Will more aid save Africa?

TWENTY years after Live Aid, the millionaire pop stars will once again sing for Africa this Saturday. The new charity drive, headed by Bono and Bob Geldof, will reach its climax with a big concert – Live 8 – in London’s Hyde Park. This time though, Geldof’s crusade has also struck a chord with the politicians of the world’s richest countries who have decided to increase aid to Africa.

Earlier this month, the finance ministers of the Group of Eight industrialised nations decided to write off more than $40 billion of African debts. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is chairing the G8 club this year, has been involved in efforts to secure support for the doubling of aid to Africa (an extra $50 billion a year) ahead of the July meeting of G8 leaders in Scotland. The US has opposed the plan, but this has not deterred Blair and his Chancellor of the Exchequer who hope to raise the funds without American help.

Nobody can question the good intentions of the pop-stars and the genuine desire of the politicians to help reduce poverty and disease in Africa. What should be questioned is whether debt relief and extra aid would in any way improve things for the poor and suffering. Africa has gone through six Marshall Plans worth of aid since the sixties but according to most estimates the continent is poorer today than 25 years ago. The truth is that aid has been financing corrupt, incompetent and repressive regimes.

Millions are starving in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe: 3,000 die weekly of AIDS and life expectancy has fallen to 35 years. In Kenya, the first law passed by the newly-elected parliament was a 172 per cent pay increase for politicians. A Kenyan MP earns $130,000 per annum – more than a British MP – yet the average Kenyans’ annual per capita income is $1000.

Corrupt African leaders are the primary beneficiaries of Western aid, which they use to finance palaces, fleets of limousines, private jets, personal armies, while their people are left to starve.

The big question is whether an extra $50 billion of aid a year would help reduce poverty and disease. More aid might just serve to strengthen the corrupt regimes which have been mismanaging African states for decades now and give them the financial power to legally prevent the only things that would improve living standards – free trade and private enterprise.
It is illegal in most African states to start a business without a government licence, while loans at reasonable interest rates are almost impossible to secure. This is why there is such a huge wealth gap in the continent. According to a Merrill Lynch report, it is estimated that 100,000 Africans today own $600 billion in wealth while more than 300 million Africans live on $350 a year.

The simplistic view promoted by the aid agencies and do-gooders like Bono and Geldof is that more money for Africa will alleviate poverty, disease and ignorance. As decades of experience have shown, more aid does not mean better living conditions for Africans.

On the contrary, more aid would help maintain the corrupt regimes that are primarily responsible for the lives of unrelenting hardship and suffering most Africans have been condemned to lead.