Monday, August 13, 2007

Trade not aid

The theory that the western “obsession’ with corruption is a threat to destitute Africans hardly marries with the facts. We are urged to look away from the corruption at every Blair/ Brown/Bono Africa fest. It won’t do – not because of the cost to us (which is minimal) but because of the cost to Africa.

Africa’s poor are poorer and shorter lived despite forty years of direct western aid and soft western loans. They have worse education and health expectations today then they did in the 60’s. In fact they were relatively wealthier before five times the Marshal aid monies were spent (notionally on them) then they are today.

Corruption, in particular, is not a marginal activity nibbling away at the edges of these aid monies – it is the core activity whereby tax monies from poor people in the west are transferred directly into the bank accounts of the rich in Africa. Additionally it is western aid and soft loans that provide the motor for the zero sum politics which destroy Africa. All the loot goes entirely to he who is in power and this provides a counter incentive to compromise, partnership or retirement and is an absolute barrier to the formation of competitive pluralist politics of the kind that are associated with better economic outcomes. Therefore the aid has comprehensively failed to reduce African poverty but has done much to support African dictators and thereby retard constructive political development.

Furthermore the wholesale corruption involved is not confined to Africa. In common with other trans national institutions the World Bank uses western taxpayers money without the tedious but necessary accountabilities provided by democratic oversight. The notion quickly forms in these institutions (the EU comes to mind) that they are entitled to taxpayer funding but immune from taxpayer scrutiny. The higher the purposes of these institutions the less likely are their accounts to be audited. This corrupts not only the officials directly concerned but the host of agencies and NGO’s who are have acquired a similar sense of entitlement to taxpayers money and a similar contempt for suggestions that they should be held accountable for it’s dispersal. Hence War on Poverty is happy to campaign alongside Mugabe and others against western “interference” in Africa whilst simultaneously demanding more western funding. “Your money belongs to us” is just not that appealing a proposition to western taxpayers.

As you travel through the colonial era gates of the Muthaiga club in Nairobi you will have difficulty finding parking amongst the state of the art Chelsea tractors from Unicef, Oxfam etc. as the Jeremy’s and Jemima’s gather for a bit of white mischief. “Doing good” pays very well indeed for the new class of western dilettante who gather on Africa’s verandahs for sundowners.

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