Africa: dying of aid, not AIDS?

June 11, 2007

The G8 summit at Heiligendamm has wrapped up with even more promises of even more aid to Africa to assuage the world’s conscience by turning the continent into even more of a charity sink.

THERE were more smiling African leaders in the final G8 “family photograph” than ever before.

The promise from the world’s eight richest countries to pump $71 billion into tackling HIV-AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and other health emergencies was certainly eye-catching.

The G8 leaders also “recommitted” to doubling aid for Africa by 2010, the ambitious goals of the Gleneagles G8 in 2005.

It’s worth recalling that Kenyan economist James Shikwati had an uncomfortable message at the time of that Gleneagles summit:


SPIEGEL: Mr Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…

Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.

Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there’s a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program — which is a massive agency 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. It’s only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it’s not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa …

SPIEGEL: … corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized European and American farmers …

Shikwati: … and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of unscrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices. Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can compete with the UN’s World Food Program. And because the farmers go under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It’s a simple but fatal cycle.

I’m no economist, but this looks persuasive to me. 30 or so years ago, Andre Gunder Frank, Samir Amin and other (generally Marxist) economists proposed a new paradigm for understanding the economic relationship of the first and the third worlds. It was known as dependency theory – the argument that the provision of Western aid led not to the hoped-for ‘the take-off to self-sustained growth’ and consequent propserity, but merely bankrolled indigenous kleptocracies and cemented underlying inequities and supervening tyrannies.

Plus ca change.



  1. […] blogs about an article by African economist James Shikwati and his well-publicised view that much aid to African does more harm than good.  It’s timely in view of last week’s G8 meeting, which made another set of pledges to […]

  2. Rob

    God, i hate the ‘Aid for Africa’ lot with a passion. What a bunch of patronising racists they all are.

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