Free Africa

Foreign aid and debts have shifted attention from the native population to donors and banks

Marco Visscher | January 2004 issue

‘The talk of aid is a lot of hot air. Aid has never developed a single African country to the stage of social transformation.’ Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tells it like it is. In eAfrica (July 2003), the Pan-African electronic newsletter on leadership and renewal, Museveni argues that Africa has never received any support whatsoever in its efforts to disengage itself from the West and develop independently.

Of the US$1.2 trillion spent worldwide each year on agricultural products, barely $13 billion (1%) goes to Africa, according to Museveni’s calculations. He blames the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for not stamping out protectionism, which has given Western farmers in Europe and the United States an unfair advantage in international markets: ‘If Africa cannot earn money from agriculturally-based products, from which other source will it be able to earn money?’

There are plenty of farmers in Africa. A large majority of the population works in agriculture and their numbers are growing as never before. No wonder, Museveni says provocatively: first the colonists wiped out the African feudal class because it challenged their power, and then they marginalised the artisans by importing Gillette razors and other European goods to replace the orumwaiso (a traditional razor) and other local products.

If the continent continues to be so heavily influenced by the West, how independent can Africa truly become? Not very, says New African (July 2003), which reasons as follows. Colonialism was an expensive undertaking. It required civil servants, police and armies; heavy outlays from the ‘mother country’. These days there’s a much simpler and cost-effective solution: send a representative from the IMF or World Bank and you’re done. If a government refuses to let them in, it is labelled a ‘pariah’ and thus denied access to international financial aid. Take the example of Zimbabwe, where the international community hasn’t really pressured president Robert Mugabe to adjust his (mis)government, but it has withdrawn all its financial aid. As a result, the country’s economy has collapsed and the ones who really have suffered have been Zimbabwe’s poor.

Malawi has been fighting a similar battle. Digital newsletter OneWorld (January 15, 2003) alerted its readers to a World Development Movement report, from which it appears that the policies of the IMF and World Bank have led to the worst famine the country has seen in over 50 years. The imposed privatisation of the food production and distribution systems, the elimination of agricultural subsidies for small farmers and deregulation of price agreements for cattle feed, such as corn, represented a reversal of the policies that had always prevented famine in Malawi. But as the country was heading towards a humanitarian crisis, Malawi’s government was being forced to repay outstanding foreign debts, which meant that US$70 million could not be used to transport scant food supplies to the starving population.

President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi is cynical in an interview with New African: ‘If you try to say we Africans must do whatever we want, believe me, you will get no Western aid. That’s what the world is all about.’ Muluzi cannot say that the Western ideas on economic reform have had positive results either. In his country, 64% of the population lives below the poverty level. Forty years ago, that percentage was exactly the same, Muluzi says. So: ‘Tell me, where are we going? Why did we become independent?’

Cancel all the outstanding debts and drastically cut development aid, suggests David Leonard, dean of the University of California at Berkeley, and Scott Strauss, a former graduate student and journalist in Nairobi, Kenya. Their recently published book ‘Africa’s Stalled Development’ (Lynne Rienner, 2003) presents a curious mixture of right- and left-wing ideas on how to put Africans back in charge of their continent’s development. According to the authors, the concepts of assistance and debt have changed the nature of African politics. More attention is focused on the influence of foreign advisors, donors and bankers than on the native population. As a result, Leonard and Strauss write, the ‘local elites have no stake in the productive capacity of most of their brethren’.

‘A real pity,’ says president Museveni, as there is so much potential – that is, assuming the rules of the global economy change. In eAfrica, he describes the chains that have kept Africa imprisoned in poverty. African countries continue to export unprocessed resources, thus depriving themselves of the increased value attached to finished products. ‘When you export a kilogram of lint cotton without turning it into garment, you only get one tenth of the value. When you export a kilo of unprocessed coffee, you only get one-twentieth of the value, when you export a kilogram of silk; you only get one-fiftieth of the value. Africa must stop allowing this robbery. We should, mainly, export finished products. The returns will go up dozens of times.’

Things could be different. In fact, change could start with the farmers, according to the Ghanaian G. Pascal Zachary, author of ‘The Diversity Advantage’. He tells In These Times (August 11, 2003) that independence has brought little change to farmers’ lives. And while governments kept food prices low to please city dwellers, Africa’s farmers became ever more invisible.

Zachary believes Africa needs a farming revolution. A remarkable conclusion, to say the least, from a former senior writer and foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. According to Zachary, it is more likely that farmers – the backbone of African society – will change Africa’s power structure than any starry-eyed foreign idealist. ‘That there is still no sign of a revolution in Africa,’ Zachary concludes, ‘suggests that the big story of decolonisation is yet to be written.’

Solution News Source

Free Africa

Foreign aid and debts have shifted attention from the native population to donors and banks

Marco Visscher | January 2004 issue

‘The talk of aid is a lot of hot air. Aid has never developed a single African country to the stage of social transformation.’ Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni tells it like it is. In eAfrica (July 2003), the Pan-African electronic newsletter on leadership and renewal, Museveni argues that Africa has never received any support whatsoever in its efforts to disengage itself from the West and develop independently.

Of the US$1.2 trillion spent worldwide each year on agricultural products, barely $13 billion (1%) goes to Africa, according to Museveni’s calculations. He blames the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for not stamping out protectionism, which has given Western farmers in Europe and the United States an unfair advantage in international markets: ‘If Africa cannot earn money from agriculturally-based products, from which other source will it be able to earn money?’

There are plenty of farmers in Africa. A large majority of the population works in agriculture and their numbers are growing as never before. No wonder, Museveni says provocatively: first the colonists wiped out the African feudal class because it challenged their power, and then they marginalised the artisans by importing Gillette razors and other European goods to replace the orumwaiso (a traditional razor) and other local products.

If the continent continues to be so heavily influenced by the West, how independent can Africa truly become? Not very, says New African (July 2003), which reasons as follows. Colonialism was an expensive undertaking. It required civil servants, police and armies; heavy outlays from the ‘mother country’. These days there’s a much simpler and cost-effective solution: send a representative from the IMF or World Bank and you’re done. If a government refuses to let them in, it is labelled a ‘pariah’ and thus denied access to international financial aid. Take the example of Zimbabwe, where the international community hasn’t really pressured president Robert Mugabe to adjust his (mis)government, but it has withdrawn all its financial aid. As a result, the country’s economy has collapsed and the ones who really have suffered have been Zimbabwe’s poor.

Malawi has been fighting a similar battle. Digital newsletter OneWorld (January 15, 2003) alerted its readers to a World Development Movement report, from which it appears that the policies of the IMF and World Bank have led to the worst famine the country has seen in over 50 years. The imposed privatisation of the food production and distribution systems, the elimination of agricultural subsidies for small farmers and deregulation of price agreements for cattle feed, such as corn, represented a reversal of the policies that had always prevented famine in Malawi. But as the country was heading towards a humanitarian crisis, Malawi’s government was being forced to repay outstanding foreign debts, which meant that US$70 million could not be used to transport scant food supplies to the starving population.

President Bakili Muluzi of Malawi is cynical in an interview with New African: ‘If you try to say we Africans must do whatever we want, believe me, you will get no Western aid. That’s what the world is all about.’ Muluzi cannot say that the Western ideas on economic reform have had positive results either. In his country, 64% of the population lives below the poverty level. Forty years ago, that percentage was exactly the same, Muluzi says. So: ‘Tell me, where are we going? Why did we become independent?’

Cancel all the outstanding debts and drastically cut development aid, suggests David Leonard, dean of the University of California at Berkeley, and Scott Strauss, a former graduate student and journalist in Nairobi, Kenya. Their recently published book ‘Africa’s Stalled Development’ (Lynne Rienner, 2003) presents a curious mixture of right- and left-wing ideas on how to put Africans back in charge of their continent’s development. According to the authors, the concepts of assistance and debt have changed the nature of African politics. More attention is focused on the influence of foreign advisors, donors and bankers than on the native population. As a result, Leonard and Strauss write, the ‘local elites have no stake in the productive capacity of most of their brethren’.

‘A real pity,’ says president Museveni, as there is so much potential – that is, assuming the rules of the global economy change. In eAfrica, he describes the chains that have kept Africa imprisoned in poverty. African countries continue to export unprocessed resources, thus depriving themselves of the increased value attached to finished products. ‘When you export a kilogram of lint cotton without turning it into garment, you only get one tenth of the value. When you export a kilo of unprocessed coffee, you only get one-twentieth of the value, when you export a kilogram of silk; you only get one-fiftieth of the value. Africa must stop allowing this robbery. We should, mainly, export finished products. The returns will go up dozens of times.’

Things could be different. In fact, change could start with the farmers, according to the Ghanaian G. Pascal Zachary, author of ‘The Diversity Advantage’. He tells In These Times (August 11, 2003) that independence has brought little change to farmers’ lives. And while governments kept food prices low to please city dwellers, Africa’s farmers became ever more invisible.

Zachary believes Africa needs a farming revolution. A remarkable conclusion, to say the least, from a former senior writer and foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal. According to Zachary, it is more likely that farmers – the backbone of African society – will change Africa’s power structure than any starry-eyed foreign idealist. ‘That there is still no sign of a revolution in Africa,’ Zachary concludes, ‘suggests that the big story of decolonisation is yet to be written.’

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