Carpe Diem

Kenyan economics expert: Development aid is one reason for Africa’s problems, so for ‘God’s sake, please just stop’

From a Spiegel interview with Kenyan economics expert James Shikwati:

SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef up the development aid for Africa…

Shikwati: … for God’s sake, please just stop.

SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.

Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.

SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?

Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.

SPIEGEL: Would Africa actually be able to solve these problems on its own?

Shikwati: Of course. Hunger should not be a problem in most of the countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural resources: oil, gold, diamonds. Africa is always only portrayed as a continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the industrial nations, there’s a sense that Africa would go under without development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans came along. And we didn’t do all that poorly either.

SPIEGEL: But AIDS didn’t exist at that time.

Shikwati: If one were to believe all the horrifying reports, then all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. It’s not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it’s only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that.

SPIEGEL: And why’s that?

Shikwati: AIDS is big business, maybe Africa’s biggest business. There’s nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be very skeptical.

35 thoughts on “Kenyan economics expert: Development aid is one reason for Africa’s problems, so for ‘God’s sake, please just stop’

    • They are talking about governmental aid, not churches and the like. Works separately, mainly because private aid goes directly to those in need. Government aid needs to go from government to government. By the time everyone is done skimming, very little goes to help those who need the assistance.

      • Jon, my understanding is that NGOs have to work through the existing government. The aid doesn’t go directly to the government, but they can’t operate without the government’s permission and, by extension, its influence and often without bribes and other non-direct subsidies to the local government. Is this no longer true?

        • I think it depends. Most governments are skittish about restricting the working of the church, even if they distrust their motives (as a missionary friend once told me, even atheists have a fear of God).

          They probably do still have to deal with governments, but the amount that is skimmed is much lower than direct government aid.

          • I see. I didn’t mean to imply NGOs were similarly ineffective. They’re much more effective and much less beholden to the local government (though, I don’t think this has much to do with fear of God and more to do with keeping people just above the line of misery where they actively revolt against the strongman). But, if it wants to, the local government can stop the NGOs. My first brush with that was as a teenager in the 1980′s. We were in a frenzy to buy the Band-Aid song and donate money to feed the starving Ethiopians and the food just rotted on the docks. My mother famously quipped at the time: “Good luck with that. While you’re sending them food, the Soviets are sending them weapons. Guess which one they’ll actually get.” We just thought she was, like, TOTALLY out of touch and cruel and, like, didn’t care about starving children.

          • There will always be some type of process involved in an organization. It’s the nature of the beast. But private organizations have a lot less of a mire to wade through, simply because they are responsible only to shareholders/doaners/owners.

          • re: ” But private organizations have a lot less of a mire to wade through, simply because they are responsible only to shareholders/doaners/owners.”

            Jon – are you familiar with the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders, the Baptist Missionary programs, etc?

            I would posit that the govt is far LESS responsive and responsible to taxpayers that donors to private charities.

            A few years back, a scandal with the United Way in DC virtually wiped out that program.

            If you go to Charity Navigator, you’ll find a ton of charities with highly paid CEOs and high administrative costs … but you will also find the opposite.

            I think it’s hard to put a blanket statement on NGOs or govt for that matter.

            but from what I have seen of the Red Cross, it is mired in bureaucracy but they have a very large organization that is well connected to the Govt.

          • I love your bankrupt attempts to equivocate government and NGOs.

            I have the option not to fund bad NGOs. I don’t have the option not to fund government. You have never been able to see the difference.

          • Well, I’m just talking orders of magnitude here, Larry, in terms of the bureaucratic process.

            Let’s say the President wants to give aid to Ethiopia. To do so, he needs to have it in the budget. That gets debated and eventually voted on (after checking to see they are not violating any laws). Then, a treaty with Ethiopia needs to be worked out (and subsequently voted on in the Senate). Then, the aid is transferred to Ethiopia, where it goes through their own processes. Finally, what’s all said and done, it gets to wherever it was intended.

            If a private organization, say Doctors Without Borders, wants to provide aid, it is (somewhat) easier. They do not need to go through the state-side political process, which saves a lot of time and money too.

            Also, a little off topic, but I thought the Red Cross was a government-run program. Am I wrong about that?

          • I see, Larry. I had interpreted the article has talking about only government aid.

            By the way, thanks for the link on the Red Cross. I must have confused them with someone else.

    • I’m mostly for that, but Plan Colombia has been a tremendous success. The FARC and ELN were smashed with the help from the US under President Uribe. The only reason they have any juice left is due to the sanctuary and aid Hugo Chavez provides.

      • Yeah, but I think you know that the problem is the success rate is very low. Foreign aid is a massive negative expectancy boondogle. Government spending on occasion produces something that isn’t a total loss, but the expectancy is still negative.

        Plus, I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama turns around and helps his boyfriend, Hugo, to aid and nurture the FARC.

  1. So huge bureaucracies promote corruption and complacency, and citizens are taught to be beggars and not to be independent? Is this story about Africa or the US and Europe?

    • China’s undervalued currency is bad for Chinese consumers, and good for American consumers (we get Chinese stuff at a lower price).

      US foreign aid to Africa is bad for Americans (our wallets are lighter) and for Africans (their despots are richer).

      Since we can’t control the Chinese government, we might as well take advantage of low prices. We have a slight chance of controlling the US government, and it doesn’t cost anything to try.

  2. Oh, please, this is 1) Nothing new. This self trained economist “one of the 100 most influential economists in Kenya” (are there 100 influential economists in Kenya?) has said this ad nauseam. 2) It is such a blustering statement as to be meaningless. Sure, some latch on to the idea that some aid displaces innovation, self sufficency and competition in markets however a) that assumes functioning marketplaces and b) it only applies to certain products and services.

    Does he think the government (or the private sector) of Malawi, for example, is going to supply HIV medicine if aid agencies aren’t? Does he really believe Chad (or the private sector in Chad) is going to fulfill the food needs of its people if aid agencies aren’t?

    Come out and say it: yep, it is unsustainable for governments to have their people get HIV/AIDS medicines- it would be simpler and more cost effective for them to just die quickly. Same with areas that have too many people and too little food- Mr. Shikwati says let them die, and do so quickly- let the markets call it.

    He loses his credibility with his flippancy, lack of experience (not all African academics know of suffering in Africa), lack of formal education and generalizations- its too bad because underlying all of this is the potential for a thoughtful discussion of what aid is best and how it can best be targeted and changed over time to produce the best outcomes. Shame.

    • David

      Does he think the government (or the private sector) of Malawi, for example, is going to supply HIV medicine if aid agencies aren’t? Does he really believe Chad (or the private sector in Chad) is going to fulfill the food needs of its people if aid agencies aren’t?

      Not sure what he thinks – you would have to ask him. But, what should be quite clear is that those needs will NEVER be filled locally as long as outsiders provide for them. You appear to be one of those who believes Africans are a bunch of helpless children who can’t survive on their own without your enlightened benevolence.

      Also, what Jon said.

  3. To a certain extent, the Kenyan expert could be right.
    If corruption and debauchery at the upper echelon of power are that rampant and notorious, why give aids that never reached the poor really in need.
    Dark Africa is still quite dark.
    (vzc1943, mtd1943)

  4. While I do consider myself a Libertarian and noninterventionalist, I always used to have questions on this. I attend a Catholic high school and have a theology teacher that studies liberation theology (yeah, i know how absurd that is).

    Even though I frequently remind him that his lessons are garbage, I felt like he had a point when he showed us Hotel Rwanda and talked to us about foreign aid. He portrayed foreign aid as though it were something that primarily helped out NGO’s, but I guess that isn’t the case. I always used to feel like we have SOME moral obligation to foreign aid (if for nothing but an IOU).

    I am also curious as to the general opinion about quelling rebellions through outside forces such as the US for instances like the case of Rwanda.

    • Cody

      While I do consider myself a Libertarian and noninterventionalist, I always used to have questions on this. I attend a Catholic high school and have a theology teacher that studies liberation theology (yeah, i know how absurd that is).

      Libertarianism and religious beliefs are not mutually exclusive, you know. Judge Andrew Napolitano, for example, is a devout Catholic as well as a fierce defender of liberty.

      I always used to feel like we have SOME moral obligation to foreign aid (if for nothing but an IOU).

      Most of us feel a personal obligation to help those in need. I think it’s part of our nature as human beings. However, I don’t believe that means we can ask our government to take other people’s money to send to unspecified locations for unspecified uses, and then pat ourselves on the back for being so generous.

      African economists such as James Shikwati and Dambisa Moyo tell us that the foreign aid we are providing is harming, rather than helping.

      Have you considered starting a business that would create jobs in a location you believe to be in need, that currently gets aid of some kind?

      How about funding microloans through this or another such organization?

      I am also curious as to the general opinion about quelling rebellions through outside forces such as the US for instances like the case of Rwanda.

      No idea about general opinion, but mine is that it is not a function of the US government to interfere in the affairs of other countries. Of course you and I and others who are concerned should be free act on our own to protect innocent lives.

      What if a powerful outside force had acted to quell the violent rebellion going on in eastern North America in 1776?

  5. The HIV virus is a chimera, it has not been identified, you cannot put it under a microscope and take a photo because it doesn’t exist.
    Wally, Auckland, New Zealand

    • Wally

      The HIV virus is a chimera, it has not been identified, you cannot put it under a microscope and take a photo because it doesn’t exist.

      You might be right, but one can’t help but wonder what so many people who think they have AIDS are dying from.

      I know the power of suggestion can be a powerful thing, but that’s one helluva lot of people!

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