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Listening to Africans for a change

By David Rothbard and Craig Rucker
web posted August 8, 2005

While musicians gathered for "Live 8" and world leaders gathered for the G-8 conference, few were listening when Moeletsi Mbeki, brother of South African president Thabo Mbeki, told the G8, "The best way to keep Africans poor is to continue handing money to political elites who suppress development."

Mbeki noted that the Marshall Plan pulled Europe and Japan out of the doldrums that followed WWII because it was driven by the principles of strengthening democratic institutions and free markets. Most African aid, however, has been provided under the erroneous assumption that strengthening the state will lead to development.

The world press failed to report that the New Partnership for Africa's Development (the African Union's own economic development arm) told the G-8 that "lifting Africa from extreme poverty will require more than increased official development assistance or debt relief" and that "the key to creating favorable conditions for increased capital flows in Africa and keeping African capital on the continent will be its successful political and economic reform."

Concerts and conferences help focus attention on Africa's extraordinary economic and health-related problems. Even Bono's group, DATA (Debt, AIDS, Trade, Africa) demanded that rich nations open their markets, quota and duty free, to African exports, remove agricultural subsidies that hurt African farmers, and allow African nations to harness the power of trade in their own way to maximize poverty alleviation and economic growth.

This part of the message was not well communicated to the millions who tuned in Live 8 and signed petitions. No wonder that Cameroonian journalist, Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, complained that "they still believe us to be like children that they must save, as if we don't realize ourselves what the source of our problems is," adding, "Our anger is all the greater because despite all the presidents for life, despite all the evidence of genocide, we didn't hear anyone at Live 8 raise a cry for democracy in Africa."

As we began traveling to world trade and environmental summits on behalf of the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (C-FACT) our hearts were stirred for those living in poverty in nations with rich natural resources, but corrupt and oppressive, or just misguided, regimes. Over the past two years C-FACT has devised a new approach for assisting the developing world to taste the fruits of economic freedom and develop resources for human use in ways that do not harm the environment.

It will require nothing less than a whole new mindset based on cooperation as opposed to edict. We see the beginnings of this new mindset in the Millennium Challenge Corporation created by President Bush in 2002 as a new template for providing U.S. foreign aid.

The Millennium Challenge Account, which issued its first grants earlier this year, limits aid to nations that meet standards for governing justly, encouraging economic freedom, and investing in people. The 16 nations that to date have qualified for aid have met measurable goals for civil liberties and political rights, the rule of law and control of corruption, public health and education, and empowerment of women, among other stamdards.

A $110 million grant to Madagascar, the first approved, will help formalize its land tenure system, modernize the nation's land registry, expand land title services to rural citizens, improve the national banking system, and set up a body that identifies investment opportunities for rural citizens to reach markets. It will train farmers and other entrepreneurs in production, management, and marketing techniques.

British journalist Matthew Parris recounts that during a recent visit to Ethiopia, he went to a village in which women walked with buckets and rope in sweltering heat to get water from a dirty, uncovered well. He wondered why no one had installed a cheap bush windmill and a pipeline to deliver the water to the villagers and was told that the villagers were waiting for UNICEF or some non-governmental organization for assistance. "But it is too far, too hot for them." Meanwhile, the regional authority was, with foreign aid money, building a huge, multistory office 100 miles away, but no one was addressing the property rights and financing issues that would have encouraged a local entrepreneur (or even the community) to do this simple job for themselves.

C-FACT's mission is to put teams together to serve fledgling entrepreneurs and local communities in developing nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as they formulate and carry out their own economic development goals that are consistent with a free society and a cleaner environment. Our Social Entrepreneurship and Free-Market Environmental Demonstration (SEFED) program is seeking others who truly want to lift African and other poor nations out of poverty.

SEFED will create work groups in which governmental bodies, non-governmental organizations, financial institutions, capital suppliers, and environmental activists will work with local leadership to facilitate economic development, while at the same time incorporating social and environmental health standards.

It will take new coalitions to make real progress. Poverty is not the predestined fate for millions of Africans and others around the world. It can be eliminated, but it will take far more than conferences and concerts to fund and do the hard work necessary to make its elimination a reality.

David Rothbard is C-FACT's president and Craig Rucker is executive director. C-FACT is a public interest organization based in Washington, DC, that promotes free market and technological solutions to concerns about environment and development. It maintains an Internet website at www.cfact.org.


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