Economic growth indicators in Kenya and Africa have left many ordinary citizens puzzled on whether statistics “speak” the truth. Pictures of starving, malnourished and fly infested children and discussions about African adults harbouring amoeba and malaria parasites point to another type of growth. The stark reality is that some people elsewhere are believed to be moved more by this situation that they propose aid to Africa as the key to development.
No single African wants to perennially face disease, famine, dirty water, poverty and be an object of ego laundering for Western thinkers. The aid industry has eroded Africans’ self-confidence. Developed and emerging economies see resources and wealth in Africa, while pushing the erroneous belief that Africa is poor. Western countries are pushing for more aid for fear of the new Chinese push in Africa. Both the “value free” aid from China and the “value coated” aid full of talk on democracy, and human rights from the West will not help build African peoples’ confidence to focus on their own resources in the continent crucial for trade. Aid-for-trade will still empower the donor to determine what products he will support thereby limiting ingenuity and product variety from Africa.
Top chiefs of the G8 discussed aid to Africa when many African countries are celebrating improved economy performance. Kenya’s political elites are celebrating the country’s record 6.1% economic growth last year but they stop short of telling Kenyans that they are riding high on aid and emergency assistance. How sustainable is such growth? The Daily Nation on May 29th, 2007 graphically illustrated the economic performance from 1950 to 2006. The silent point in the graphics was the aid factor. A drop in aid in the 90s saw Kenya’s growth plummet to 0.1%. If we look ourselves in the mirror, we are drunk on aid and simply not ready to be our own drivers of the economy (remember, don’t drive while drunk!). That is part of the reason why the real citizen (mwananchi) is at a big loss about the growth talk.
Kenya’s planning minister gave excellent reasons why some sectors couldn’t grow. For instance agriculture couldn’t grow because of drought! By this statement, the Kenya government owned up to the fact that some sectors must wait for nature to determine their growth, no human ingenuity! However, the minister failed to mention the drive for revenue collection that virtually stops farmers from taking their goods to the market in cities, municipalities and major towns. Other sectors such as mobile subscriber base were reported to have increased by 36.5% to reach 7.2 million. Reason? The government had stopped Kenyans from accessing mobile phones in the guise of protecting its own Telekom! When the government acts as a barrier to business, no growth will be experienced, and that is one reason why next time, our honourable minister should have a “growth report” on lifting of obstacles to trade and business in Kenya. One such obstacle is aid- a subsidy to international businesses based in Africa that make it difficult for local businesses to thrive.
Expanding business opportunities for Africa and Kenya is what will lead to a critical tax base needed to develop African countries. It is more sustainable to get Kenyans to participate in profit driven initiatives to rid Africans of flies, malarial parasites, and famine among other challenges facing this continent. Africans ought not to hold their breath on G-8 agenda, because all that comes out is more stuff to get our policy makers super drunk on aid. Kenyan academicians should develop an “aid-breathalyzer” to enable citizens determine whether growth is merely an artificial feeling due to donors or is driven by African entrepreneurs and business people.
This article was first published in Business Daily, a publication of Nation Media Group
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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