The Western Aid Paradox to Africa

By Finnigan wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

June 6, 2002

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his much touted New Labour Policy on Africa, is strongly opposed to United States President George W. Bush's plan of increasing monies which the ruling hemisphere throws into a concessional basket of poor countries lending arm of the World Bank Group, International Development Association (IDA) by 16% and converting half of it into grants.

Blair's argument is that such a move is counter productive because developing country leaders won't spend the money they get as grants carefully as there will be no obligation for repayment.

On the other hand President Bush argues that, as the World Bank has clearly stated, in order to stop many developing countries being turned into breeding grounds of terrorists by Osama Bin Laden's rich network of Al Qaeda, the developed world needs to more than double official development aid (ODA) to Africa from the current levels of less than $40bn to over $100bn per annum.

Britain has far much better a record in ODA disbursement to Africa, close to 0.22% of the country's gross domestic product, far much lower than the 0.7% set by United Nations, than the US which allocates 0.1%.

Britain and France, which is also opposed to President Bush's plan of converting half of the $12.5bn IDA concessional loan basket into grants but prefers 10% of it to be dedicated to such a cause, have a lot of understanding and experience of the African political elite part of it was groomed and given power by them.

They understand the magnitude of irresponsibility by the corrupt ruling African elite, which is at the helm in over half of the continent's 53 countries some which were visited by the US Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil who was so moved by the widespread poverty witnessed on his trip.

After visiting Ghana, a country touted by Bretton Woods and Western donors as a model of economic reform in West Africa, O'Neil was shocked to witness people in the country hardly having clean, safe water to drink. He was told that half the country's population had no access to safe water and that $50m was enough to fix the problem.

"We should do something about it, and we should do it now." O'Neill who was accompanied by U2 lead singer Bono was quoted as saying and then wondered, "When you think about the trillions of dollars that have flowed, at least for myself I ask: Why is this?"

It explains Tony Blair's wisdom in objecting George W. Bush's idea of playing father Christmas with half of the $12.5bn money allocated for concessional loans in the next three years by the rich countries for development purposes in the disorganised South where gangs of looters have been given power either fraudulently or by proxy to man their countries.

Responsibility among many African leaders is lacking and consciousness among the largely illiterate public is very poor such that corrupt politicians and senior bureaucrats in partnership with Western officials are siphoning out much of the ODA money back to Northern capitals.

The West cannot escape to have a fair share of the blame as to how development aid money paid by poor tax payers in their countries end up in pockets of corrupt and merciless bureaucratic and political elites in Africa.

Secretary O'Neill may as well revisit the ugly recent past when Ronald Reagan used to welcome the late Jonas Savimbi of Angola to the White House and appear with him in public confidently describing him as "our friend".

The late Savimbi's senseless war in Angola was directly financed by Washington via Zairean (now Democratic Republic of Congo) dictator the late General Mobutu Sese Seko who made a fortune worth billions of dollars in his role as middleman between Washington and the late Angolan warlord.

Much of the money which Washington and Bretton Woods gods gave Mobutu to finance the war in Angola and build roads in Kinshasa found its way back to British Virgin Islands or Swiss Banks. Efforts by authorities in Kinshasa to get back the late Mobutu's loot from Western banks have so far proved futile due to legal barriers. Some like the government of Nigeria and the family of another notorious African dictator, the late General Sani Abacha, have opted for an out of court settlement to recover at least part of the loot without further damage to public coffers through payment of legal fees.

There were many dictators including Malawi's Life President the late Hastings Kamuzu Banda, a British stooge who was elder of Church of Scotland, and some are there to date. Even if the West wants change in Africa, it won't come through development assistance which today up to 60% finds its way back to the West in form of payment for technical support while some goes to host government senior officials, in most cases through fraudulent ways.

In Ghana where O'Neill was shocked by the magnitude of poverty among Ghanaians, a military government of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings had been at the helm of the country's politics for a greater part of the past three decades. It's under Rawlings that much of donor money found its way into Ghana other than civilian rule.

But the future of aid disbursement to Africa by the West looks even gloomy as conditions mainly aimed at dominating the continent's socio-economic life are often spelled out as prerequisite.

The US, for example, has since September 11 become more involved, at least under Republicans who have never before regarded Africa as a place to pay attention to, in the continent's affairs by pledging more aid to countries that undertake reform.

In his 2003 fiscal year spending proposal, President Bush has allocated $25.4bn for foreign aid and international affairs of which for every one of six dollars would pay for military training and development projects in poor countries.

Two countries, Israel and Egypt are going to receive three times the total amount of aid the US will give to sub-Sahara African countries. Kenya and Tanzania, which are earmarked by Washington as partners in the war against terror are allocated close to $100m in the budget much of it goes to military training or in other words technical support.

Another larger part of the assistance will go to support of purchase of luxurious imports like condoms for sex perverts, unnecessary birth control drugs and gadgets in countries that are sparsely populated and very little, if any, money will go into infrastructure development.

It's aid money that seeks to introduced Africans to consumer goods from the West while the critical part of development money, ODA, which the UN believes is critical to the continent's development remains largely ignored by all big countries of the North except minors like Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Sweden which meet the target of 0.7% of GDP. It's ODA and not recurrent budget support subsidies that Africa needs most and of course, a clean focused visionary political elite, often not favoured by the ruling hemisphere!

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