Africa needs Business partners not charity

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Daily our calloused senses and consciences are assaulted by the African tragedy: starving babies with bloated bellies, bloody tribal and sectarian genocide, massive government corruption and pillaging, military coups, endemic AIDS, resurgent tuberculosis and malaria, UN employees and blue hats buying child prostitutes and French protégé the Central African Republic’s Emperor Jean-Bédel Bokassa credibly accused of cannibalism.

There is not a single state on the African continent that would not today be better off administered under a colonial regime, as Hong Kong was by Britain. If the West genuinely cared about Africa and wanted to make a difference rather than more charity, it would send soldiers to overthrow corrupt and despotic regimes, and constitutional law experts and administrators to architect and operate governing legal and economic systems there patterned after our own.

The West –principally Britain and France – abandoned Africa. The British colonial – to use that unfashionable word- model was reasonably successful worldwide, if less so in Africa, planting institutions incubating and sustaining political and economic freedom. In the Americas economically and politically free countries once governed or administered by Britain include: Canada, the US, Barbados, Jamaica, and Belize; in Asia Pacific: Hong Kong, Singapore, India, Australia and New Zealand; and in Europe: Ireland, and Germany. In stark contrast, France’s colonial legacy includes no free countries, much less any exemplars of freedom.

The African continent is a patchwork quilt of artificially drawn and imposed borders, established, for the most part, by European colonial powers. They force together different, often violently antagonistic, cultural, linguistic and religious groups, resulting in festering tension, outbreaks of horrific violence, and in the politically and militarily dominate group oppressing, brutalizing and harvesting economic rents from other factions. This has resulted in millions of Africans having been slaughtered by other Africans, while the West has simply watched.

By most fundamental metrics the quality of life in Africa is poor and getting worse.

Africa is the least free continent on the planet. The Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom index ranks not a single African economy as free. In most of the continent Africans cannot hold a transferable and enforceable title to their homes and land. This renders the most significant potential source of capital for the average African inert.

2005 Heritage Freedom Rankings Select African countries

  2005 Ranking 2005 Score
Libya 153 4.40
Zimbabwe 151 4.36
Nigeria 141 3.95
GuineaBissau 138 3.85
Congo, Republic of 136 3.80
Sierra Leone 135 3.78
Ethiopia 133 3.73
Togo 131 3.68
Malawi 129 3.65
Benin 128 3.63
Cameroon 126 3.60
Rwanda 121 3.54
Niger 118 3.53
Equatorial Guinea 118 3.53
Central African Republic 117 3.51
Algeria 114 3.49
Tanzania 109 3.41
Zambia 106 3.40
TheGambia 106 3.40
Gabon 106 3.40
Chad 103 3.38
Egypt 103 3.38
Lesotho 102 3.36
Mozambique 100 3.34
Ghana 98 3.30

*Note Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan were not rated. Of 155 countries scored, North Korea ranked as the least economically free country on the planet.

Freedom House’s 2003 survey of political rights and civil liberties, ranks no country in Northern Africa as free, and, generously, categorizes 11 countries in sub-Saharan Africa as free.

Africans on average live their freedom-starved lives far fewer years than people of any other continent. Life expectancies in huge swaths of Africa are plummeting. Of the ten countries with the world’s lowest life expectancies all are African. Life expectancy in these countries is under 40 years, comparable to medieval England.

Rank Country 2000-2005 Life Expectancyat Birth (in years)
1 Zambia 32.4
2 Zimbabwe 33.1
3 Sierra Leone 34.2
4 Swaziland 34.4
5 Lesotho 35.1
6 Malawi 37.5
7 Mozambique 38.1
8 Rwanda 39.3
9 Central African Republic 39.5
10 Botswana 39.7

*UN Department of Economic & Social Affairs, Population Division, 2004

In many of these countries Aids and other diseases ravage the population. Aids has not however reduced European and North American life expectancies to medieval levels.

Under Robert Mugabe’s rule life expectancy in Zimbabwe fell from 56 years in 1985 to 33 years in 2005. A boy born in Zambia between 2000 and 2005 has a life expectancy of 32.7 years, which is 7 years less than he would have had if he had been born half a century earlier.

Africa is the world’s economic basket case. Between 1975 and 2000 African GDP per capita fell .6% per year. While most of the world enjoys economic growth, African economic and political systems destroy wealth.

The world’s most impoverished continent exports legitimately saved and ill-gotten capital because capital in Europe and North America is generally safe, welcome and generates reasonable returns. Perhaps even more damaging, Africa also exports its human capital to developed countries.

Few African countries have solid money, which is a requisite but not sufficient condition for vibrant and healthy economies. Twelve of the 25 countries with the world’s highest inflation rates are African.

    Inflation rate (%)
ANGOLA Africa 110.0
SOMALIA Africa 100.0
ZIMBABWE Africa 100.0
TURKEY Europe 69.0
IRAQ Middle East 60.0
SURINAME South America 59.0
BELARUS Europe 46.1
ROMANIA Europe 34.5
MALAWI Africa 28.6
CYPRUS Europe 27.6
GHANA Africa 25.0
ECUADOR South America 22.0
RUSSIA Asia 21.9
ZAMBIA Africa 21.5
MYANMAR Asia 20.0
SIERRA LEONE Africa 15.0
ERITREA Africa 15.0
NIGERIA Africa 14.9
SRI LANKA Asia 14.2
HAITI North America 14.0


Africa 14.0
LIBYA Africa 13.6

Even more destructive of individuals’ efforts to create wealth and better lives for themselves and their families is endemic corruption. In Africa it is pervasive. The Daily Telegraph reported Nigeria’s rulers plundered over $200 billion. Ghanaian economist George Ayittey testified to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September, 2004 that General Sani Abacha of Nigeria embezzled $20 billion; Ivory Coast President Felix Houphouet-Boigny $6 billion; Nigeria’s General Ibrahim Babangida $5 billion; Zaire’s President Mobutu Sese Seko $4 billion; and Mali’s President Mousa Traore $2 billion. The only thing exceptional about these government looters is the scale of their plunder. Most African leaders steal to the extent they can.

In the face of this continental-scale tragedy, the West indulges in feel-goodism calling for more billions collected from American and European tax payers to be poured down a continental rat hole. Since 1960 on an inflation adjusted basis Africa received more than $400 billion in aid, to no good effect.

Monetary aid is poison. It does not encourage more responsible government. Rather it enables dictatorial government elites to buy military and police support. Corrupt Africa elites enrich themselves and funnel Western tax money and charity into Swiss bank accounts and villas in southern France.

Democrats and Bush Republicans are all for more largesse for Africa, sometimes quibbling on the particulars of its putative use. Much like George Bush, Pat Robertson views the US government, which is to say the American taxpayer, as an enormous and bottomless piggybank with which to do good works. Robertson recently urged that the US to tithe 1% of total Federal spending to aid Africa. A deluge of aid will not fix what ails Africa.

Entertainment celebrities such as Bono and Bob Geldoff organize hyper-publicized extravaganzas, which enhance their moral self-esteem and charitable reputations, but do little, if anything, lasting and system atic to help Africa. More rock concerts and aid are not a solution.

What can be done that will have a meaningful, sustainable and systematic positive impact?

Socialist and kleptocratic despotisms have dominated the African political landscape since the post WW2 decolonization wave. They must be eliminated. It bears mention: African dictators do not of their own volition turn over the keys to honest, reform-minded liberal governments.

The state as a night watchman is a useful conceptual framework. The night watchman guards his charge and their property from threats, theft and assault. In Africa states perform many functions they shouldn’t, but not this most basic and essential function.

Good government serves a vital role in enabling civil society, economic and political liberty, and wealth creation. Good government maintains a framework within which individuals can pursue their fortunes as they see fit.

Governments’ paramount function is to ensure physical security against internal and external threats. Africa is racked by low-level wars, internecine sectarian and tribal violence, and rampant criminal violence.

Government must provide an environment in which the citizenry is physically safe from criminal violence. South Africa, which remains Africa’s most prosperous economy, has the highest level of criminal violence on the planet. Its reported per capita murder rate is 114 per 100,000, versus 1.72 per 100,000 in Canada in 2003 and 5.6 per 100,000 in 2002 in the U.S.

The culture of corruption that infects African government at every level must be utterly rooted out.

Bad guy regimes and endemic corruption must be forcefully and relentlessly vilified by the West, whether the villains are black, brown, or blond with blue eyes, Christian or Muslim.

Africans desperately need genuinely free markets and the supporting legal infrastructure, which treat capital, labor and entrepreneurs well, indeed royally. The establishment of the rule of law, property rights, and impartial contract enforceability is critical.

Most African countries should outsource monetary policy. Adopting the dollar, euro or pound as a national currency, or a currency board, would provide stable money enabling individuals and firms to transact, save and invest with greater certainty, facilitating wealth creation.

Lack of access to Western markets for products in which African producers enjoy comparative advantage such as sugar, cotton and textiles is a huge problem. Western import restrictions and tariffs stymie wealth creation in Africa. Moreover, they punish Western consumers with higher prices and, in a perverse negative cycle, pressure for higher taxes to fund aid to help Africans impoverished by American and European trade barriers.

American and European markets should be unilaterally opened to Africa goods, with protective regimes for Western producers being discarded. This would benefit American and European consumers and African businesses, making Africa, America and Europe wealthier.

Regime change happens with regularity in Africa. For the lucky deposed despots, this means a life of luxury in exile in southern France, for the not so lucky, death. Normally the new gang overthrows the old to become the country’s new chief thieves. Meaningful regime change and reform inAfrica however is not likely absent outside intervention.

The San Francisco Bay Area, Boston and Vermont are full of bumper stickers with pious admonitions such as “War is never the answer.” Nonsense! Force and war are very often the most efficacious and morally correct answer. There are few African countries where five thousand British or American troops couldn’t quickly send the despots packing.

A couple small countries with egregiously revolting regimes could be forcibly transformed into Hong Kong style colonies. Beneficent intervention targets should be selected to maximize the chance of success and the political palatability in the U.S. They should be small enough to be manageable, ruling out countries such as Egypt and Nigeria. They should also be manifestly repugnant regimes. And, arguably, a significant portion of the population should not be fanatical Mohammedans, at least not without a native Atatürk type collaborating in the enterprise.

Several such beneficent interventions might trigger a freedom-and- prosperity-domino effect.

In 2000 Britain’s modest unilateral intervention in Sierra Leone with 1500 troops took control of the government. It organized combating rebels and in 2003 turned over control to the U.N., which in 2004, in turn, passed control to Sierra Leonean forces. Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is a basket case by any standard. Three to four million Zimbabweans have fled the country. Zimbabweans today are reaping the grim harvest sown a quarter of a century ago by progressive Western elites’ high-minded policies. The paper of record for America’s progressive elites the New York Times in an August 23, 1980 editorial gushed “Mr. Mugabe has quickly established himself as an African statesman of the first rank.” They further applauded Mugabe’s standing “firmly by the rule of law” and urged the US to pony up more aid “to assure Mr. Mugabe’s success.” In a January 20, 1981 editorial the New York Times hailed Zimbabwe as a model that “can still instruct most of its neighbors in the democratic norms.” Wishing it was so does not make it so. This horribly and patently false message relentlessly pounded home by elite Western media tom toms influenced British and American policy with horrendous, bloody and utterly tragic consequences for Africans.

Zimbabwe would be an eminently logical target for Western-imposed regime change. In 2007 former Zimbabwean archbishop Pius Ncube called for foreign intervention to overthrow Mugabe. A Zimbabwe with the pound as a currency, British troops, courts and civil servants, low flat taxes, and an open door to investment, trade and entrepreneurs, would be an economic dynamo and a lighthouse for the continent. African countries lucky enough to have Hong Kong style colonial regimes imposed would rather swiftly become oases of economic growth and freedom, and magnets for immigration, for Africans, Westerners, Asians, et al.

The usual suspects, the same sanctimonious elites who were Mugabe cheerleaders when he was in the bush and apologists for his regime for years, would howl in protest. Africans however would vote en masse with their feet and migrate to islands of liberty, political stability and opportunity, for their families, administered, at least for a while, by Western civil servants and soldiers.

The symptoms and underlying causes of Africa’s malaise are widely understood. Nevertheless for almost half a century, in addressing the African malaise the West has stubbornly indulged in counter productive feel-goodism. Now, acknowledging the worsening human tragedy Western leaders, myopically, and a bit piously, call for more of the same. This is deceptive feel-good fodder for the casually concerned. For political, media, religious and business leaders paying attention, this is a cynical hamster-wheel prescription. This Western folly consigns hundreds of millions of Africans to generations more of shortened, impoverished and less free lives, and unrealized dreams.

Africa needs tough love from the West, not more charity. Corrupt despotic regimes must be changed and the institutional plumbing of economic and political freedom installed, forcibly in at least a few of the worst cases. Does the West have the confidence, will and interest in pursuing such a course? Probably not.

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