Today brings another bit of news that should give pause to anyone advocating for massive increases in government aid to Africa. From Saturday’s London (UK) Telegraph :
The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria’s past rulers stole or misused ꌢ0 billion.
That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa’s most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent…
…Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria’s rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country’s 130 million people – one in seven of the total African population – live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply…
…The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the ꌢ0 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.
General Sani Abacha of Nigeria is an example of an African leader who did pretty well for himself at the expense of his nation, stealing “between billion and ਲ਼ billion during his five-year rule.”
The importance of building strong institutions of civil society and establishing the rule of law before dispensing aid cannot be emphasized enough. If debt forgiveness is an appropriate first step for the west to take in assisting Africa, the next step must not be to simply flood the continent with aid once again without preparing it to appropriately use the funds.
At the recent Acton Summer Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we spoke with Nathan Elawa, a native of Nigeria and a participant in Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference. He commented on the issue of debt relief and the need for stronger foundations of civil society in Africa.