for Africa:

[The] socialist transformation required the institution of excessive legislative regulations and controls. All unoccupied land was appropriated by the government. Many foreign companies were nationalized, and numerous state-owned enterprises were established….Bewildering arrays of restrictions were imposed on imports, capital transfers, industry, wages, trade unions, prices, rents, interest rates and the like.

Thus, the mechanisms of wealth-creation were thwarted in favor of governmental and bureaucratic aggrandizement. Thus, if you wanted to get somewhere in that kind of society, you got a job as a bureaucrat so that you could partake of the benevolence of the Western powers. If you wanted to become an entrepreneur, a capitalist, you had to leave the country and go to Europe or America. Thus, the most intelligent, ambitious, and creative Africans have gone West. That represents a brain-drain the continent could hardly afford.

Africa is also plagued by a population of very limited education who have no understanding of the Western concept of individual aspiration. The social norm is the tribe or clan. Individual ambition as we know it cannot grow in that kind of anti-individualist soil. But without it, you cannot create wealth and are condemned to live in a society totally dependent on the largesse of the governing class. The result is that poverty has become the permanent quagmire of human existence in Africa. The only thing that Western charity might do is simply provide the poorest Africans with free meals for a period of time. But it will not give them the mindset that they can create wealth by their own efforts.

One of the reasons why so many immigrants to America became producers of wealth is because they left their clans and tribes behind and came here as individuals eager to seek their fortunes. America's freedom permitted them to exercise their ambitions, their ingenuity, their drive to achieve success. No one goes to Africa to do what immigrants to America do.

Then there is the problem of government corruption, which is endemic to Africa. For example, according to Dr. Ayittey, in Nigeria between 1970 and 2000 more than $35 billion in oil revenues disappeared into the Nigerian government's coffers. Nobody knows what happened to the money. In Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko accumulated a fortune of $10 billion. He could have written a personal check to pay off his country's foreign debt of $7 billion.

In Zimbabwe we have the spectacle of Mugabe's government systematically destroying the homes of the very poor, creating thousands of homeless poor. What's to become of them? Nobody knows. Mugabe also expropriated the farms of his white citizens, which were probably the most productive on the whole continent. Now there is a severe food shortage, which will result in the starvation of thousands of the poorest in Zimbabwe.

Dr. Ayittey contends that African leaders are not interested in reform. "All they are willing to do under international pressure is what I call the ‘Babangida Boogie': one step forward, three steps back, a flip and a side kick to land in a fat Swiss bank account."

We would hope that Tony Blair, George Bush, and all of those anxious to throw huge amounts of taxpayer cash at Africa would sit down with Dr. Avittey and seek his counsel. He is Distinguished Economist at American University in Washington, not far from the White House, and President of the Free Africa Foundation. Hopefully, those politicians who really want to achieve some permanent good in Africa will listen to what he has to say and advise.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of eight books on education, including, "Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers," "The Whole Language/OBE Fraud," and "Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children." These books are available on Amazon.com.

 

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