Michael Knox Beran joins the small but growing chorus of observers who maintain that the traditional donor-recipient relationship which the West has with Africa keeps the latter in a state of unending childhood. To demonstrate the point, he reminds us that the West once had Africa’s poverty problems—disease, dirty water, hunger—and that they weren’t solved by massive amounts of aid from other civilizations.
Before the twentieth century, Western parents expected to lose at least one of their children to illnesses that are preventable today. Not until late in the nineteenth century did the White House itself have clean water; in 1862, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie died of typhoid, likely contracted from the mansion’s tainted plumbing. Hunger, too, once darkened what is now the prosperous world, though so effectively has the problem been solved that countries like the United States face a looming obesity crisis.Beran contends that the constant flow of aid to African countries may sooth the consciences of the "Africrats"--e.g. Sachs, Bono, Madonna, Angelina Jolie and, yes, George W. Bush--but, in the end, all the money and foods stuff do is serve to line the pockets of Africa's infamous kleptocrats and, therefore, prolong the suffering of the common citizen of an African country.
How did today’s prosperous nations create the embarrassment of riches that they now enjoy? No benign magician descended, à la Jeffrey Sachs [and his Millennium Project], on London or Washington to shower its inhabitants with money. Instead, the rich nations developed laws and freedoms that enabled people to take their futures into their own hands.
Kenyan economist James Shikwati has been Shouting into the Wilderness on this topic for some time now and Beran uses his words to bolster the point.
When a drought afflicts Kenya, [Shikwati] says, Kenyan politicians “reflexively cry out for more help.” Their calls reach the United Nations World Food Program, a “massive agencies of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated.” When the requested grain reaches Africa, a portion of it “often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign.” Much of the rest of the grain gets dumped at less than fair market value. “Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away,” Shikwati says. “No one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program.” [SNIP]Zimbabwe’s Kleptocrat extraordinaire aka Robert Mugabe has been able to nearly destroy his country using aid from the Africrats, says Beran, by
Shikwati’s observations have been borne out most recently in Ethiopia, where the government’s collectivist agriculture policies have unsurprisingly resulted in famine. Foreign nations duly sent aid, which, according to a July 2007 report in the New York Times, government soldiers duly squandered… [SNIP]
The cycle is vicious. The aid that ends up in corrupt rulers’ bank accounts enables them to stifle both free markets and the political and legal reforms that free markets need to operate efficiently.
[creating] a kleptocracy where the inflation rate recently reached 11,000 percent. Once southern Africa’s breadbasket, Zimbabwe now depends on subsidies to feed its people.It’s surely an irony that a person like me, whose very existence stems from the paternalism of the West, would agree with Beran’s assessment of Western Civilization’s relationship to Africa. And, of course, the West does have some duties toward Africa after centuries of slavery and colonialism.* (Read King Leopold’s Ghost if you doubt that.) But, like prolonged parenthood, prolonged paternalism only harms the "child" And isn't the idea that Africa must endlessly be on the receiving end of Western charity just a bit racist? Well it's more than that, says Beran. Look only to Joseph Conrad's classic Heart of Darkness, says Beran.
[Darkness's protagonist] Kurtz, [Darkness's fictional narrator] Marlow says, “began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might of a deity,’ and so on, and so on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded.’ ” The thesis of Sachs’s The End of Poverty is not essentially different. He, too, believes that Westerners “can exert a power for good practically unbounded” over people who have not reached our “point of development.”Unending aid is black inferiority acknowledged--with the more insidious differences being that it has a benevolent face and it enslaves both the giver and the receiver into thinking that Africans must have it to survive.
*The West has at least acknowledged its culpability in decimating Africa; that's more that Islamic Civilization has done.