Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rethinking Aid in Africa

By Casey Tesfaye

It's something I see quite often at liberal events: the "aid for Africa"table. A few well-intentioned kids with a poster full of pictures of all of the worst poverty in Africa. We are all very familiar with these poverty pictures and we all know the pleas -- just a dollar a day can save these families who are suffering and have no way of helping themselves.

These depictions make me sick to my stomach.

Yes, Africa suffers from great poverty and realities that are difficult for us to imagine from our secure American perspective. But Africa is, has been, and will be a whole lot more than those
caricatures will ever begin to represent.

Africa the birthplace of civilization. It is the key to many of the values that are quickly vanishing in America today, values that we suffer deeply without. And, lesser known to most, it is the beginning of the next greatest economic frontier.

In her book that is released today, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Dambisa Moyo addresses the impact of aid in Africa and introduces the economic realities and potential of the continent. This NPR interview with Dambisa Moyo is a
great introduction to the book.

It is high time we take a minute to rethink and redefine the way that we view the development needs in Africa, moving away from desperation and pity, moving away from companies that practice modern colonialism, and moving into the creation of a developed Africa that respects and comes in accordance with the rich cultural heritage and values of its inhabitants and natural resources, as well as its needs and infinite potential. And nobody knows the potential and resources of Africa better than Africans themselves.

Oftentimes in American circles African aid is discussed in the total absence of African efforts. This is hardly the case in Africa, where people are fighting, dying, working, developing, training, learning, educating, giving their knowledge and expertise to their continent. It is time to explore and enable the riches that the continent has, and let Africa become a model of proper, sustainable development, in her OWN image.


Sandra said...

Thanks for this great post, Casey. I will definitely look at this book. One issue that needs to be addressed is how changes can be facilitated at the level of policy, including how aid money is allocated. I tend to believe that the framework that directs development funding from USAID and most other American-based development agencies function to perpetuate this absence of African-directed and motivated development. I also feel the same is true in SE Asia and South America. The motivation from these aid organizations, as well as financial entities like the World Bank, need to be sincere about their end goals. Until that happens, we won't see real change.

John Samson said...


for more details about the book

Casey Tesfaye said...

There is a story that comes to mind first about the world bank.

In Ethiopia, the world bank set out to increase agricultural productivity by providing fertilizer for some land that had never used fertilizer before, to grow a non-native crop that hadn't been grown there before.

Traditionally, the land had been used for 2 crops, in alternation, and produced a smaller, but sustainable crop.

The fertilizer ruined the productivity of the land and made it fertilizer dependent. The old crops won't grow on that land anymore. And more space and resources are going to waste.

When the Italians conquered Eritrea they stopped schooling at the 4th grade. It is hard to believe that the world bank's motivations are any purer, given their track record of dependence and destruction.

The values of the West are so different from African values. It's hard to broach the topic of "what the west can do for Africa" without first answering the question "What does Africa have to offer?"

A whole lot of listening has to be done before any talking can be effective.