25 APRIL 1992, Page 5


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Once again much of southern and east- ern Africa is said to be on the verge of famine, and once again appeals are heard for the advanced countries to devote a per- centage of their national product to aid. Proponents of aid have so publicised their opinions that they have become received wisdom among the right-thinking. League tables of countries, in order of percentage of national product disbursed as aid, are published, with censure for those countries — such as Britain — at or near the bottom.

To deny help to the starving would, of course, be callous. But a certain scepticism about allegedly impending famines is in order: past millions have singularly failed to die when we were told by experts in the field that their deaths were inevitable and that it was already too late to save them.

Nevertheless, few doubt that the eco- nomic condition of Africa is the worst of any continent. It might appropriately be labelled the Fourth World. The repeated crises or near-crises raise questions as to what has gone wrong in Africa. Even those countries which have escaped famine have failed to develop satisfactorily; and advo- cates of aid never tire of telling us that donations of food and other necessities during times of acute scarcity are not the solution to Africa's problems. What is needed, they say, is a massive shift of eco- nomic resources from the developed to the undeveloped world.

On the conventional view, the cause of the failure of Africa to develop has been the lack of capital and past and present exploitation by the developed world. If cap- ital were provided, and trading relations made equitable, all else would follow. The internal policies of African countries have had little to do with lack of progress; the constraints are external, not internal.

In fact the most important inhibiting fac- tor in African development is the power of the state, by far the most damaging legacy of colonialism. For several decades, eco- nomic life in Africa has consisted of elbow- ing one's way to the central (and only) trough, a process which requires political rather than economic or technical prowess. Thanks to the power of the state to give or withhold, the economies of almost all African states, even those not officially socialist, have been horribly deformed and rendered unproductive.

The centralisation of economic power in the hands of the state, while disastrous in effect, is not irrational. The assumption is made that its purpose is the perpetuation in power of a bureaucratic elite. And given that most African countries are ethnically and culturally diverse, and command almost no national loyalty, the inter-tribal conflicts which have plagued many of them were bound to follow from centralisation of economic power.

'Seek ye first the political kingdom,' said Nkrumah, 'and everything shall be added unto you.' History has demonstrated (not only in Ghana) that by 'you' he meant the administrative and political class, not the despised peasants, commercial farmers and traders who produced the wealth upon which the administrative and political class depended.

For many years now the rulers of Africa have drawn intellectual and moral support from Western 'experts' who saw Africa's poverty as the result of exploitation, which only a supposedly disinterested and human- itarian elite could overcome. Even now, the ANC in South Africa is persuaded that the difference in wealth between the whites and blacks is due solely to the exploitative political relations between them, an expla- nation highly convenient and functional to the future kleptocrats amongst them.

The donation of aid can only reinforce these doleful tendencies. What are relative- ly trifling sums for donor goverments may be huge sums for the recipient goverments through which they are necessarily chan- nelled, the more important because they are in foreign currency. Tanzania, for example, 'earns' twice as much through for- eign aid as it does through exports. Why grow exportable crops in a hot climate, to be paid only a fraction of their worth, when you can go to Dar es Salaam, sit in an air- conditioned office and lay your hands on untold dollars by bureaucratic intrigue? This, incidentally, helps to explain why African ministries of finance are so suscep- tible to fire: their records must be destroyed periodically. And aid has the delightful consequence, from the point of view of the bureaucracy, that the worse things get, the more of it is needed.

Aid and its supposed intellectual and moral justifications have exerted a deeply corrosive effect on economic life in Africa.

Cultural factors play an immense, although insufficiently appreciated, part in economic development; aid creates a culture of expectation and entitlement rather than one of achievement and reward. By focus- ing minds on the distribution of the world's wealth rather than on its creation, theories of development emanating from W estern universities have helped to pauperise mil- lions. Thus economic aid to Africa, except as famine relief for humanitarian reasons, is not only ineffective, it is counterproduc- tive and profoundly wicked. There can be no excuse for this wickedness continuing.