Njoroge Wachai at PostGlobal

Njoroge Wachai


Njoroge is a journalist who formerly worked for the Kenya-based People Daily. He was Africa Correspondent for the Science and Development Network (SciDev.net), a UK-based web site highlighting science and technology issues from developing countries. He also freelanced for the Switzerland-based Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO). Njoroge was a press fellow at the Wolfson College, University of Cambridge for four months in 2003, where he researched the role of alternative press in the democratization process in Africa. Njoroge currently lives in the U.S. He has studied Journalism and Technical Communication at the graduate level. Close.

Njoroge Wachai


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Trade, Not Aid, for Africa

Why do African countries keep pushing for aid that rich countries are reluctant and unwilling to give?

G8 Summits are fast becoming synonymous with Africa’s miseries. It’s almost predictable that at the top of the agenda of every G8 Summit is how Africa is dealing with the triumvirate issues of poverty, political instability and disease. In the 2005 G8 Summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, it was Darfur. In this year’s Summit in Japan, it was a threat to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe for holding a fraudulent election and suppressing the opposition.

Actually, it has become fashionable, prior to and during these summits – forget what happens when they’re concluded - for G8 leaders to pledge tens of billions of dollars to help Africa fight poverty. These are usually in the form of aid and debt cancellations.

During the Gleneagles Summit, G8 countries pledged, with much fanfare, to double aid to Africa by 2010. This was after a sustained and highly publicized international campaign by celebrity musician Paul David Hewson, a.k.a Bono, and music producer Bob Geldof’s Debt AIDS Trade Africa (DATA), that rich countries extend their hands of “generosity” to Africans.

Some G8 leaders, I guess out of shame, did offer to forget and forgive debt to a select group of African countries. Thanks to them, some African countries’ debt burden has been lessened. At least some progress has been made on this front. Countries such as Tanzania and Ghana have been redirecting funds that could have been spent servicing foreign debts to social programs, with some remarkable success.

But there has also been grumbling about the pledge to increase aid to Africa. The African Progress Panel 2008, which monitors fulfillment of G8 pledges, has a pugnacious report (PDF) that asserts that, “the pledge to double assistance to Africa by 2010, made at the G8 Summit at Gleneagles in 2005, is not likely to be fulfilled.” The report claims that out of the $25 billion in additional aid pledged to Africa in 2005, only $3 billion has been made available. Japan, Italy and France have been singled out for doing particularly little to fulfill their pledges.

This year’s G8 Summit, which just concluded in Japan, has revisited the aid issue. The rhetoric is as it was in 2005. G8 leaders have announced a $60 billion package to help Africa fight HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Place your bets on whether this latest pledge will be fulfilled or will remain just a pledge. Which belies the question: Why do African countries keep pushing for aid that rich countries are reluctant and unwilling to give? Isn’t there an alternative?

Africa’s fixation with foreign aid is amazing. Foreign aid isn’t freebie stuff. It goes without saying that rich countries are lethargic about passing their money to Africa, because it doesn’t make economic sense to do so. Those of us who live in these rich countries can’t understand this notion of rich countries “giving” money to Africa.

The Americans, Britons, Canadians or French don’t give money away for free. Were this the case, those of us Africans who live here would be very prosperous. We’d be receiving subsidized housing, education and medical care. There’d be affirmative action laws in these countries to help qualified Africans land high-paying jobs so that they might, in turn, invest back home in agriculture, health care and education, the darling sectors of the donor community. Immigration laws would be as friendly toward Africans as they are toward Cubans, Liberians, Vietnamese and, yes, Europeans.

After all, these are the same Africans whom G8 countries are dying to help. They’re the same folks who come from the continent where men, women and children go without food; where millions of children die of preventable diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea; and where children learn under trees because there’s no money to build classrooms.

African leaders, out of their foolishness, believe wrongly that rich countries are philanthropic entities flush with cash to dole out to poor countries. That’s why they, or their representatives, are always in Western capitals with begging bowls.

The idea that foreign aid will move Africa out of poverty is a fairy tale. Look at the policy governing food aid in the U.S, for example. Congress demands that all food aid be procured from American farmers, shipped by American-registered ships, and distributed by U.S.-based relief organizations. What this means is that virtually all the money the U.S. earmarks for food aid remains within the U.S. Relief organizations and the shipping industry have been lobbying hard to oppose any change in the status quo. In the meantime, dependency syndrome continues to take its toll on African countries that find themselves unable to produce enough food for their populations.

It’s high time African countries realized that foreign aid comes with too many strings attached to be considered a good weapon to fight poverty. Donor countries disburse aid thinking first and foremost of their own bottom lines; after all, they have taxpayers to be accountable to. For instance, we’ve had cases where donor countries give out money for infrastructure development in African countries, but demand that those projects be undertaken by their own construction companies at a cost specified by them. These countries also dispatch their own astronomically well-paid “technical assistance experts” to oversee these projects. They end up gobbling the biggest portion of “donated” funds, with the remaining morsels going to the corrupt high and mighty in the countries they serve. No wonder that Africa is still right where it was fifty years ago, when the concept of foreign aid emerged.

Trade, not aid, is what Africa needs. Rather than make promises of more aid for Africa, rich countries should increase the volume of trade with Africa.

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