More money will not solve Africa’s famines!

Africa: Money Will Not End Famine
James Shikwati
2 September 2009
There was a time in Africa when elders would “talk” to the drought and negotiate their way into receiving rainfall. With their unique understanding of causation, elders would either sacrifice a black sheep or ask a virgin girl to bathe in a lake in order to draw the attention of the rain gods.
Would that they could do so now.
With an estimated 50 million Africans in dire need of food aid and an additional 120 million facing starvation if immediate measures to alleviate the situation are not taken, the general assumption has become that developing countries do not have what funds are necessary to increase food productivity.
Too little time has been invested in seeking to understand why Africa, with its vast farmlands and its brilliant and innovative sons and daughters, still goes hungry as the rest of the world battles with obesity.
Computer experts are aware of malware, the “malicious software” that is designed to infiltrate a computer without the owners’ informed consent.
The general computer user is familiar with viruses, Trojan horses, worms, and spyware among other programmes that cause harm to the operating system.
As we talk about famine in Africa, we should take a moment to evaluate the hostile and intrusive programmes operating in the background as food aid in particular and aid in general run in the foreground.
Ask yourself, for example, why a majority of Africans have changed their diets.
Kenyan nutritionists point out that we have ignored high value foods and replaced them with junk, sacrificing thousands of Africa’s domesticated and wild edible crops at the altar of modernity.
Malicious system
Crops whose production should be scaled up by virtue of their ability to adapt to Africa’s climate have instead been framed as crops of poverty.
Crops such as the tamarind, millet, sorghum, indigenous peanuts and potatoes have been kicked out of the menu in favour of wheat and beef.
Over 50 years of food aid targeted at Africa have been marked by a corresponding increase in episodes of famine, which points to the possible existence of a food “malware” – a malicious system that changes people’s dietary habits in favour of imported foods.
The same malware has penetrated agricultural schools, where it trains graduates to promote the new foods as opposed to upgrading local varieties.
Worst of all, it has penetrated political leadership, corrupting their minds with the quest for kickbacks to the extent that they do not invest in local solutions as foreign solutions can loaded with the possibility of a quick 10 per cent.
In the absence of an effective “anti-virus” this malware loads its intentions on the hapless operating systems of Africa’s nations, forcing them to become perpetual beggars.
It is my contention that, to reduce the incidence of famine on the continent, Africans must develop an effective system for detecting the “malicious background operating system” that has not only denied them the opportunity to promote their local cuisines but has also exposed their land to grabbing.
It is time we invested in our indigenous crops, turned our rural populations into celebrated food suppliers through incentives and invested in technology to free our continent from perennial famine.
Contrary to common belief, money is not the solution to Africa’s famine problem. Neither, for that matter, is food aid. What we need to do is get rid of the malware operating in our system.
James Shikwati is the director of Inter Region Economic Network
Copyright © 2009 Business Daily. All rights reserved.


Is aid, like Aids, killing Africa?

I did this some months ago, I’m less angry now after 6 weeks in Mzuzu, but the question still stands.
Africa has had over forty years of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help — not to mention celebrities— is destructive, very misleading and maybe all we can expect from the opinionated developed world.
I am not speaking of humanitarian aid, disaster relief, Aids education or affordable drugs. Nor am I speaking of small-scale, closely watched efforts. I am speaking of the “more money” platform: the notion that what Africa needs is more prestige projects, volunteer labour and debt relief. We should know better by now. The development of Africa is a story of many chapters. We forget that there are a myriad of answers. Things like Geldof’s live aid and Bono’s much publicised debt relief are just the first chapter or two.
I wouldn’t send any of my hard earned money to a charity or foreign aid to a government unless every euro was accounted for — and this never happens. Dumping more money in the same old way is not only wasteful but intellectually challenged and harmful; and proves that no one is paying attention
If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was in the early 1960s, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses and ship loads of financial aid, and yet it has declined from being a country with promise.
In the early and mid-1960s JFK’s Peace Corps believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades the US kept on sending Peace Corps teachers.
Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi’s university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, but few of them were replaced by Malawians,
Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain, and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign volunteer nurses were needed in Malawi.
When millions of dollars disappeared from Malawi’s education budget, and a Zambian politician was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa’s problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid.
Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons why these countries are failing.
Many Malawians, I meet, think they need a computer, to add to the mobile phones they already have: -for what, I ask. Sending computers to Malawi is an unproductive not to say maybe an insane idea, without first doing the basics, like electricity to rural schools with maybe solar panels (Oh school buildings and better trained teachers might come first) . I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: as the schools I have been in Malawi need them badly.
By the way, I only note what I see and make nothing up.
I wouldn’t send more teachers either. I would expect Malawians themselves to stay and teach. There ought to be an insistence, in the form of a contract, for Malawians trained in medicine and education, at the state’s expense, to work in their own countries. If they do emigrate then at least the country they go to should pay for their training.
Malawi had two presidents in its first 40 years: the first, a megalomaniac who called himself the messiah, the second a man whose first official act was to put his face on the money. When first elected, the current President, Bingu wa Mutharika, inaugurated his regime by announcing that he was going to buy a fleet of Maybachs, one of the most expensive cars in the world. After an international outcry the order was cancelled.
Many of the schools of 40 years ago are now in ruins, covered with graffiti, with broken windows and standing in tall grass. Money will not fix this problem. Educated Malawians are to be found, of course, working in the United States and Britain. It does not occur to anyone to encourage Malawians themselves to volunteer in the same way that foreigners have done for decades. There are plenty of educated and capable young adults, who would make a much greater difference than outsiders could ever do.
Malawi is a lovely place — much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because it seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their own worth.
Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities, busybodying in Africa loom especially large. You might see them, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, some even reminiscent of Tarzan and Jane.
Ireland’s Bono, in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa’s ills but he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to believe him. In recent times Madonna has hit the Malawi scene as well. I am fully behind visitors as everyone makes a contribution, but could someone move us on to chapter 3.
The arrival of celebrities has some benefits, but few answers. People with money feel more and more money can solve all problems and don’t consider why this approach hasn’t worked in 40 years. The answers lie in Malawi. If Malawians can’t solve it, it won’t be solved. And until every Kwacha of donor money is fully accounted for, no progress will be made and the ordinary people of Malawi will continue to get poorer.
It is a sad thought that it is easier for many Malawians to travel to New York or London than to their own hinterlands. The exodus of skilled Malawians is having disastrous effects.
Ireland must be a leader in the imigration stakes, but it has been immigration with a difference. Our Irish emigrants often left, uneducated, educated themselves and returned to make great contributions, having sent money home to their families in the interim. Malawians who leave are well educated and seem to have little interest in returning to the land that spent valuable resources on their education, particularly since third level education is practically free. I’m not that sure that there is a culture of a cheque in the post, in Malawi, but that too was a great boost for Ireland in the bad old days.
Malawi has no real shortage of capable people — or even of money. The patronising attention of donors has done a disservice to Malawi’s belief in itself. Even in the absence of responsible leadership, Malawians themselves have proven how resilient they can be, something they rarely get credit for.
Again, Ireland may be the model for an answer. After centuries of descending on other countries, the Irish found that education, rational government, people staying put and simple diligence could turn Ireland from an economic basket case into a prosperous nation. — the Irish have proved that there is something to be said for staying home, working hard being a patriot.
Sadly the next few years may put that new found patriotism to the test, but, in Malawi, it may be worth a try