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Africa Aid

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The pop charity bandwagon is rolling again. Scruffy old Irish pop singers are reviving their careers by going back to Africa and World Poverty and bringing the banality of pop lyric clichés to a very serious and heart rending problem. Anything that brings charity to the forefront of the public mind (which is usually hypnotized into throwing immoral sums of money away on the most selfish, ephemeral and transient of fads) can’t be all bad but to claim that people power demonstrating against selfish rich white men and women will change Africa is absolute codswallop. Far more money has been pored into Africa than any other continent. Band Aid and other clones raised millions for famine relief. And the result? Nada. And to add the AIDS issue to the pot is further dishonesty because the worst affected country is one of the richest, South Africa.

Africa seems to be an almost doomed continent–doomed to its own mismanagement. I remember the tremendous enthusiasm that the retreat of colonialism ushered in forty years or so ago. Now at last Africa would be run by Africans and escape from the often cruel and arbitrary regimes that European powers imposed upon them. I remember Kwame Nkrumah the first President of Ghana, a wise statesman and a symbol of the new African leader. And I was friendly with some members of the Tubman family that provided enlightened (if self-interested) rule in Liberia.

Tragically, everything began to unravel with civil wars and regime changes. At the same time, colonial powers such as France (to name the worst offender) supported and financed corrupt black dictators, to retain power and control over natural resources. (That was why France encouraged the Hutu massacres.)

Patrice Lumumba was assassinated because of his left wing his views, by thugs paid by the CIA with the connivance of the so-called UN Peacekeepers as well as Belgium. The war in Angola was sustained by rival powers for a generation thanks to Unita getting its hands on diamonds. Uganda was all but destroyed by Idi Amin, and Kenya sunk into a mire of its own corruption. Ethiopia was torn apart, and Sudan veered from one extreme to another. The old British Colonies of East Africa were slowly allowed to decay, either intentionally or unintentionally, by men like Kaunda or Mugabe, who started out as enlightened thinkers and ended up brute bullies. The richest country, Nigeria, has been pulled apart ever since Biafra, divided along warring ethnic lines and subject to rapacious military dictators and gangs of economic terrorists.

I campaigned against Apartheid in South Africa as an active member of the anti-Apartheid movement, and in return the Durban conference brands Jews as racists. And although the Mandela transition was a miracle, all the signs are there, under Mbeki, of a State increasingly corrupt and reluctant to rein in far more corrupt neighbours, and unwilling to take good advice on health matters because the do-gooders are perceived as ‘white’.

Wherever one looks in Africa today the picture is all but disastrous with a few notable exceptions from every point of view. And no one gives a damn. So in Darfur there is genocide, mass rape and looting going on, as I write. Nothing is being done. Africa is telling everyone else to keep out and the white doctors of Medecin Sans Frontier are being forced out on trumped-up charges, but the bloody UN can’t agree to do anything. And almost every year somewhere in Africa there is a famine because fighting prevents farmers from harvesting–not because there is no money but because it is not being used honestly or wisely.

Why send more aid to Africa unless you seriously address the root cause of the problem? It is true that, halachically speaking, even if a wastrel comes to your door you must help keep him alive. But the truest form of charity is to help someone become self-sufficient. To do this in Africa there must be regime change, but the West cannot do this because it is either corrupt like France or self-interested like the USA or unwilling to interfere in internal affairs like the rest of Africa and the UN. And to make matters worse any white state is accused of cultural imperialism but most of the black states won’t do a bloody thing because Mugabe, or whoever, is black.

If Africa either cannot or will not change itself, then what is the logic of pouring money in?

Geldof blames the G8 countries for imposing debts, but it was the black regimes that asked for the money–not to improve their countries but to line the pockets of the dictators and oligarchies, and the West encouraged them

There is the separate issue of free trade which is the real problem. But all world powers are almost equally to blame. China undercuts all other textile and cheap manufacturing. The EU is pretty immoral with its Common Agricultural Policy and the US protects and subsidizes many of its industries. The fact is that free economies produce the wealth that helps its citizens escape poverty. This is why China has been spectacularly successful in raising living standards, far better than incompetent, dirigist economies like India. It’s not that China is a democracy. It isn’t. But it now encourages free enterprise. It learnt from its Maoist mistakes.

I have serious reservations about democracies. Most of them are corrupt in various and varying degrees and democracy is often a mask for oligarchy and self-interest. So I do not agree that democracy, in itself, will bring change. India is proof of that. But free economy produces results. And yet, and yet, the big powers bully the weaker ones and actually do not help them trade fairly or freely against the big over protected giants.

If we cannot get regime change then at least let’s go for economic change. Either one or the other. Meanwhile, Africa and its friends should stop blaming the West. The Colonial powers have a lot to answer for, it’s true. But not everything. Slavery was encouraged by African chieftains. They delivered their own people to cruel white slave traders for the moolah. Current African chieftains beggar their own people for personal gain. Until this is addressed the only people to do well out of pop concerts will be the pop stars.

Blaming only one side is futile. Being honest includes seeing one’s own faults, not only those of others. Geldof’s cheap barbs at the G8 are easy crowd pleasers, and Lord knows the G8 is not made up of saints. You might argue that at least the pop guys are raising the issue. They are. But they are disguising the real problems which, incidentally make them richer.

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