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

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2 thoughts on “Is aid, like Aids, killing Africa?

  1. Thanks for the blog. I have heard both sides that aid helps and hurts Africa. I don’t think anyone can say definitively that one way is better than the other. Because just as developed nations have a complex economic structure so does undeveloped countries. There is history, social-political and disease that have affected Malawi. That it is not so easy for us (I am from Malawi) to model after any country. We have a way to go, and I think its not that young people like me don’t want to go back and invest in our own countries. We do in great numbers, its just that we need people to trust us and give us money to invest in businesses or the banks in Malawi should reduce their high 20% interest. We don’t want to be separated from our family members its just that we work or go to school in the developed countries with the thoughts of always wanting to either go back to our countries or remain connected in someway in our homeland. We just lack the resources to go back and start our own businesses.
    Secondly having Madonna help Malawi should not be shunned. She is helping orphans who don’t have anybody to come to their rescue and her work is helping. The results may not be realized until years down the road, but at least she has planted the seed for Malawi to grow in the years to come regardless of her motives.
    Third, I truly believe the younger generation will choose to live at home as more jobs are available for them to return to. Or more opportunities are available to start their own businesses. I have to say I am proud that Bingu has done his best to end corruption. He has cutoff the wasteful spending that presidents before had done is such a disgraceful way.

    Thanks for the post, I am glad that people are paying attention to our beloved warm heart of Africa. Thanks for the wells you are putting in Malawi.

  2. My view is that every person is entitled to a social and economic order where they can fully realise their potential and nobody is obliged to sacrifice their livelihood unless they have a higher order calling to do so or unless they feel it is right. People who go to work elsewhere have families and a chain of distant relatives to take care of– the same relatives that our governments do not care about– we live in exile in order to genearate enough income to feed and educate these relatives who would otheriwise die without our support. Moreover, most of these governments favour their own and tribalism and ethnicity is killing Africa. It is not true that aid is killing Africa it is bad governance and unaccountable leadership that is killing Africa.

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