Having traversed most continents of the World, visiting both rich and poor countries, I find it difficult to fall back into believing that rich nations are honest in their quest to cancel poor nation’s debts. That, countries that preach democracy, rule of law, good governance and accountability, can cancel debts without providing an audit report, and without outlining the type of transactions that led to the debts in the first place is euphemism for accepting failure. Have any of the citizens in the countries earmarked for debt cancellation asked their governments for an audit report?
Foreign aid was meant to fill the gap between domestic savings and investment. It was based on misconceived theory of ‘cycle of poverty’ which was believed to rely on external injections in order to break the cycle. Over 40 years of injections and the ‘cycle’ goes on. Presently, developed countries have spawned the most absurd theory popularly referred to as the ‘Power of the Star’. In this approach, countries are divided into four, the stars, the squares, the circles and the triangles. Each country is assigned a certain value. For instance, the industrialized counties have the highest value and the poor nations have the lowest value, that is, have less or nothing to contribute to the world of development. With this approach, only the wealthy nations can salvage countries that have low value. To validate this argument, poor country elites are normally trained to believe in foreign support as the main way to get out of underdevelopment.
It is estimated that for the last 40 years African leaders have stolen and stashed over US$ 140 billion in accounts held in developed countries. African countries owe wealthy nations an estimated US$ 295 billion. Rich nations have resolved to cancel debts amounting to US$ 40 billion. In the short term, a few countries that benefit from debt cancellation might put up hospitals, hire teachers, nurses and fall back in debt again. What the proponents of debt cancellation do not tell the World is who benefited from these transactions. To a large extent loans from rich nations have been tied with conditionality which lead to an estimated two-thirds of the amount borrowed flowing back to donor countries in purchase of machinery, hiring of expatriates, procurement and trade policy controls. The little that seeps in to the recipient is in turn stolen by the leadership and banked in the very same developed nations. Is it possible for the citizens of the poor nations to take wealthy nations to the international court for knowingly handling stolen property?
Modern international banking regulations are keen to watch out money transfers that could be linked either to terrorists or drug traffickers. Developed nations will do a great service to the poor by reviewing accounts of the African leadership they very well know embezzle money from their subjects. In 2004, an African Union report indicated that Africa loses US$ 148 billion in corrupt practices alone. Other reports have shown that Africa loses US$ 20 billion through capital flight, US$ 15 billion on civil war damages, US$ 18 billion on food imports, US$ 15 billion on expenditures on arms and military, and US$ 216 billion on other leakages. How much aid do we Africans need to obey our own laws, to shun corruption and to simply put our priorities right?
The African peasant is being milked by both her leaders and developed nations who keep imposing strategies in the economic, agriculture, energy and environmental sector. The peasant is fighting to get proper representation in parliament and to have her productivity rewarded by the market. But wealthy nations impose farm subsidies, flood markets with subsidized products leading to unfair competition. Wealthy country intellectuals are lobbying to ensure that people from poor countries do not utilize their natural resources such as fossil fuels, forests and wildlife among others. Poor country elites are busy colluding with wealthy nation’s elites to rob the peasants either through inflated contracts or simply implementing policies they know will never work.
Rich nations strategically teach poor nations to rely on aid for reasons unknown to the aid recipients. The voices of the targeted recipients are muzzled by either high flying celebrities and or the poor country’s elites. The daily struggles of African farmers whose crops are destroyed by pests, communities that go without water, and families that seek medicines as their children perish due to preventable diseases such as malaria go unnoticed. The World needs statistics, to buttress their warped policies. Unless the poor countries learn to take responsibility and ownership of their problems, they will always be chasing new instructions from abroad.
Africa is endowed with strategic minerals such as tantalite, vanadium, palladium, uranium, chromium, oil and diamonds. A good portion of Africa has good soils and fair climate. Africa is not over populated compared to Asiatic countries. The full potential of the African people has not yet been tapped especially that of women and the youth. Instead of being hoodwinked by sexy good looking ideas such as debt relief, Africa should urgently turn inward for solutions to her problems. We must open up Africa to African business people and other innovators, we must ask our friends from developed nations to allow us to travel and learn, we must learn to do business with the developed nations and steer clear-off the manna from heaven relationship. I am optimistic that an emerging new generation of Africans will save this continent from the perpetual fixation on life support machine in the name of aid. The African leadership is facing the toughest challenge, they have either to offer leadership or simply act as supervisors for wealthy nations’ interests.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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