From the Archives: Nobert Mao on Youth Leadership and Foreign Aid

Published on 29th October 2019

First published as:  Africa Should be Weaned from Aid Dependency

In his recent crusade in Uganda and Kenya, Prof Sachs spelled out that the answers to Africa’s problems of disease and starvation lie in increased aid to facilitate more Millennium Villages. The ‘Shock Therapy’ guru revealed that he had earmarked seven regions in Kenya to set up Millenium Districts. Josephat Juma caught up with Ugandan legislator Nobert Mao, who is also Chairperson of Gulu District Local Government, and discussed the youth hype to capture parliamentary seats and foreign aid to Africa.

Q. There is great agitation by the youth to engage in politics. What is your take on this?

A. I started politics as a young person. Our leaders should not terrorize young people by saying, “young people should not trespass into politics.” They should mentor the youth instead. Young people may not oust anybody in the next election but in Uganda, we have say that ‘a forest without trees is a potential desert.’ Old people are the big trees today but they should allow young trees to come up because they are the trees of tomorrow – otherwise, there will be a political desert.

Q. Is there any guarantee that the youth will offer better leadership?

A. The big question is not whether one is young or old. If we do this, we shall be creating a bad precedent. What matters are the values that somebody holds. Are they values that will extricate Africa from shackles of poverty, disease and illiteracy? Are they values that will encourage individual initiative to solving problems? Are they values that will spur productivity and rule of law?

Q. In the light of what you have said, what is your word of advice to the youth?

A. Young people should be keen to learn. You don’t just emerge from the bush and become an MP or President. You cannot run a supermarket before you know the basics of running a kiosk – a small shop. Prepare yourself. Don’t try to launch a missile from a canoe. If you do this, the backfire alone will make you drown!

Q. In many African countries, people blame economic stagnation on leaders. Do you hold the same view?

A. One problem we have in Africa is generalization. We should not be afraid to call a spade a spade. If it is the President who is to blame, do not assign collective responsibility to everybody. At the end of the day, we have a decision maker. I am from Northern Uganda. In my language, we say that you must learn to scratch where you are itching. If some part of your body where you are afraid to scratch in public itches, don’t scratch another area for fear of being noticed. You won’t solve the problem.

Q. What is your view on foreign aid to Africa?

A. Africa has received over 600 billion dollars in aid but fifty years down the line, the continent has little to show of it.

Q. Why?

A. Our leaders collude and conspire with donors to squander the money. In addition, huge amounts of it goes back to the donor countries in form of inflated consultancies.

Q. What are the effects of aid?

A. Aid undermines initiative. It gets all people who are discussing development to say, “donors will come and help.” You see, we can’t be creative in the presence of aid! For an economy to grow, there must be production. People must produce goods or offer services. Aid leads to artificial inflows. There is a lot of money in circulation but very little production.

Aid also robs countries of their independence. For instance, 46 per cent of Uganda’s annual budget is pegged on aid. This aid gives donor countries unwarranted say in our social, political and economic affairs. When the Ugandan government restricted homosexual tourists from coming to Uganda, Sweden vehemently protested and threatened to withhold aid from Uganda. You see, aid makes us slaves. We lose sovereignty.

Q. So, what should Africans do about it?

A. African leaders should be courageous enough not just to accept everything that foreign countries dangle. We must be allowed to set our own priorities. Assuming that I am suffering from Malaria, should I accept any medicine? You can’t use the medicine for yellow fever to fight malaria. If our systems are collapsing, we should ask ourselves where we went wrong. Let us ‘right’ the wrongs instead of using aid to fill the gap. If there should be any aid at all, it should fit into the strategies laid down by African states. Not just a matter of forcing money on Africa with conditions that are not homegrown. This derails our focus.

Q. Prof. Sachs, a strong proponent of aid to Africa was in Uganda recently. He said that what Africa needs is more aid. Do you agree with him?

A. What Africa needs is to be weaned from aid dependency. A child should not be on the feeding bottle all his life. The child has to grow and eat solid food. If Africa dwells on the milk bottle of aid, it shall never develop. What Africa needs is open markets both within and abroad. What Africa needs is trade; Not aid. The European countries should stop subsidising their farmers and allow equal play in market activities. This will make Africa develop, but not what Sachs is touting.

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