Aid and Trade are Not Enough

This past week and the weeks ahead are likely to be dominated by discussion on the future of Africa and the role that aid, debt relief and trade reform can play in alleviating the devastating poverty in much of Africa. But I am afraid that this debate will miss the main obstacle to growth and development in Africa, which is weak and corrupt leadership.

In 1983 I traveled to Ghana to collect a debt. That alone caused much amusement in Ghana itself - they thought it was a joke that I would travel up over half the continent to try and collect a debt that could never be paid. The reason - Ghana had imploded, the International Airport had small trees growing in the runway and the hotel I stayed in had no water or electricity. Passengers getting off the aircraft with me looked like refugees carrying water and other "essentials". The famous local university looked as if it had been bombed, buildings vandalized and roofs stolen.

What had happened - nothing much. Aid had poured in; they had a wonderful start at independence with good foreign exchange reserves, a well-educated administration and rich resources. They had not fought a war for liberation; there were no internal conflicts, only rotten, corrupt, self-serving leadership. Ghana was a failed State - it scared me and I wondered, could this happen at home in Zimbabwe?

It could and it has. Zimbabwe was given every chance to succeed - open access to global markets on a preferential basis, massive foreign aid from all quarters, technical assistance in whatever field was requested. We started out with an educated elite - many of whom had lived abroad for a number of years. We had a diverse economy based on mining, agriculture, industry and commerce. We were virtually debt free. The world was at our feet but we blew it.

Today Zimbabwe is a basket case - we cannot feed our people, we have destroyed over half the formal sector jobs in the economy, our industry is in tatters, all other sectors of the economy either shrinking or stagnant. Our social services are a mess and life expectancy has halved. We are poorer than we were 30 years ago and there is no sign of an end to the decline and all pervading despair.

No amount of aid or debt relief or trade concessions are going to help this country get out of the hole it is in - only a radical change of direction and leadership will do that and I am afraid that this same analysis applies to many countries on the continent.

People talk of a "Marshal Plan" for Africa, failing to recognize that countries like Zimbabwe have been the recipients of more aid per capita than was applied to Europe in 1945. People talk about debt relief - we are not servicing our debt at all at present, the US$7 billion in debt that we owe is virtually free money anyway. Its not even trade - African countries have had access to European markets on an extremely preferential basis for 25 years and yet only a tiny minority have taken up the opportunities available.

Our collapse is self inflicted, its home grown, and until this sort of nonsense is addressed by the global and the African community, there is no hope for countries like Zimbabwe, the Congo, Sudan, Somalia and so on. We are our own worst enemies and we must fix what is wrong here at home in Africa, before we can make effective use of the generosity of the developed world and the new global village that offers such marvelous opportunities and freedom.

The question is how to effect such changes without running the risk of being accused of neo-colonialism? How to ensure that when leadership fails a country, the people can change them without violence and mayhem? We have tried here in Zimbabwe for the past 5 years - we have insisted on no violence, no guns, we have worked to secure a democratic, legal transfer of power to new, popular leadership and we have not succeeded - why? It has been simply because African leaders pay lip service to the fundamentals of the rule of law and democracy.

When it comes to the wholesale theft of national resources and the subversion of the rule of law and democracy, our leaders are in a league all by themselves. We have become adept at manipulating the media and foreign governments and the multinational agencies such as the World Bank and the UN. To this long list we perhaps should now add the G8 leadership and Bob Geldof. We allow African leaders to strut across the platforms of the world stage as if they were acting in the real interests of their people and not acting simply as self-serving tyrants.

Quite frankly until African leaders themselves put their own houses in order there should be no talk of assistance of any kind. It is ridiculous that Ethiopia with its rich agricultural resources has been supported by massive food aid for over 20 years. Just take a look at Nigeria - one of the oil giants of the world yet threatened with instability and rising poverty that belies its wealth and status.

Development and poverty alleviation take discipline, honesty, openness and democracy in national political life. It takes hard work and commitment and the strict observance of the rule of law and the guarantee of investor rights and business contracts. If African leaders applied these principles to their own and their public lives they would bring prosperity and freedom to their countries.

It's got nothing to do with race, or discrimination, or unfair trading practices or a shortage of resources - human and financial. Ours is a homegrown crisis and it can only be resolved by home grown solutions. And do not think that economic collapse and human suffering will by themselves bring change - just look at North Korea and Myanmar for example.

The global community needs to completely isolate tyrannical regimes like the above and the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe and then demand that they affect real reforms before they are allowed back into the world community. If we fail to address the issue of leadership in these countries then we condemn both those countries and their millions of people to hardship and poverty and human deprivation that can only be overcome by flight to another country which will offer a better life. Human migration on this basis simply makes things worse in both the affected States.

Aid and trade are not enough.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo 11 June 2005