Foreign Aid To Africa; Mercy, Wisdom or Folly?
Donors must recalibrate their compassion to match the existential reality of the lives of the majority in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Can open-ended compassion become a fuel for oppression? Is it ever “just” to withhold help to a society with large suffering population, especially children, disenfranchised youth and the elderly? Does your belief system compel you to help the needy no matter the surrounding events?
The rest of the Global village is now at a cross road, vis-a-vis foreign aid to Africa, especially Aid to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). It is time to face the reality of unrelenting poverty in SSA, the recurrent woeful leadership in many of the nations and the inexplicable “Cann’t Do Mindset”.
It does not matter where you land in your thought and conviction, not your opinion, as you ponder the questions in the opening paragraph. No matter where we live on this planet, sooner or later, unless the huge deficits in basic infrastructure, the healthcare systems and scientific knowledge in SSA are addressed urgently and cogently, the serious negative consequences will eventually arrive at our doorsteps. In order to mitigate this potential catastrophe, the thinking process for the solution for the gargantuan problems facing SSA must originate from within these struggling nations.
There is a plethora of literature including books, articles, summations by economic experts with facts and credible arguments about the low returns from several decades of foreign aid to SSA. Still, some people continue to maintain that the Aid should continue to flow. Because, they argue, the poor will bear the brunt of the suffering from any halt in Aid delivery. This viewpoint is not totally inaccurate. But are the poor and extreme poor realy benefitting from foreign Aid as currently structured and delivered? Clearly, the answer is “No”. Several decades of open ended foreign Aid has fattened the pockets of the corrupt leaders of many of these nations thereby fueling the oppression of the innocent citizens.
Many of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa are just one major natural disaster or one major endemic disease spread from collosal calamity. Such a catastrophe in today’s shrunken world, with the speed and spread of air travel would have enormous negative global consequences.
Generosity has been a feature of human interactions from the beginning. Assistance and donations from givers to recipients have been a dominant feature of human relationships in many cultures since antiquity. The African continent was no exception to this practice, which occurred long before the arrival of Europeans, Christianity and Islam on the continent. The kings and tribal chiefs in the ancient African empires and kingdoms always had more wealth, power and properties than the general population.
It was quite common in the ancient African societies for the rulers to give free food, clothes and other essential basic supplies to segments of the population at set times on designated days of the week. Even after all the horrific trauma of slavery, this practice of giving to the poor in the society by the kings, rulers and the wealthy continued up to the colonial era. I certainly witnessed it as a kid growing up in Nigeria in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Today, this ethos of mercy from within is almost gone. Over the past six decades, SSA has been saturated with mercy from outside coupled with greed and selfishness from inside. At first, the mercy from outside was from the West, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and its agencies, Big Foundations and scores of Non-Government Organizations. Now it is China’s turn, and to a lesser extent, India. We are now witnessing, at a dizzying pace, an unfathomable surrender of the sovereignty of the nations of SSA to the East by their inept, visionless leaders.
Sadly, the exponential increase in the “mercy from outside” has been accompanied by Sub-Saharan Africa’s dominance as the poorest region in the world. With not much to show for the more than 1trillion dollars in foreign Aid that has flown to Africa in the past six decades, does any person really expect anything to change because China and India are now at the stick?
Mercy that feeds the stomach of the poor, fills up the outstretched hands of the oligarchs and dictators and suppresses the population’s intellection, deep thought, innovation and discovery by building their nations for them is tatamount to servitude. It is a morally bankrupt policy which is inimical to long term progress of SSA.
So, is it ever “just” to withhold help to a society with large suffering population, especially children, disenfranchised youth and the elderly? Well, it depends on the type of help or mercy and how it is delivered.
Coming from across the oceans and high seas to build roads, bridges, airports, schools, hospitals and dig wells to provide water for Sub-Saharan Africans is degradation. It is a slap in the face of the recipients. It tells them that the greatest gift of nature to a human, the 1.5 kg mass between the ears is non-functional in the 1billion people in SSA. That is why this “Mercy from outside” is unjust. There is of course no incentive for the benefactors to undo this injustice.
So, what is the remedy? The leaders of SSA must own the thinking process for the solutions to the resuscitation of their nations. They must wean their nations from the bondage of this benevolence from outside. They must, in earnest begin the much needed process of change from within their nations. Otherwise the nations of SSA will always be the gold medalists of the “begging bowl”.
What is the wise approach to the current dilemma regarding lack of efficacy of foreign Aid to the nations of SSA? Does justice for the hundreds of millions of the poor in the region demand more “Wisdom” in the delivery of “charity” to those trapped in this unfortunate situation?
On December 11, 2002, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, who was also special adviser on the Millennium Development Goals to Mr. Koffi Annan, the late Secretary General of the United Nations, gave a talk at the New York Academy of Sciences. The title was “The Economics of Science for Sustainable development”. He stated:
“With regard to the issue of global poverty, a simple misdiagnosis was among the primary factors that prevented the poorest of the world’s poor, most of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa, from entering into the fold of the last quarter of a century’s unprecedented economic boom.The widely held view that severe poverty in places like Ghana, Tanzania, Mongolia and Uganda stems from miserable governments, corruption and cultural differences that lie outside the reach of globalization is just wrong. Geographical isolation and biophysical constraints explain much of the poverty rather than poor governance”.
What was the prescription he offered for his “wise correct diagnosis”?
“The challenges that afflict the poorest people in the world are certainly problems that could be ameliorated or solved entirely if the West were to bring the apparatus of modern technology to bear”.
This distinguished economist and other experts who think like him have been the major voices regarding solutions for the problems of SSA. Sadly, their horrific misdiagnosis and poor prescriptions have contributed immensely to the plummeting of these nations into further misery.
This is where the discussion about human wisdom comes in.
Wisdom is one of the four cardinal virtues that Plato enumerates in The Republic and The Laws. The other three are Temperance, Courage and Justice.
Human beigns can assert superiority over the previous generation in the arts and sciences with phrases like “modern technology” and “modern science”. Both need no explanation. To the contrary, the phrase “modern wisdom” would be challenged and would require explanation.
Another remarkable feature of Wisdom is that it cannot be misused. Implicit in the word “wise” is that it is a virtue used exclusively for “good”. Thus, if the good of the society is abandoned by those in power, then they cannot be truly wise. Their wisdom is merely worldly wisdom which is the worst form of folly. That is why a learned person, scholar, scientist, poet, philosopher, great artist is not necessarily wise. That is why philosophers are lovers of wisdom, not wise men or women.
The true wisdom required to turn things around in SSA is not worldly wisdom transferred across the oceans in the past six decades from the West and now from China and India.
As shown by the complete failure of the earthly wisdom of the Professor from Columbia University, I predict that so will it be with the earthly wisdom from China and India now employed intensely across Africa.
So, what is needed in SSA is Wisdom in pursuit of the doctrine of “Collective Good” for the society. This wisdom flows from purified hearts, selflessness, empathy, spirit of sacrifice and love of neighbors as self. Sadly, this is what is missing in the spirit of many of the leaders of the nations of SSA.
The world has witnessed the eradication of two infectious diseases, smallpox and rinderpest. The last natural case of smallpox was in a man in Somalia in 1977, and in 2011 the world was finally free of another disease, rinderpest, a disease of cattle and the bane of cattle farmers.
Other infectious diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and guinea worm continue to cause suffering and death worldwide each year, mainly in SSA. However, much has been achieved in the fight to eradicate polio with major support from the World Health Organization, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Rotary International.
Thus, it would be an expression of ingratitude to the donors to assert that foreign aid to SSA constitutes some form of folly. The folly applies to the recipient side. It is a baffling form of folly because the people in this poorest region of the world are not fools. Indeed, in several instances, many of their leaders are brilliant, accomplished professionals educated in some of the best universities in the world.
Sadly, once they are in power in their homeland, in many instances, their total lack of altruism and love of nation come into full display. Their leadership is anything but wise, and often constitutes absolute folly. That is why SSA remains the poorest region in the world despite its enormous natural and human resources.
Foreign aid to SSA needs significant retooling. The current structure and delivery systems are counterproductive and the long term yield is poor. However, at the end of the day, the burden is on Sub-Saharan Africans to develop their nations. They rely on the West or the East at their own peril.
Sub-Saharan Africans have all the tools, human and natural resources to rescue themselves. The leaders must undergo complete attitudinal transformation, purification of their hearts and develop a “Can Do Mindset”. They owe it to the children, the youths and the millions in misery within these nations.