A few years ago I wrote about how destructive aid is to Africa. Read here. I argued then that all aid to Africa should stop. The wealth of the world is built on exploitation of African resources and labour. Considering the resource flow, licit and illicit, out of Africa why is aid to Africa still a thing? Any good accountant knows that you must show both sides of the balance sheet. Not just the incoming. Unless you have something to hide.
The basis of Africa’s relationship with the rest of the world is still built on a foundation of inequality. The narrative of the relationship between Africa and the West needs to move from a focus on aid to a focus on investment and equality. This would be an economically sound choice that could be mutually beneficial. Of course, there are a couple of problems with this argument.
Firstly, we have the problem of the power of narrative. To query the aid structure, we need to query the narrative of the perpetually poor Africa. The picture that shows only one side of the account books. The incomplete account of the accounts. The single story of African paucity. What I call Afrotropia. Here, we cannot escape the fact that the African narrative is controlled from outside Africa. By the media, by experts, and by academics. We also cannot escape the fact that the narrative is linked to the narrative before it and the narrative before it, and the narrative before it and so on. Which means that the narrative of African paucity cannot divorce itself from the narrative of African (and black) inferiority. These narratives provided the impetus for the dehumanising practice of transatlantic slavery and the trauma of colonial plunder, both of whose after-effects still reverberate.
As Achille Mbembé asks ‘Is it possible to have ‘an intelligible reading of contemporary Africa (and blackness) solely through conceptual structures and fictional representations used precisely to deny African (and black) societies any historical depth and to define them as radically other’? ‘ In other words, can the narratives used to justify inhumanity be used to humanise?
Secondly, we cannot ignore the fact that African governments have done nothing to change the narrative, either by championing African-centred research and innovation, or by outrightly refusing to collect any aid, or by acting in a fashion that suggests that there exists within them a modicum of affection for their countries or their people. This is of course, deplorable. Nevertheless, how we (African governments) present ourselves (as always in need of handouts) is related to how we are being presented and by whom we are being presented and represented. Question: How is the picture of Africa being produced and reproduced? Could we possibly re-present ourselves without owning a comparatively powerful medium? i.e. Can African citizens/scholars be equally considered as reputable sources of information? Can we have resources and access to convey research? Can we have media houses with as much clout and reach as CNN and BBC for example?
Thirdly, we must question the silences and the silenced. How about the people of Africa who do not directly benefit from the aid? (Because very few people do.) Do they want a continuation of aid? Now this is a very interesting question, which despite the mountains of writing and empirical research on ‘African aid’ hardly gets asked. We know what the people in the West think about ‘African aid’ (Don’t give those people anymore of our money). We know what the media in the West thinks about ‘African aid’ (Don’t give those people anymore money). We know what Western governments think about ‘African aid’ (We need to give those people some money). We know what African governments think about ‘African aid’ (We need more money). We even know what NGOs foreign and African think about it (Mostly, we need more money, because the money you send is not going to where it is needed.) But have we asked Bello in Ilorin what he thinks about this aid? or Bishara in Kisumu? or Leoni in Blantyre? (I could go on, but I won’t.) My strong belief, is that the people want more than aid. Or not aid. We want countries that work, not structures propped up by aid. We do not want countries that are currently failing to keep us safe and are keeping us in bondage.
Fourthly, and very importantly, we need to ask if those who hand out the handouts of aid are willing to see us as potential partners and co-investors in our own destinies? This is linked to the power of narrative. How can you hope to be a partner when the whole aid paradigm is built on the inferiority of the potential partner. How do we deconstruct that? Can this be deconstructed? Taking into account, of course, that aid donors are more complex than just aid giving organisations. Giving aid to Africa can be a salve to conscience or access to easy rubbish dumping grounds or a bribe to extract resources. Aid organisations are such complex institutions that a dismantling of the aid edifice will lose the aid organisations more money than it would lose African citizens money. So again we confront the question of power. I often hear people in the West clamour for the cessation of aid. So end it. Africans are not the ones upholding that edifice. Look closer. If you dare.
Ultimately, partnership arrangements will not benefit the Aid edifice as much the donor arrangement benefits it. That is the realisation that should spur us forward. Let us end this. Now.