Saturday, 6 December 2008

Moving Past the Curse of Black Gold

There is a silver lining in every cloud and it is truly an ill wind that blows no one no good. The international economic recession that is gripping the Western nations and forcing down the price of oil, has forced African nations dependent on crude oil to diversify their economies. Sudan expects its oil revenues to decline by 44% in 2009 and as such is forced to invest in its agriculture and industrial sectors. Nigeria on the other hand is forecasting a growth projection of 8.9% in 2009 led by non-oil industries. If this trend continues it might be the kind of crisis that creates an atmosphere for building a steady development trend to alleviate poverty and stabilise economies.

How is that possible? Because the wealth generated by the oil industries in Africa is enjoyed by a privileged few and used to oppress the impoverished majority- the war in Darfur in Sudan and the injustices suffered by the Ijaw people in Nigerian delta are recent examples. Also, the issue of food security is still a major concern and the President of Malawi, Mr. Mutharika has been commended for transforming his country from a food importer to an exporter in 3 years; from 2005 - 2007. His simple and practical government program for subsidising the price of fertilizer was not supported by the USA or Britain but his critics have been proved wrong. African leaders need to continue to set their own agenda and try out their solutions and policies, that is how we will truly come to enjoy the benefits of a viable nation state.

In itself crude oil is neither a vice nor a virtue but an opportunity to use natural resources for whatever means. However, it has long been used to grease the wheels of mismanagement and the sound of it creaking, plays like music to those whom have had their voices drowned out by its machinations.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: Let's have a deeper discussion on aid

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister for Nigeria, gave an insightful talk at last year's (2007) Ted Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania. She spoke about the need to have a more sophisticated debate on the role of aid, government, private organizations and African individuals to make progress on the continent. Watch the YouTube Video.

What I found to be of particular interest was her point that African's do not have a voice. After mentioning that she started the first opinion research organization in Africa to find out about the concerns of the people, which are jobs, she went on to criticize external organizations for not seeking out the counsel of Africans in drawing up their plans to donate aid.

This lack of voice has been a recurring theme in my discussions with others about the challenges facing the continent. When leadership is deaf to the needs of the people, or worse still seized by force and coercion, the people lose their representation and the good of the majority is not served.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also recounted a powerful story about when she was 15 and her 3 year old sister contracted malaria. She walked 10 kilometers to the nearest physician who was able to provide simple therapies that saved her life. This was made possible through the assistance of aid donors. She also gave for further examples of how Ireland and Spain have used aid from the European Union to develop their economies through infrastructure development.

I agree with the point that she is making. In shaping the future of the African people the discussion needs to be more sophisticated than taking up reactionary positions of pro-this or anti-that. It has to be an inclusive discussion that "leverages the good will" directed towards Africa to build a prosperous and sustainable future, that includes aid, government, private organizations and individuals.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Overview of aid in Africa

This is the first, of what I hope will be an ongoing feature, podcast. I recorded a conversation with Mr. Michael Banjo a historian, political scientist and lawyer from Nigeria to discuss, in a broad way, the adverse impact of aid on the African continent and some possible solutions.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Comments - Development Drums Podcast episode "Sophiatown"

Another podcast review. I like listening to podcasts while I work on other things.

I heard something quite interesting on this podcast, Development Drums episode "Sophiatown", that features Alex Cobham from Christian Aid and Stephen Devereux of the Institute for Development Studies. It was mentioned by Alex Cobham that tax is an important ingredient for development and government revenue. Alex offers the view that as much as $160 billion a year is lost by developing countries because they are not able to enforce tax laws due to difficulties in finding tax evasion culprits who hide their funds overseas. To put that figure into perspective, President elect Obama's entire foreign policy earmarks $107 billion for next year, 2009. Do you see why I don't think we need more aid?

They also discuss the dangers of using genetically modified foods in Africa and other possible solutions to the food crisis. I believe that a profit driven model (because we CAN and SHOULD be making wealth not begging for it) that targets high tariffs and other market distorting practices by developed countries will go a long way to improving the future of agriculture, and the economies, in Africa and the world in general. Don't take my word for it, read what the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has to say about that.

Share your ideas and have a listen to the podcast.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Obama's Foreign Policy

“We need to invest in building capable, democratic states that can establish healthy and educated communities,develop markets, and generate wealth.”

That is what I appreciate most about Obama's vision because it includes supporting small-to-medium enterprises as well as state institutions. Unfortunately, several promising African states have not been able to live up to their potential because of backward and corrupt habits which drain the life out of the entrepreneurial and progressive population. I hope that change will come to our African institutions through reaching out to sustainable and socially-aware private groups. "Reaching-out" shouldn't mean "hand-outs" let's see some sustainable business plans please.

Africa needs to own its wealth so it can shape its destiny.

For more about Obama's foreign policy:
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RE: Congo's Tin Soldiers

Journeyman Pictures presents a short 20 minute video titled "Congo's Tin Soldiers" about the scramble for mineral resources that has plunged the Democratic Republic of Congo into a vicious cycle of bloodshed and oppression.
The view that economic interests are fueling the conflict are supported by a United Nations Panel setup in June 2000.

It is difficult to separate the fact that these problems are the symptom of poor leadership and gross government mismanagement. The World Bank, the IMF and the Paris Club have intervened on various levels to provide debt relief, funding for infrastructure and other things but sadly you can take a horse to the river but you can't force it to drink.

Where do we begin to untangle this deadly web of corruption and overzealous self-interests?

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Africa Past and Present: Episode 16

I am listening to a podcast interview of Mac Maharaj (biography), South African intellectual, activist and fellow prisoner and comrade of Nelson Mandela: African Past and Present podcast

Of particular interest to me are the comments he makes about home grown and external solutions used to resolve power sharing conflicts in Africa. He refers to the example set by the South African transition government and the contrast between that and the political conflicts in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Here is a quote -

"What we are creating in these other countries not only has those implications [credibility and legitimacy] but another implication. And that is, it is almost creating a culture of impunity by those who may commit gross violations of human rights and atrocities against people."

" . . I was really using this opportunity to urge scholars to say, look at these problems this is not being disloyal to ourselves. But we need to interrogate our experiences, understand the context in which we created those mechanisms, understand the limitations of transporting them and exporting them into other situations and avoiding the danger - that we would be appearing to solve problems but creating bigger ones for the people of the current respective countries."

This kind of critical thinking is what we need to unravel the conflicting aims of aid in Africa and its lack of effectiveness. In many of its current implementations, it is removing the incentives of government and internal agents of change (entrepreneurs, businesses, government agencies) to invest in solutions to their problems - why pay for it if we can get it for free? This leads to a bankruptcy of initiative and innovation.

Listen to the podcast and share your thoughts.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Sustainable Development vs Hand-outs

There are lot of problems facing the African continent, from armed conflicts to food shortages to lack of adequate health facilities but there share a common long-term solution - sustainable development.

It is the old story of either giving a man fish or teaching a man to fish but in the case of the African context we know how to fish! It is a mistaken colonial hang-over to assume to that Africa, (which consists of over 50 countries thousands of unique tribes, languages and cultures) is a "dark" place that needs redemption by external powers. Take for example agriculture. In Nigeria an intensive farming structure was introduced to improve crop yields which failed and led to erosion and other damages to the environment. Mixed agriculture, e.g. planting legumes (such as beans) with corns, was an old tradition which was reverted to after the obvious failure of intensive farming.

Why aren't these native solutions being expressed to solve Africa's contemporary problems? One answer is false incentives. Why get a job when you can stay on welfare? Why invest in education and infrastructure which will not yield immediate returns when one can bankrupt your country and receive another bailout? Instead of being an interim means of support foreign aid has become economic cocaine for the ruling elite - numbing their sense of duty and responsibility to their people.

Let us break the habit by focusing our attentions on sustainable development and therefore, long-term solutions. It might not be the quick fix to a guilt trip but it will get us where we all want to go.

Another bad idea?

The fact that malaria kills an African child every thirty seconds has prompted the new Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria (AMFm), which will cost around $2bn over five years and could save lives. Major donors such as the USA and Germany fear it could plunder existing funds but there is no sign they will veto it.