Reuters reports, “The world’s wealthiest countries agreed on Saturday to write off more than $40 billion of African debts.”
“The deal struck by finance ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations is part of a British-led campaign to rid sub-Saharan Africa of poverty and diseases such as malaria and AIDS that kill millions every year.
“British Finance Minister Gordon Brown said the deal would provide 100 percent write-offs immediately for 18 countries and that more countries would qualify for relief later.”
Brtitain, chairing the G8 this year, is seeking to double aid to the world’s poorest countries by issuing $100 billion of bonds backed by wealthy nations’ development budgets. The United States and Japan oppose the plan.
Reuters reports that former rock music star Bob Geldof and others are “urging a million people to turn up in Gleneagles, Scotland, [at next month’s G8 meeting] to demand a deal on aid for Africa.”
The debt relief campaigners who are complaining that the deal is a drop in an ocean of need are correct, but there is great room for debate over whether debt relief and more aid directed to the governments of most African nations is the best course.
That debate will certainly arise, and it will undoubtedly be heated.
As we evaluate that argument in the coming weeks, it will be important to bear in mind one central fact:
Nobody in any position of responsibility wants Africa to be mired in poverty, disease, and despair.
Nobody—not the United States and Japan, not Great Britain, not the leaders of other wealthy nations, not the leaders of African nations—nobody wants Africa to be poor.
Everybody, on both sides of the argument over African aid, wants Africa to become healthy and prosperous.
The question is, how to do it. Government-to-government aid and NGO-to-government aid have proven ineffective. There can be no doubt of that. The request for debt forgivness shows that, for if the past half-century of aid directed to African governments had been effective, the present discussion would be moot. Fast growth is possible, but aid to the post-colonial African governments has been a failure. The legacy of colonialism is reall but cannot explain or excuse this failure, for other post-colonial nations have prospered greatly during the same period.
Moreover, it is axiomatic that debt forgiveness rewards profligacy. The relief that is sent seldom trickles down to the people and is instead used to prop up corrupt governments. These are facts, not moral judgments.
The people of Africa, like all people anywhere, deserve better.
The current and proposed rounds of debt forgiveness probably will not do much harm in encouraging corruption among African governments, and should probably move forward. FOr all too many African governments, it would be difficult to be less responsive to the needs of their people.
There are other ways to accomplish aid to Africa, however, and it is time that these move to the fore while we work out the debt relief question.
One excellent proposal is to make the World Bank a true bank, one that allows private organizations in developing nations to draw on accounts that will enable them to implement individualized projects covering a wide variety of constructive activities that give aid where it will do the most good, such as in construction of hospitals, water treatment, malaria prevention, agriciultural technology, building of roads (a critical problem in many African countries), literacy, immunization, AIDS prevention and treatment (including unbiased research into the causes of Africa’s high incidence of the disease), and much, much more.
Other, similar, new financing approaches could fund a great flowering of help for Africa, directed where it will do the most good. People in the wealthy nations want to help, but their aid has not been effective.
Governments all over the world have perpetually proven that their first priority is that of retaining their own power. That is a given, and we cannot change it. We can, however, use it to force those governments to allow help from other nations to reach their people. The next wave of aid to Africa, therefore, must include requirements that governments receiving aid allow the kind of targeted, widespread aid outlined here to reach the people of Africa.
Only then will the wealthy nations truly be able to help the people of Africa.