Blog author: kjayabalan
by on Monday, February 13, 2006

Over the weekend, the Daily Telegraph’s Charles Moore asked, “Why should the Left win the scramble for Africa?” :

[T]he trouble with this subject – perhaps this is why the Left dominates it – is that it attracts posturing. Africa is, among other things, a photo-opportunity. As our own educational system makes it harder and harder to get British pupils to smile at all, so the attraction for politicians of being snapped with rows of black children with happy grins grows ever stronger. The dark continent is awash with “goodwill ambassadors” who fly in for a couple of days to cure Aids before flying out to make the next movie.

There is a worse posturing – the pretence that lots of government money and the interventions of the “international community” are automatically good. It is only in the past 10 years or so, for example, that the World Bank has even begun to consider the possibility that the volume of loans matters less than their quality, or that corruption might be spoiling huge percentages of its work. All across Africa lies the detritus of aid projects which – in some cases literally – ran into the sand.

Such things are not just a waste of money – they are deeply harmful. They divert power and resources to bad people that might otherwise have gone to good. There is still no proper answer to Peter Bauer’s famous dictum that Western government aid largely consists of the payment of money by poor people in rich countries (i.e. our taxes) to rich people in poor countries.

Having spent two years working for the Holy See at the United Nations and five years for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, I’ve sat through far too many discussions of Africa’s problems, nearly all of which focused on governmental solutions. Very rarely did anyone have the courage and wisdom to say that governments ARE the problem in Africa, and even more rarely did anyone say that the an expanded private sector is the most obvious solution.

Why is that? Christians are especially obliged to look after the poor but often seem to be the most willing to support further governmental interventions. But this is just passing the buck to unaccountable and faceless bureaucracies. What accounts for this socialist temptation?

My educated guess is that an ideological prejuidice against market economies has been operating in social justice circles for many decades and is only starting to be overcome. Educating people in sound economics, an undoubtedly prosaic if not sometimes downright boring subject, is surely an imperative. Too many lives in Africa have already been lost to the dreams of utopian poets.