New Solutions for Africa?

16 Jan

I’ve been meaning for a while now to write about a couple of interesting ideas on solving the woes of Africa. I already reviewed one such idea by Dambisa Moyo – namely, to stop giving aid to African governments and force them to raise money like any other corporation, by offering investors a return for their loans, and thus forcing them to do something productive with them.

Then, The Atlantic featured another (whacky) concept, that of setting up of Charter Cities in African nations. These charter cities would be entirely run by some stable, more responsible foreign government than the African one (Canada was a suggestion.)

The brainchild of economist Paul Romer,  The Atlantic desecribed them as “urban oases of technocratic sanity” that would attract investment and capital because of the clear set of rules, run by functional as opposed to dysfunctional nations. Hong Kong  is one example Romer likes to use.

Pierre Englebert,  an Africa expert at Pomona University in California, and author of Africa: Unity, Sovereignty and Sorrow,” has another suggestion. He believes that rich nations that spend billions collectively in overseas development aid stop funding governments in countries which create havoc and suffering for their people. This fits in somewhat with the ideas of Yale professor Thomas Pogge, who has pointed out how Western governments talk about democracy, but at the same time promote their national corporations in seeking valuable resources from some of the most undemocratic governments in the world. Think Nigeria and its oil, or the diamonds and other minerals in the Congo. The money their rulers get – and keep for themselves – from the resources of their countries helps them stay in power, often at the cost of tens of thousands of lives.

So Englebert believes ODA should stop going to countries with bad governments.  “What does this mean in practice?,” he asked in a NYT op ed last year. “ Donor governments would tell the rulers of places like Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea or Sudan — all nightmares to much of their populations — that they no longer recognize them as sovereign states. Instead, they would agree to recognize only African states that provide their citizens with a minimum of safety and basic rights.”

For some, this could add up  game of ‘chicken’ with those nightmare regimes increasing the suffering of their population, essentially holding them hostage until those donor governments relent and start giving them money again. Others  would no doubt also point out  that other counties — like China — would happily step in to support those nasty regimes while siphoning off badly needed raw materials for themselves.

Englebert admits that such a plan has many risks. But I think he is very close to a good idea. It would mean denying funding and loans to bad governments, but it should include increasing support for the grassroots efforts of their peoples. Funding projects and democracy from below, might someday lead to nations where governments are forced to be accountable — not to donor nations — but to their own people.



One Response to “New Solutions for Africa?”

  1. Deb January 22, 2011 at 1:12 am #

    Provocative! But sure is a dangerous game, engineering the politics of aid ….

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