I am looking back on this article in 2020, five years after I first wrote it. I wrote it in the style of the debates we used to have in secondary school. If you are reading this for the first time, I suggest that you also read ‘Questioning the ‘Aid to Africa’ Structure‘ as well as a speech by the late Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso, ‘A United Front Against Debt (1987)‘ given just a few months before his assassination. This is one of the things I don’t mention in detail in the article below. The relationship between unjust debt and unhelpful aid.
Hello my fellow Africans, ‘valued’ statesmen, honourable(nope) financial analysts impeccable (ko jo ra ra) policy makers and the esteemed citizens of the world. I am here to propose the motion that no aid should be sent to Africa, from this day forward, forever, amen. My points are as follows:
Aid does not aid development. Great men, like Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin and David Boswell, have been attributed with the honour of defining insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ Irrespective of who said it, at the core of the statement lies a truth. Since circa 1960 and the creation of African states in an arbitrary and haphazard manner, that disregarded the needs and desires of the African people, aid has poured into the continent like water into a basket. He who pours water into a basket shows where exactly his level of common sense lies. There has not been a proven empirical link between aid and growth/development. No African state can be proven to have developed strictly because of the aid received.
Furthermore, the purposes and effects of giving aid have always been dubious. During Nigeria’s civil war, it has been stated that the aid given to Biafra extended the length of the conflict for over a year, thereby increasing the number of dead and wounded. The activities of aid agencies in the continent are hardly ever in concert with actual development, and harmful voluntourism is rife. [See: https://nowhitesaviors.org/;Oxfam was told of aid workers raping and sexually exploiting children in Haiti a decade ago] The proportion of overall aid dedicated to technical assistance, emergency food and health aid, as well as debt forgiveness, is relatively low. These forms of aid are logical in the short term. However, project and program aid has not been shown to make a massive difference to the lives of African people. In actual fact, as the amount of aid started dropping due to the financial crisis in Europe and America, the GDP of African countries began to increase. Aid given to African countries does not help African people except in the very short-term.
Let’s move to the structural adjustment programs of the 1990s. Do you remember the 1990s, when we all joked that life was being SAPped out of us? The IMF and World Bank programs caused a lot of suffering in many African nations, led to massive cuts in spending on health care, education and agriculture. Were these cuts meant to be made up by aid? Could aid be a credible alternative? Of course not! Any solution that ignores the root cause and logic is no solution at all. Without good health care, good education and food security systems no nation can develop. Yet these are the systems that the World Bank and IMF destabilised. Leaving African countries reliant on aid for neccesities.
Rather than aid, governments of developed countries should make policy changes to enhance African development. John Hilary, executive director of War on Want, cites trade liberalisation policies that subject firms in poor countries to competition they cannot handle and tax loopholes that allow firms to minimise payments to developing countries. Dani Rodrik, the development economist, says rich countries should pursue a “do no harm” approach with policies that include carbon taxes and other measures to ameliorate climate change; more work visas to allow larger temporary migration flows from poor countries; strict controls on arms sales to developing nations; reduced support for repressive regimes; and improved sharing of financial information to reduce money laundering and tax avoidance. Note that some aid is actually in the form of loans that contribute to Africa’s debt crisis. Basically give 1 carrot with the left hand and collecting 20 with the right hand [See featured image.]
Secondly, the Wolof of Senegal say that ‘a dish which is going to be tasty will smell good when it boils.’ However, the stench of aid clings to Africa unwarranted like beggars rags. I once heard someone’s rant on UK TV, implying that Africans should have picked themselves up after all the money she has given us. The Yoruba people say that it is for the day of trouble that each person has a unique name. Many people would have told that woman that no aid had ever come to them. Let’s take a few examples of where some aid has actually gone…
Aid to Morocco was used to fund L’Oasis de Noria – a vast £60 million holiday complex comprising a lagoon complete with waves, a golf course, almost 1,000 apartments and villas. £800,000 was given by EuropeAid, which Britain significantly funds.
Yegna, a girlband dubbed the Ethiopian ‘Spice Girls’, was given £3.8m by the UK Department for International Development.
Iraq receives the largest proportion of US aid.
Due to the greed and therefore corruption of many African leaders, a large proportion of aid goes missing. Conclusively, aid hardly enriches the lives of a large proportion of Africans, most especially, those who need it. If aid were not given, the lazybones leaders who are waiting for handouts, will make something of their countries and actually make more money.
Aid is wasted.
Thirdly, the Somalis say that ‘Bad counsel may cause you to fall into an abyss.’ The motivation for giving aid by developed countries is questionable and the statistics upon which the motivation is based is unverifiable. At the UN General Assembly in 2012, the British PM David Cameron [2010-2016] said that if aid is not given ‘the problems of conflict, the problems of mass migration, the problems of uncontrollable climate change are problems that will come and visit us at home.’ Again, that motivation has borne no fruit, African migration via the Mediterranean has reached a high in 2015.
We can look back through African history as to how financial aid and supported has often been motivated by negative and selfish desires. Let us go to 1958. When General Charles de Gaulle assumed supreme power in 1958, an independence referendum was held in the African colonies. Guinea-Conakry alone voted for independence; France responded by granting Guinea independence in 1958 but withdrawing its officials and its financial aid. Aid as punishment.
Even against the foregoing backdrop, the reluctance to grant aid is also puzzling. Since 1970, when the world’s rich countries agreed to give 0.7% of their Gross National Income as aid yearly, targets are rarely met. The US is often the largest donor in monetary terms, but ranks amongst the lowest in terms of meeting the 0.7% target. The Ethiopians say ‘A bird hanging between two branches will get bitten on both wings.’ You either give aid or you do not. You either give for the right reasons, or you do give at all. (See my carrot and hand analogy above.) Aid is tainted.
Fourthly, while the percentage amount of aid is negligible, the fact of aid confirms Africans (and therefore black people) as helpless and subhuman in many people minds. This feeds into the intractableness of racism in the world today. British politician, Peter Mandelson said that aid has ‘demeaned many African governments by turning them into professional beggars.’ Every aid advert on television is accompanied by bony African children, with flies on their eyeballs. For many, many people, these are the only Africans they will ever see. Aid taints Africans.
But at every turn of the conversation, history is wiped out. So let us unveil history. Let’s look at colonialism. The colonial powers managed to convince themselves that they were subjugating Africans (and others) for their own good. European violence was going to stop the wars endemic to Africa, and their enlightened (over-)rule would be to the benefit of all. Colonialism was an enterprise to extract African resources as cheaply as possible. That enterprise has not ended. Enough is enough. E don do! Aid is only a small part of the picture.
As Hickel states:
‘Europe’s Industrial Revolution was only possible because of the resources they extracted from their colonies… Later, they came to rely on sugar and cotton – produced by enslaved Africans – that was shipped in from their colonies in the New World, grain from colonial India and natural resources from colonial Africa, all of which provided the energy and raw materials they needed to secure their industrial dominance. Europe’s development couldn’t have happened without colonial loot.’
The Ewe of Ghana say that ‘a beggar can beg for certain things but cannot beg for an ostrich’s egg.’ Our self-worth cannot be maintained while presidential begging subsists. The Fulani of West Africa say that ‘He who gallops the horse of greed arrives at the door of shame.’ The horse of aid will only lead Africa to more shame. The Swahili say that ‘when the crocodile smiles, you should be extra careful.’ Collecting aid is no aid.
The Akan of Ghana say that ‘When you grab the head of a snake, the rest is mere rope.’ This problem and the solution is in African hands. African can and should care for itself. Africa has 55 countries and more than 1 billion people. Now I am going to give you some critical information.
The export of African forest products from Cameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, brings in significant revenue. Africa’s fishing industry, mainly coastal West Africa, Namibia and South Africa, provides income to more than 10 million people and has an annual export value of $2.7 billion. African inland fisheries contain more than 3,000 fish species and account for two-thirds of global inland fish production. Lake Victoria is the most productive freshwater fishery in the world, producing more than 500,000 tons of fish worth $600 million every year. Africa’s agricultural products include cocoa (which alone accounts for 70% of the continent’s agricultural exports), coffee, tea, cotton, sugar, pineapple and bananas. Over the period of 2000 to 2011, West Africa recorded a large trade surplus of coffee, tea, cocoa and spices, which rose from just below US$ 2.5 to 7.5 billion. However, African products are largely unprocessed products (less than 6% of African cotton is processed, and only 25% of cocoa), as most of the processing is done in importing countries.
In 2008, Africa produced about 483 tons of gold, or 22 percent of the world’s total production. South Africa accounts for almost half of Africa’s gold production. Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Tanzania are other major producers of gold. In 2008, the continent produced 55 percent of the world’s diamonds. Botswana, Angola, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Namibia are Africa’s largest producers of diamonds. In 2007, the continent produced 12.5 percent of the world’s total oil production and 6.45 percent of the world’s total natural gas production. Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and Angola dominate Africa’s oil industry.
The Aswan Dam, a complex of two dams in Aswan, Egypt, captures the world’s longest river, the Nile, in the world’s third-largest reservoir, Lake Nasser. The Aswan High Dam, the newer and larger of the two dams, produces more than 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, enough power for about 15 percent of the country. Lagos is Africa’s second most-populous city, with a population of about 10.2 million people. Lagos is growing 10 times faster than New York City, New York, or Los Angeles, California, in the United States. The United Nations estimates that Lagos will be one of the largest megacities in the world by 2015.
The Cold War illustrated that whoever controlled Africa, controlled the world. China’s association with Africa attracts caution, for this reason. Despite its resources, with the exception of cocoa, for which Africa is the main producer, the continent is unable to influence international prices (price taker). Imported products represent 1.7 times the value of exports. Exportation is actually done at a loss, which is why dependence on aid is required. According to the World Bank, just 5% of Africa’s cereal imports come from other African countries. It is estimated that more than 60% of the world’s available and unexploited cropland is located in sub-Saharan Africa. Africa can feed the world. Africa does not need aid. Louder for those at the back. AFRICA DOES NOT, I REPEAT, DOES NOT, I REPEAT, DOES NOT NEED YOUR AID!
Africa and her countries need to look inwards. I have often said that Africa should close its borders to resources. Nothing comes in, nothing goes out… for 5 years. At least. During that time all Africa’s resources should be used to develop Africa and Africa only. The more Africans who dedicate their time and skill to this project, the better. ‘When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.’
The Setswana of Botswana say that ‘life, like a wheel, turns.’ Africa can develop and turn poverty into wealth. It is our turn now. The wheel will turn.
We should also not ignore the good and beneficial teachings in our culture. As the Yoruba say. ‘If we stand tall it is because we stand on the backs of those who came before us.’ It is time to stand tall, on the backs of the African men and women who came before us. Much can be achieved, if we can imagine a better world. A better Africa.
Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu – A person is a person because of people. Ubuntu. I am Africa, because you are Africa. Because we are all Africa. We are ujamaa. We are one African family. Together, we are Ọmọlúàbí. People bettered by community to build a better African community. Umunna bu ike, together we have power. Together.
We are proud.
We are free.
We are Africa.
Hickel, Jason. The divide: A brief guide to global inequality and its solutions. Random House, 2017.
Moyo, Dambisa. Dead aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa. Macmillan, 2009.
Pailey, Robtel Neajai. “De‐centring the ‘White Gaze’of Development.” Development and Change (2019).
Rutazibwa, Olivia U. “On babies and bathwater: Decolonizing International Development Studies 1.” In Decolonization and feminisms in global teaching and learning, pp. 158-180. Routledge, 2018.