Africa shrugged? Why trade is the only way for Africa to beat poverty
Africa needs a Marshall Plan and business partners and customers rather than never-ending and debilitating aid and charity
Aid is a lovely warm word isn’t it? It sounds so, well, helpful. After all, everybody knows that it is better to give than to receive. And how good it feels - that warm rosy glow we get at Christmas or birthdays when we ostentatiously give presents and end up feeling smugly content and self satisfied by the glow of giving. Of course, on a person to person basis, giving is good. Normally it is reciprocated. Maybe that’s the key.
But international aid is often warped. It is one directional. It is seldom selfless, often self-serving. Worst of all, it is self-perpetuating. Aid should be a helping hand, a pump-primer, an overdraft. Not an ongoing revenue stream.
Aid is generally given by charities and governments; sometimes by individuals. Charities fall into two broad categories - the big international business charities with the warm, fluffy facades and the small “kitchen table” charities.
Aid is motivated by a number of different motives:
1. genuine concern for the people
2. genuine concern for the country and its people
3. political influence
Far too often however, the short term needs of the people and the need for political influence combine with a fourth self-serving motive:
4. The ongoing sustainability of the well paid careers of the 500,000 plus in the aid industry.
Hence what is good for the country and what is good for the people is at times ignored.
Aid is raised or justified in the name of the poor and then stolen by the elite. It is not even worth a raised eyebrow when leaders of aid receiving “democracies” have personal multimillion pound fortunes that could not possibly result from any government salaries or former careers.
Our press and the public are very quick to point accusing fingers at millionaire politicians in the UK just because they are millionaires. The difference is (apart from Tony Blair) those UK “millionaire” politicians became rich before they entered politics – not from politics. In developing countries you become a millionaire or a multi-millionaire by becoming a politician. I have seen the eyes of African politician’s light up at the mere mention of the word aid – and fall despondently at the word trade. Because there is nothing in it for them.
The outstanding exception in the media is Ian Birrell. He doesn’t pull his punches. Have a read of his article on Bob Geldof in the Independent from Monday.Ian cites three often ignored facts about Africa. Africa has: “seven of the world's 10 fastest-growing economies, 13 countries with a higher per capita GDP than China, a fast-emerging middle-class with higher household spending than India.”
That term, middle class, is massively important. Having a solid and prosperous middle class is good, even essential, for developing countries to pick themselves up and dust off the dependency on aid and become functioning democracies.
A prosperous middle class is educated and articulate. It has more chance of sifting out propaganda and of demanding, using and supporting independent local media. It has a vested interest in the country. It is more likely to vote on policy rather than on tribal lines. It has a chance, at least, of becoming a democratic check and balance to politicians. It employs other people. Most importantly, if the middle class becomes significant, living standards and salaries will rise and the immediate brain drain of the newly graduated may recede.
Most aid is lazy. Clever aid is hard.
Aid should work towards promoting a sustainable, private sector, middle class. A public sector dominated middle class is not the same. Doing this should be a test, a benchmark against which aid charities are measured. It should also be a test for international aid. The word development needs to be lived.
In Zambia, a factory full of employees was bankrupted due to the dumping of ex-UK charity shop clothes by an international do-gooding charity that were then sold locally at cut prices. That made a couple of local people rich and destroyed a business. That’s not aid. That is warped.
Trade should always be the ultimate goal of any aid money. Trade boosts local employers helping local employees. Too often, aid is simply a lazy, box-ticking, conscience-smoothing cheque. It is used to import ready-made consumption goods which only helps the countries that make things. It creates no local wealth. No jobs. No infrastructure. No helping hand. It just puts luxury products in the hands of the local elite. It is self-perpetuating aid dependency; aid slavery.
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