Some Question Whether African Aid Helps

Associated Press Writer
LONDON (AP) -- When the world's richest nations promised to double aid to the poorest, most of them in Africa, at least one African was appalled. And not because he thought the pledges were too little or would never be realized. He thought they were too much.
"The best thing the West can do is to do nothing for Africa," Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan writer and radio host, said during a recent visit to Britain, which a year ago chaired the Group of Eight summit at which those ambitious aid pledges were made.
"Throwing money at African dictators cannot be a solution to ending poverty," said Mwenda. He charged that democracy in Africa had been stalled by aid, because leaders focused on responding to donors, not their own citizens.
While not everyone goes as far as Mwenda in calling for a freeze, he is not alone in questioning whether aid does much good - and may even do harm.
George Ayittey, a U.S.-based Ghanaian-born economist, argues that if Africa kept what it loses to corruption, weapons spending and capital flight and grew more for itself rather than importing food, the savings would equal what it gets in foreign aid.
The problem isn't lack of resources, but lack of democracy and good government, Ayittey said, comparing Africa to eastern Europe under communist rule.
"When the West was dealing with eastern Europe, it didn't hand over money to communist governments. They funded groups like (Poland's) Solidarity. Let's find the African Solidarities and fund them," Ayittey said. His blueprint for saving Africa calls not so much for money, but for supporting a free press, independent central banks, judiciaries and election commissions, and efficient and fair police and civil services.
"Theoretically, Africa doesn't need aid. But, practically, you can't stop it. It would be interpreted as being stingy, being cold, in the face of massive suffering in Africa," he said. "We are not saying that Africa should not be helped. But let's help Africa in a smart way."
Some of what aid skeptics have been saying for years appeared to have informed the report of the Commission for Africa, an international board assembled by British Prime Minister Tony Blair before last year's summit.
The commission acknowledged that Africa's poverty had worsened despite decades of international aid, and called for more effective aid in the future. It also pressed African governments to fight corruption and be more responsive to their citizens.
"There's huge amount of selfishness by the elite" who run some African governments, said Moeletsi Mbeki, a South African businessman and deputy chairman of the South African Institute of International Affairs. Mbeki, the brother of South African President Thabo Mbeki, said donors should bypass such governments.
"Africa is a very rich continent, we are very well-endowed in terms of resources. But we have had a very non-performing leadership in Africa, which is why the people keep getting poorer," Mbeki said in a telephone interview from Johannesburg.
Mbeki has joined a Commission for Africa-initiated project aimed at strengthening African media, both to act as watchdogs over their governments and to provide African citizens with the information they need to hold their leaders to account.
Mbeki said that at a meeting of African media owners convened under the initiative's auspices earlier this year, an Ethiopian publisher complained of the inexperience of his staff. The owner of a large and respected Kenyan media group offered to train the Ethiopians in what Mbeki said was an example of how Africans can help themselves with only a little help from the West.
Foreign "aid is actually important," said Mbeki. "But it must be very well thought out and very well targeted to build on Africa's strengths."

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