Posts tagged with: africa

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
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A round-up of diverse items of interest, in no particular order:

International aid groups have criticized the EU and many of its member states for falling behind their promises to step up foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GDP by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015.

On the one hand, these groups are right to expose the accounting tricks governments use in order to promote themselves as saviors of Africa. On the other hand, the aid groups should consider very carefully whether their focus on state aid is really the key towards future development in poor countries.

The problem that they indicate is that the EU and its members classify some expenses as aid although these are only indirectly related to development. This includes debt restructuring and payments to cover housing of refugee claimants in Europe.

The aid groups say that in 2007, EU nations spent around €8 billion in such non-aid items. They conclude that “on current trends, the EU will have given €75 billion less between 2005 and 2010 than was promised.”

This kind of creative accounting should not be very surprising since politicians like to claim that they are helping the poorest countries in the world but also know that it is more difficult to tell taxpayers that they have to foot the bill. In such circumstances the most convenient thing to do is to artificially inflate the aid budget with non-aid expenses.

The question remains: Is state-to-state aid the most effective way to promote development? Prof. Philip Booth explained at a recent conference organized by the Acton Institute in Rome that government aid has failed on countless occasions and has even entrenched underdevelopment on some occasions.

Booth made clear that “at the empirical level, there appears to be a negative relationship between aid and growth. This does not imply cause and effect of course, but it should make us pause for thought. After the late 1970s, aid to Africa grew rapidly yet GDP growth collapsed and was close to zero or negative for over a decade from 1984. GDP growth in Africa did not start to pick up again until aid fell in the early-to-mid 1990s. In East Asia, South Asia and the Pacific, one also finds that, as aid reduced, national income increased rapidly.”

It is important to note that Booth criticized government-to-government aid and not charity in general. Whereas transfers between governments have often resulted in rent-seeking and the strengthening of dubious regimes, private initiatives do not suffer from the same problems: “None of the points I have made relate to the exercise of charity. It is important to point out that we should not wait for a just ordering of the world or good governance in recipient countries before supporting charitable relief.”

Aid groups such as Oxfam and Christian Aid would do well to turn their focus away from pressuring governments to spend more on aid and instead strengthen their efforts to encourage private initiatives.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
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Edward C. Green and Allison Herling Ruark of the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies cut through the nonsense and offer clear thinking on AIDS in Africa. Their article in the April issue of First Things more specifically criticizes a recent report on faith-based organizations and AIDS emerging from the Berkley Center at Georgetown University.

Green and Ruark take pains to be respectful and deferential toward the Georgetown researchers, even where the egregious errors of the latter might have been treated with sarcastic wit. For example, there is this:

The Georgetown report clearly gets it wrong when it states that, for the ABC approach “to be effective, abstinence and fidelity must be practiced by both partners.” In fact, abstinence is always 100 percent effective in preventing sexual transmission when practiced by an individual.

Um, yes.
The article concludes,

…the central fact that has emerged from all the recent studies of the HIV epidemic: What the churches are called to do by their theology turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, December 27, 2007
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For my money, some of the most interesting titles in recent years in the field of Christian scholarship have come from IVP Academic (an imprint of InterVarsity Press). The latest catalog features an announcement of Thomas Oden’s How Africa Shaped the Christian Mind, as well as an interview with the author, which prompted a couple reflections. (The interview is available for pdf download here, Fall 2007)

I remember my first teaching assignment, a survey course in American history. We were covering slavery and related issues and the topic of Christianity and race came up. I made what I thought was a fairly obvious historical point about Christianity: identifying it with white Europeans is shortsighted considering that for several centuries Christianity was dominated by Africans, Palestinians, and Middle Easterners. The students, Ivy Leaguers all, looked at me in amazement, as though they were unaware of the fact. That memory returned as I read about Oden’s book, whose thesis is, in the author’s words,

Christianity has a much longer history than its Western European expressions. Africa has played a decisive role in the formation of Christian culture from its infancy, a role that has never been adequately studied or acknowledged, either in the Global North or South.

Oden also makes a point that lay behind my reaction to a trio of books that I reviewed for the forthcoming Journal of Markets & Morality (issue 10:2, to print any day): “…Euro-American intellectuals have transmitted [modern Western theological ideas] to Africa where they have been camouflaged as if to assume that these prejudices were themselves genuinely African.” The thought of Nietzsche, Marx, Freud, and Marcuse, he observes, has influenced writing in and about Africa far more than the thought of Tertullian, Cyprian, Athanasius, and Augustine, though it is self-evident which set of ideas is more genuinely “African” in any historical/geographical sense of the term. In my review, I display some unease about the appropriation of heterodox theology by African priests studying in Europe and the United States.

In the same IVP catalog:

The Legacy of John Paul II: An Evangelical Assessment

The Decline of African American Theology by Thabiti M. Anyabwile

Just Business: Christian Ethics for the Marketplace by Alexander Hill

I’ve heard it said from a number of leaders in the Reformed community that there is a great opportunity for Reformed churches to be a positive influence on the growth of Christianity abroad, particularly in places like Africa where Pentecostalism has made such large inroads.

The thesis is that as time passes and institutions need to be built, the traditionally other-worldly Pentecostal faith will by necessity need to embrace a more fully comprehensive world-and-life view. Reformed institutions ought to be prepared to step into the breach and provide that worldview education.

On that note, I pass along two items of interest. The first is a newly released book from Fortress Press, Christian Education as Evangelism, an edited collection of essays that argues that if congregations “are to be active in their evangelical outreach, solid teaching is necessary. Likewise learning ministries that are well grounded and alive will spring forth into vital sharing of the good news of Jesus Christ. Christian education leads to evangelism and evangelism leads to Christian education.”

And as a counter-point to the potential for arrogance that might accompany a Reformed educational mission to the Pentecostal world, see this item, “Dutch Protestant leader apologises to Pentecostals,”

Utrecht (ENI). The Protestant Church in the Netherlands has apologised to Pentecostals for negative attitudes held in the past by Reformed and Lutheran Christians towards members of Pentecostal churches. “Even now, one still can often sense an attitude of negativity and condescension,” the church’s general secretary Bas Plaisier said at celebrations in Amsterdam’s Olympic stadium to mark the centenary of the Dutch Pentecostal movement. Such attitudes were also widely held among Protestants in the past, Plaisier said. “I hope that with this centenary celebration we can put an end to this [negative] way of speaking and thinking about one another,” he said. [355 words, ENI-07-0726]

Given the rather distinct lack of commitment to distinctively and confessionally Reformed education among the Christian Reformed Church at the moment (check out this synodical report), I wonder if this sort of educational impetus is something that Westerners find are good for other people, but not themselves.

Here’s a great story by Jennifer Brea touching on a lot of favorite Acton topics. Brea observes that many Africans are getting wise to the fact that Western direct aid may be hurting more than helping their continent. We’ve long decried government-to-government aid and advocated expanded trade instead. More pointed is the article’s indictment of private charitable aid as well. Brea concedes the positive dimensions of such charity, but argues convincingly that Africans’ welfare really lies in the hands of Africans themselves—and in the creativity and entrepreneurship that can only be fully realized when full responsibility is also theirs.

Another interesting piece of the story: Treating Africans as “partners” in the global economy rather than as beneficiaries of global charity is what has helped China take a leading role in the region. That’s a theme that Anthony Bradley broached in his commentary last month.

You’ve heard it from us before: Good intentions are not enough.

Now hear it from a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review, “The Obscured Continent,” which takes a look at the special issue of Vanity Fair devoted to Africa (HT: Poynter Online). The piece begins by depicting the two major approaches to international development (compare to my “Henderson” model).

“In the end, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that the only thing it actually achieves is to convince us of those good intentions. Nothing more,” concludes CJR reporter Gal Beckerman. “And that, for Africans, both those who desire help and those trying to help themselves, is not even close to enough.”

Or as Etienne Gilson wrote, “Piety is no substitute for technique.”

In today’s NYT: “Oxfam Suggests Benefit in Africa if U.S. Cuts Cotton Subsidies.”

“Eliminating billions of dollars in federal subsidies to American cotton growers each year would reduce American cotton production and exports, raise world prices by about 10 percent and modestly improve the incomes of millions of poor cotton farmers in Africa, according to a new study by Oxfam, the aid group.”

About how many other industries could a similar thing be said? It’s also good to see that some of these multinational aid groups sometimes focus on liberalizing trade, rather than simply on direct government-to-government compensatory aid packages. Apparently Oxfam “has long campaigned for reductions in rich country agricultural subsides as a means to fight rural poverty in the developing world.”

One reason Oxfam is critical of bilateral free trade agreements is that they “do not address the adverse impacts of rich-country subsidies on poor countries through dumping, or the plethora of non-tariff barriers that continue to impede access to rich-country markets.” Their claim is that the bargaining power of individual developing nations is reduced under such agreements, so that the developing nation ends up giving up concessions to the wealthier nation, while the latter does no such thing. Reducing tariffs without addressing subsidies and other “non-tariff barriers” works to undermine the interests of developing nations.

The NYT piece ends on a bit of a pessimistic note, and no doubt the elimination of subsidies alone will not be enough to combat the grinding poverty that is so prevalent in the developing world. But it would do a lot to level the playing field and give resources and products from the developing world a fighting chance in the global market.

“Subsidy reform alone will not resolve all the challenges facing the cotton sector,” Oxfam said. “But it could significantly ease the burden on poor cotton farmers struggling to support their families.”

Kris Mauren (far right) and African guests get ready to visit GFS.

Acton University is now well underway, and on Wednesday a group of seven African attendees joined Kris Mauren on a visit to Gordon Food Service’s Grand Rapids headquarters for an up-close look at ethical capitalism. Mauren called it a great opportunity for people from countries with barren and corrupt markets to see an efficient, principled business for themselves. “The management of GFS also has a strong concern for philanthropy and international missions,” he said. “So it’s a great model of the capitalist ideal to hold up for these folks, who are used to a much more hostile economic climate.”

The group met with Gordon Food Service management for a luncheon, then toured the company’s office and factory area. Harry Ayile, formerly from Ghana and now residing in Norway, was completely blown away by what he observed. “It was like … wow,” Ayile commented with a smile. He was struck by the dedication shown by the company’s workers. “At every level, the workers are extremely well-organized, focused, and committed to doing their jobs excellently,” he said.

Ayile was astonished at how the “energetic” GFS employees took pains to avoid mistakes in the orders they were filling. “The business has a good system of checks and balances, and most of the employees have been there for fifteen years or more,” he said. “They take true satisfaction in their work.”

Comparing Gordon Food Service’s methods to the way business is done in Africa and even in Europe, Ayile said his visit couldn’t have been more of an eye-opener. “Before I came to Acton, I thought all people who did business were evil,” he said.

Ayile recalled one food-production company in Ghana that deliberately had been selling expired grain infested with maggots. “They would just sift out the maggots, package the grain, and sell it at full price,” he said. “Finally one employee caught on to what was happening and was able to produce evidence and pictures, but it went on for awhile.” Ayile called the incident typical of business practices in much of Africa, which lacks the institutional support necessary for free enterprise to flourish. When the rule of law is unreliable, incentives for greedy and corrupt behavior often outweigh the benefits of integrity. He added that many businesses “show very little respect for the consumer, as opposed to the way American businesses like Gordon Food Service care about their customers.”

Ayile and others from the group — which included visitors from the Congo, Kenya, and other African countries — all said they were very impressed with the way GFS invested in its employees and how these employees, in turn, were invested in the success of the company. Although Africa has a long way to go, Ayile said his visit was inspiring and gave him hope for the future of Ghana and other developing countries in Africa.

Oprah isn’t the only one opening a school in Africa. Fraser Valley Christian High School and Surrey Christian School in Canada have partnered together with Christian Extension Services in Sierra Leone, Africa to build a Christian Primary School in Kabala. This partnership is one of the initiatives I highlighted in a previous Acton Commentary.

The partnership has released its first newsletter (PDF here), which chronicles recent news and events, including prayer requests and special opportunities for donation.

Also be sure to keep up with the project at the blog administered on location in Sierra Leone, “A New School for Kabala.”