Who Looks Out For Africans Interests?

Published on 9th August 2005

I participated in a Shadow G-8 Summit in Edinburgh, organized by the German Marshall Fund and the Partnership to End Poverty and Hunger in Africa. The Shadow Summit was co-chaired by Joachim Chissano, former president of Mozambique and Grant Aldonas, president of the German Marshall Fund. The Shadow Summit was addressed by President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, through a live video link up with the G-8 Summit in Gleneagles, 50 miles away. Paul Wolfowitz, the new president of the World Bank, and Paul Applegarth, the CEO of the Millennium Challenge Account also addressed the Shadow Summit. If this Shadow Summit taught me anything it was just a reaffirmation of my conviction should not be resolved in the international arena. There are three reasons for this.

First, an African agenda in the international arena can be hijacked by various groups for their own arcane or selfish agenda – as was the case in Scotland.  British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, had vowed to make debt relief and increased aid to Africa the centerpiece of Britain’s presidency of the G-8. But groups had other ideas. One was the Campaign for Full Employment, anarchists, who waged pitched battled with the police right in front of the Balmoral Hotel I was staying at. The sole objective of this group of rogues who brought mayhem to Edinburgh is to destroy the capitalist system. Then there were the anti-globalists, who caused so much havoc in Seattle in 1996 at the WTO meeting. Some of them descended on Edinburgh, determined to wreak destruction. When asked what does he hope to achieve, I overhead one saying, “I just want to be arrested.” Miffed that they were stealing his thunder, Sir Bob Geldof, the impresario and organizer of the Live 8 rock concerts, dismissed them as “losers.”

Their basic motivation is to protect their jobs and standard of living, which they feel are threatened by globalization. They will lose their jobs if Western corporations move and set up shops in Africa and the developing countries. Of course, they have the right to protect their jobs but to cloak that motive in the altruistic garb of helping Africa smacks of dishonesty. Then there were the London suicide bombings by Islamic terrorists who felt their cause was more important and therefore decided to blow Africa’s agenda off the headlines.

Second, as William Greider, columnist for The Nation, and author of “One World, Ready or Not” wrote in The New York Times (July18, 2005): “Every sovereign nation, the United States included, uses its vast arsenal of policies to pursue its national interest . . . Western Europe, whatever its problems, manages economic policy to maintain modest trade surpluses. Japan manages to insure far larger surpluses in recessions (its export income subsidizes inefficient domestic employers). China strives to acquire a larger, more advanced industrial base at the expense of worker incomes and bank profits. Germany and Japan, despite vast differences, both manage to keep advanced manufacturing sectors anchored at home and to defend domestic wage levels and social guarantees. When they do disperse production and jobs overseas, as they must, they do so strategically” (p.A23).

This means that any help they give Africa will be to their strategic interest, not Africa’s. As I have always argued, if you give an African problem to a foreign entity to solve, it will do so to its strategic advantage. Tell this to African leaders who are incessantly appealing and appealing to the international community for assistance to solve every African problem.

Third, it takes an awfully long time for the G-8 or the international community to reach an agreement on the specific help Africa needs and then another long time before that help actually materializes.  In many cases, the help comes too late to be useful and, worse, it is the wrong type of help. Such has been the case in many of Africa’s humanitarian crises.

Immediately after CNN and other Western media broadcast the eruption of a humanitarian disaster in Africa, crisis pimps or junkies descend on the area. According to Claude de Ville de Goyet, director of the WHO’s emergency preparedness and disaster relief coordination program in the Americas, such “crisis junkies” do more harm than good:

“Instead of supporting local emergency and medical services, they inundate them with unrequested, inappropriate and burdensome donations of clothes, medical equipment and packaged food. Many misguided individuals seem motivated as much by the chance to raise their own profiles at home as by a genuine opportunity to do some good. You see hundreds of small agencies turning up at the scenes of disasters. Some of them pop up because there is money or because there is media coverage, which emotionally appealing.

 I visited the Balkans during the Kosovo crisis and frankly I was astonished to see youngsters doing de-mining, medical care and mental-health assistance. I wondered what kind of previous experience they had. Some of them did contribute very much. But people tend to consider that, just because it is an European or American from a developed country, they can do better than a national would do in a disaster, I am sorry, but that is wrong” (The Washington Times, Sept 4, 2000; p.A11).

Mr. De Goyet lamented that the cost of sending helicopters to Mozambique in March 2000 was not only too late to rescue the majority of the victims of massive flooding but also could have better paid for thousands of villagers to rebuild their shattered lives. “Dispatching Western medical teams was worse than useless, as they absorbed large chunks of the aid budget but arrived long after the critical 24 hours when acute medical care was needed. They then departed too quickly to help local doctors deal with the long-term consequences of the disaster, he said” (The Washington Times, Sept 4, 2000; p.A11).

It is instructive to note that it took Jubilee 2000 and other debt relief campaigners more than 10 years before the G-8 finally gave Africa substantial debt relief – even then, to only 14 out of the 54 African countries.

Now, put all those there factors together. Do you think Swiss banks would disgorge the loot crooked African leaders have hoarded there?

Would it be in their strategic national interest to do so? Please no lectures on morality because the international economic system does not operate on morality. And do you think the Chinese and Malaysian oil companies are guided by morality and human rights imperatives?

Let’s say world opinion is finally brought to bear on the Swiss banks and they decide to repatriate the loot. How long do you think it will take for poor Africans to actually see a penny?

So what should we do: Take steps to prevent our wealth from being looted in the first place or seek to retrieve it after it has been stolen?  If the former, then what steps are we taking to prevent the looting? Allow the very same bandits to set up their own “Anti-Corruption Commission?”

So what is the point huffing and puffing and screaming hysterically that “The West did this and that” when you know the West or the East acts in its own interest? And who should look out for Africa’s interests? Do they?


To be continued…

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