"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, November 2, 2015

Bono, Charity, And Foreign Assistance–Africa Is Better Off Without Them

It is hard to name any African country on a solid democratic or economic path.  Most are a mess – Nigeria, Congo, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Angola, Mali just to name a few.  If you count countries above the Sahara, Egypt, Algeria, and Libya are going through cataclysms from which liberal democracy is unlikely to emerge.  Even the darlings of the West like Uganda is corrupt, homophobic, and fighting a long and brutal civil war.  Ghana is everyone’s favorite, and fans point to its moderate GDP growth as an example of success, but that number reflects more the dismal rate from which it started than any promise of Africa’s China.

What Africa does not need is international donor assistance which has been characterized over the years by continued giving to corrupt governments to secure oil, earth minerals, and geopolitical influence..  Africa, by and large, is ruled by corrupt dictators who are more interested in staying in power. (http://www.uncleguidosfacts.com/2012/08/time-to-reevaluate-africa.html)

Idriss Deby, the dictator of Chad played the US and the World Bank for fools, duplicitously agreeing to a gas-for-reform agenda and then reneging completely and continuing his despotic rule over one of the poorest countries in Africa..  The lionized Kagame presides with a repressive regime which muzzles opposition.  He has lied or distorted reports about his support of anti-government clandestine military operations in the Congo.  There are many more examples.

Helen Epstein recently described in these pages the support that aid donors give to Ethiopia’s tyrant Meles Zenawi, who has roughly matched Biya [President of Cameroon]  in aid receipts in a shorter period of time.Peter Gill in his excellent recent book Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid (2010) documents Meles’s misdeeds further, which rise to the level of war crimes in his counterinsurgency in Ethiopia’s Somali region. Other long-serving aid-receiving dictators include Idriss Déby in Chad ($6 billion in aid between 1990 and the present), Lansana Conté in Guinea ($11 billion between 1984 and his death in 2008), Paul Kagame in Rwanda ($10 billion between 1994 and the present), and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda ($31 billion between 1986 and the present) William Easterly, NY Review of Books, 11.2010

Idriss Deby

Africa, according to George Monbiot writing in The Guardian (6.18.13), most definitely does not need the likes of Bono:

In The Frontman: Bono (in the Name of Power) the Irish scholar Harry Browne maintains that "for nearly three decades as a public figure, Bono has been … amplifying elite discourses, advocating ineffective solutions, patronising the poor and kissing the arses of the rich and powerful". His approach to Africa is "a slick mix of traditional missionary and commercial colonialism, in which the poor world exists as a task for the rich world to complete".


Monbiot, while right in criticizing Bono for his media-friendly, and self-promotional African campaigns, Bono is simply a shill for international capitalism and big business, says Monbiot, and he needs to be exposed for being a faux friend and canny manipulator who stifles the voices of ‘real’ Africans.

The alliance is pushing African countries into agreements that allow foreign companies to grab their land, patent their seeds and monopolize their food markets. Ignoring the voices of their own people, six African governments have struck deals with companies such as Monsanto, Cargill, Dupont, Syngenta, Nestlé and Unilever, in return for promises of aid by the UK and other G8 nations.

What Africa needs most is foreign capital investment, and whichever these countries are, they are lucky to get any private funds at all.  Most companies with any savvy stay away from Africa altogether.  Exxon Mobil, for example, tired of the corruption and violence in Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea – countries with vast, proven oil resources – walked away.  The company turned to the United States and Canada for oil and gas exploration using new oil shale and gas fracturing technologies.  They have made billions.  Few African countries can raise money on international capital markets because of endemic corruption, past history of default, and little promise of reasonable governance.

Image result for images logo exxonmobil

So if a deal can be concluded among the beneficiary countries, the international private sector, and the governments of the G8, so much the better.  I personally have argued long and hard for retracting all foreign assistance entirely, forcing countries to reform enough to finally have access to international financial resources; but in the interim deals like this G8 one sound reasonable.

Monbiot is upset and outraged about the stifling of ‘African voices’, but who are they? The likes of Déby, Kagame, Conté, Museveni, or Meles? Or the new president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta sought by the Hague for international crimes against humanity?  Or the little people, the villagers, the dispossessed who have never had a voice in any culture, developed or developing?

Image result for images robert mugabe


Monbiot then piles on the international corporations for grabbing African land, patenting  African seeds and monopolizing African food markets. Most African countries have made a mess of their own agriculture.  Robert Mugabe took what was one of Africa’s most productive and wealthy agricultural sector and destroyed it because of his venal and self-serving programs of ‘land redistribution’ – i.e. grabbing land from legitimate white farmers and turning it over to inexperienced African ones.  Ethiopia was transformed to one of the most promising countries on the continent into a desert wasteland thanks to predatory governments, illogical and petty wars, and total mismanagement. 

If Monsanto and the rest can develop these countries, so much the better.  Ofcourse they will repatriate most of the profits; and of course Africans stand to gain only a modest profit from the investment; but whose fault is that?  The corrupt governments with which Monsanto and others do business know that they will be able to siphon of millions just as they have from donor assistance; so do not stand firm for a better deal.

Image result for images logo monsanto

Monbiot fails to mention China, usually cast as a demon which see its deals in Africa as far more manipulative and selfish than those of the corporate sector.  China has made it easy for African governments: “Give us your natural resources”, they say, “and we will rebuild your infrastructure”. Is this a bad deal?  Not at all.  Countries like Angola which have neglected its rural poor for decades, subjected them to a civil war, and failed to provide them with any of the vast resources derived from oil, are happy to have the Chinese do their dirty work and build ports, roads, and runways. China has also made deals with Ethiopia and other countries to develop formerly productive agricultural land, long abandoned and fallow because of government indifference.  Of course China will export most of this food back to China, but is it better to let the land turn to desert?

This pseudo-nationalistic argument has been made famous by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, who insisted that “Natural gas found on Bolivian land isours!”; but because the country has neither the resources, talent, or experience of their own to exploit, process, and export the gas, it has remained in the ground, and Bolivia remains the poorest country in South America.

Image result for images evo morales


The only sour grapes over these convenient arrangements with the Chinese come from the West who, in their desire to reform corrupt, inefficient, and undemocratic countries, load on so many ‘conditionalities’ to their loans and grants, that no one wants them.

As mentioned above, I am no fan of Bono and his charity-driven style of international assistance; but damning him because of his Board of Directors is misguided:

It is largely composed of multimillionaires, corporate aristocrats and US enforcers. Here you will find Condoleezza Rice, George W Bush's national security adviser and secretary of state, who aggressively promoted the Iraq war, instructed the CIA that it was authorised to use torture techniques and browbeat lesser nations into supporting a wide range of US aims.

What on earth does the Bush policy in Iraq have to do with Condoleezza Rice’s post-administration convictions to African agriculture? Conflating the two is journalistic demagoguery.  Any board would be happy to have Larry Summers, one of the smartest people in the Clinton cabinet and a principled President of Harvard.

Monbiot is on the right track when he raises the issue of African participation in these affairs of economic development; but his focus on “African voices” is naïve.  What is really needed is for African rulers to take charge of reforming their countries enough so that they will be creditworthy.  Without a truly independent judiciary, a rule of law, financial and budgetary transparency, civil institutions of the highest quality, a free press and an open government, African countries will never improve. Since they obviously incapable of initiating and instituting these reforms on their own, pulling the plug on foreign assistance will be a great incentive for them to begin.

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