Friday, 9 December 2011

lessons from kenya- why we should all stop giving money to Africa

We've all seen the advertisements on tv, with some charity showing an image of an African kid standing basically naked in some desert, barely alive. They then ask you to donate money monthly to feed the child or whatever. Anyone who's been to Africa will tell you that this image is completely false, yet of course Oxfam or World Vision or whoever are exaggerating to try and guilt you into 'saving the children'. If you're giving money to sponsor one of their children, you're wasting your money; not because they're spending much your money on marketing or whatever, but because these companies are not pursuing long term policies, and instead, they're making the 'child' (if it exists or not I don't know) dependent on your money. Why do World Vision not pursue long term and sustainable programs? Because if Africa becomes financially independent, then companies like World Vision will cease to exist; they can only survive if Africa remains poor. Just because some b-grade celebrity like Guy Sebastian tells us we can all make a difference by sending all our money, does not make it so. Since when are celebrities development experts?

There are literally thousands of these companies in Africa which are always increasing, and yet by most measures of development, Africa is poorer than it was 40 years ago. If you feel as though the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund are doing a great job of solving African underdevelopment; you're sadly mistaken. They enforce policies upon African economies to keep them poor, for example, they've made African countries sell all their government assets, like water, roads or health, to European or American companies who raise the price, making the poor lose access and often not upgrading infrastructure; if you don't believe me, do your research. What else? They force poor countries to devalue their currencies, and then to sell their natural resources to Western countries, allowing governments to get only a small percentage of the value of their resources. Of course, they always use Western companies to dig up the coal or oil or whichever. Why? the same reason; they want to keep Africa dependent or they won't have a business: google structural adjustment program if you wanna learn more, or, take this quote from Bill Clinton: “We need the World Bank, the IMF, all the big foundations, and all the governments to admit that, for 30 years, we all blew it, including me when I was President.”

Anyone who gives money to their friends  to come and build a church, hospital, school or whatever should also stop. This is the equivalent of your friends diagnosing and operating on a sick person; your friends are  not development experts, no matter how well intentioned they are. These sorts of projects should be done by the government, and when you do these things, you're sending a message to Africans that white people will continue to do these projects, instead of asking their government. You'll probably be saying right now, "but the government is corrupt!", which is true, yet often enough it's a result of them pocketing money from foreign donors. If you want to see African governments making reforms, aid from our governments must stop, just as much as our friends who come and build shit. Africa is not just one sandy desert; its governments have the potential to assist in developing Africa.

Now, I said earlier that I was trying to set up a microfinance project in rural Kenya for 10 women, all living off about $1 a day. The reason it was difficult was because the women expected us to give them free money, which I wasn't prepared to do. The women even suggested (in complete seriousness) that I lend them the money myself, and they'll wire me the money after I return home, which is the same as the Rolex salesman in Bangkok who tells you he'll mail you the warranty. We ended up compromising and 4 of the women agreed to us building them low cost vegetable gardens (the other six simply stopped coming to the weekly meeting), on the premise that they pay us for the materials ($2.50), and we also taught some local kids how they can build their own/or to expand their parents' gardens.

So, were they happy about the idea of having to pay us for the materials? no, they were outraged. Will they take care of and expand their gardens? who knows. Will they pay us back for the materials? it will be difficult to get it all back as there is only one person still there working- but, one thing is for sure: too many well intentioned white people are coming to Africa with deep pockets, building shit, giving money away, signing their name, and then leaving, The family I was working for received free water tanks/malaria stuff from USAID, a guest-house built by some Romanians, a solar panel from an Aussie girl, a school which is under construction, and the list goes on. The women I was working with are not stupid, nor are they lazy, yet if you give your money away for free, they become dependent upon it, and will do their best to convince you that they can't think for themselves. Indeed, I spent some time at a proper microfinance bank whilst on the island, where I met women who had all taken micro-loans, all of whom had become profitable, without anything free given by white people.

I'm assuming most of my friends reading this will probably disagree with me, yet my view is the same as most development economists (there are countless books in relation to this), all advocating an end to individual, government and private aid. Of course, I don't want to simplify these issues, and microfinance won't solve world poverty; Africa's problems are considerably deeper than this. If you really want to help, tell the Oxfam guy in the street to piss off, or, get a job with the World Bank and take them down from the inside.

If you wanna read any books about this, there are plenty, for example Graham Hancock's Lords of Poverty, Linda Polman's War Games, or Joseph Stiglitz's Fair Trade for All.