Will George Bush listen to Africans?

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Dismissed by some as a unilateralist gunslinger, President George Bush of the United States of America portrayed a different self, through an emotional speech on Gore Island Senegal. He remarked, “At this place, liberty and life were stolen and sold. Human beings were delivered and sorted, and weighed, and branded with the marks of commercial enterprises, and loaded as cargo on a voyage without return. One of the largest migrations of history was also one of the greatest crimes of history.” In East Africa, Bagamoyo stands out as a spot where slaves who trekked from the interior lost hope when they were packed in ships to the infamous Zanzibar slave market.

Mr. Bush’s five-day, five-nation visit to Africa has been marked by a series of demands to alleviate Africa’s plight. Bush has been asked to address issues on war, poverty and preventable epidemics. He has been asked to press the U.S.A congress to release more funds for Africa. Jeffrey Sachs of Earth Institute, Columbia University, argues that 400 super rich Americans had an average income of nearly $ 174 million each, or a combined income of $69 billion, in 2000; this is more than a combined income of the 166 million people living in the four countries that the president is visiting in Africa. Said Jeffrey, “Our world is dangerously out of kilter when a few hundred people in the U.S.A command more income than 166 million people in Africa — with millions of the poor dying each year as a result of their impoverishment.”


Since the liberation from European colonizers, most African countries opted to avoid capitalism and embrace central planning as a way to identify with their population. Friedrich A. Hayek, the 1974 Nobel Laureate in Economics, wrote in his book, “The Road to Serfdom,” that central planning systems are the surest way of enslaving people. Asked Hayek, “Is there a greater tragedy imaginable than that in our endeavor consciously to shape our future in accordance with high ideals we should in fact unwittingly produce the very opposite of what we have been striving for?” Mr. Bush ought to be careful not to fall in a trap of assuming he knows best what is good for Africa, only Africans can solve their problems.

With over 50 million Africans living on less than $1 a day, African policy makers have focused on policies that encourage external donor funding to their governments. According to the World Bank, aid inflows to sub-Saharan Africa rose from 3.4 percent of GNP in 1980 to 16.3 percent in 1995. These official inflows typically funded basic government programs, together with all or most of government development expenditures. Dependence on aid has led to African governments virtually ceding the shaping of their economic and social policies to external agencies. Wealthy nations and international institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund have become the central economic planners for Africa. The end result is sporadic project implementation, corruption, and poor economic performance attributable to inept policies, political tensions as each ethnic community jostles to partake of the “national cake” and disaster unpreparedness due donor anesthesia.

Nowhere in the commentaries are people urging Bush to listen to Africans, they urge the president of the most powerful nation in the world to “speak to African leaders to take steps” to improve the situation in Africa. True Africa is poor, but it is not keen to demand that America robs her wealthy people in order to feed her; Africa recognizes the handicaps of free handouts, its evident even within the United States of America that communities that are hooked on welfare rarely advance in creativity and entrepreneurship. Africa needs to wean itself off international welfare.

For over 40 years that Sub Sahara continent has been groaning under the weight of welfare, and each time they ask for more. Sub Sahara Africa alone received total aid of some $83 billion between 1980 and 1988. Yet all those funds failed to spur economic growth and arrest Africa’s economic atrophy. The standard of living fell by 1.2 percent a year during this period. During the 1965 – 1984 period, 18 black African countries had growth rates of less than 1 percent per annum. The worst performers were Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ghana, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda and Zaire [Congo]. Between 1995/96 Sub Sahara accounted for 36 percent of the Official Development Assistance, its external debt stood at an estimated $200 billion in the year 2000. Focus on aid as an industry has simply disoriented the original mission of African freedom fighters.

As a powerful country, the temptation to overreach to other people’s private business is high. However it is important to realize that the Africans are not keen to take another trip to serfdom. It will be strategic to weigh each step with its long-term implications. Yes Africa needs commerce, but not one ended, they want to exchange goods and travel freely. Yes Africans need charity, but not from the government, they would rather have individuals extend a hand of charity without the coercive power of the state. Government to government charity tends to destroy individual liberties in Africa, by making systems respond only to those who offer aid as opposed to having a government of the people, by the people for the people. Bush ought to address American policies that contribute to poverty in Africa such as farm subsidies and other technical barriers to trade. Africa would rather learn how to fish, so that they eat in their lifetime than get a fish that will be consumed in a day.

Bush would do better for Africa if he urged an end to an influx of do — gooders from rich nations who have no time to listen to Africans.

”’James Shikwati is the Director Inter Region Economic Network [IREN Kenya] and the SIFE Kenya Country Coordinator. He can be reached via email at”’ mailto:james@irenkenya.org ”’More of his work at:”’ https://www.irenkenya.org