by Bruce Poinsette
Imagine if the financial crisis got so bad American people could no longer afford mom-and-pop restaurants. What if the government responded by subsidizing McDonald's to pass out free hamburgers throughout the country? How long do you think it would take the economy, much less out-of-business restaurant owners, to get back on its feet?
Obviously the U.S. government wouldn't do this at home, so why do we proudly do it throughout Africa?
Nearly $1 trillion has been spent on aid to Africa since the 1950s.
However, poverty is still rampant throughout the continent with 35.6 percent of the population projected to be living on $1 a day in 2015, according to the World Bank. When aid to Africa was at its peak, from 1970 to 1998, poverty in the continent rose from 11 percent to 66 percent.
One problem is that aid is usually transferred on a government-to-government basis, a process that lends itself to corruption. More importantly, aid is given for things like food instead of infrastructure, which creates a cycle of dependence and undercuts local economies.
Rich countries like the U.S. want to save the world, but they don't listen to the people they're supposed to be helping or take their needs into account.
The very nature of treating another group of people like children creates a fundamental problem before aid is even disbursed.
Africa is treated like a homogenous continent, when that couldn't be further from the truth. Sending money to an entity with no context of its specific condition is generally a bad investment, so why would we do that with entire countries?
Much of modern aid is based on the Marshall Plan, where the U.S. provided aid to European countries following World War II. This successfully helped bring European countries back into the world economy, but it came under vastly different conditions than African countries receiving aid today. The necessary institutions were already in place. Infrastructure just needed to be rebuilt so these institutions could run again.
Many African countries became independent from colonial rule following independence movements of the 1960s. Thus, they didn't have stable institutions in place.
Consequently, rich countries have sent aid money on a government-to-government basis, where it often lands in the hands of corrupt politicians. For example, Mobutu Sese Seko, former president of Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of Congo), is estimated to have diverted $5 billion into foreign bank accounts, according to Dambisa Moyo's book "Dead Aid."
When aid money does reach the people, it is often counterproductive to development.
There is a common misconception that poor countries, specifically poor African countries, are starving because they need food.
In actuality, countries throughout Africa have agriculture sectors big enough to feed the population. The problem is, many people can't afford the food they provide. Furthermore, the farmers can't compete with global food prices.
According to "Dead Aid," a European cow receives $2.50 a day in subsidies from the European Union. An African cow can't compete because the governments don't have nearly as much money to subsidize their livestock.
When starving people have a choice between free food aid and agriculture they can't afford, they're going to choose the food aid. Thus, the agricultural sector is permanently hamstrung, and the farmers, as well as their potential customers, remain poor.
Some may argue food aid constitutes a significant portion of business for U.S. farmers, which is true, but at what cost? We're aiding our farmers to keep the African continent perpetually dependent.
If we were so serious about feeding the people of Africa, wouldn't it make more sense to subsidize their farmers to make food affordable?
Still, it would make more sense to invest in infrastructure — such as road building and education — because it provides more jobs for people so they can afford the food and keep farmers in business.
Recently, China has embarked on this path. However, China has not simply given aid money, but invested in infrastructure in return for natural resources.
True independence requires financial empowerment, which can only be achieved through trade and development of the business sector.
With gas prices continually rising in the U.S. (not for lack of oil, but due to speculation), wouldn't it make sense to look into trade with an oil-rich country like Angola?
Another aspect of facilitating trade would be easing import restrictions in the U.S. According to "Dead Aid," the U.S. only allows three percent of clothing imports from Africa.
We could easily have more demand for comfortable African formal attire if we didn't keep the supply stagnant.
What does it say when we pay our farmers to dump off extra crops in aid countries, but we set a limit on capitalism when it comes back the other way?
We could do more for sub-Saharan African countries, which are notorious for not trading with each other, by facilitating trade between them.
Financial empowerment can only come from a business sector, not dependent on aid.
Remember — China was behind Malawi, Burundi and Burkina Faso in per-capita income 30 years ago.
Things can change, but it won't be through aid — which is just oppression with a smile.
The Daily Emerald