The captured state

Richard Dowden – Prospect

Copyright – Prospect
August 2005 | The captured state: Elites in the Asian tiger countries run the state in the public interest. In most of Africa, elites run the state in their own interests. Matthew Lockwood has written the best Africa book this year
Richard Dowden is director of the Royal African Society
The State They’re In by Matthew Lockwood
(ITDG Publishing, £12.95)
Of the many books that have crossed my desk in this year of Africa—Geldof on Africa, Sachs on poverty, the Commission for Africa report—at last here is one that hits the bullseye.
Matthew Lockwood worked in the development aid business for 20 years and wants to know why it is not working in Africa. For decades, aid donors have tried carrots, sticks and a host of measures in between to try to get development moving in Africa. They failed. Have aid donors done something wrong? Is there something that works in every other developing country but not—apparently—in Africa?
Lockwood has come up with the missing piece of the jigsaw. It is African politics. The reason that—South Africa apart—sub-Saharan Africa has not developed is that it has not been in the interests of the controlling elites to develop it. In contrast to the “developmental states” of Asia—such as South Korea and Taiwan—which grew rich in the 1970s and 1980s by educating their populations and investing in export industries, Lockwood calls Africa’s states anti-developmental, arguing that they actively discourage business, trade and innovation. In Asia, the rulers, often military men or one-party-state dictators just as in Africa, had a sense of national purpose, and the state broadly functioned for the public good. In Africa, the rulers captured the state, its institutions and sources of wealth, and kept it for themselves. They used it not to generate national wealth, but as sources of patronage to reward followers. Where reforms urged by western donors have threatened their interests, they “have resisted them until they have found ways to secure those interests in other ways,” says Lockwood.
This is not a polemic by a disillusioned aid worker: every assertion is backed up with citations from experts and World Bank reports. Neither is it a wholly original argument. But it is a timely critique of the view of Africa beloved of aid agencies and rock stars and adopted by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. That vision sees Africa as a victim of neglect, of international trade rules, too much debt and lack of aid. Support for dictators during the cold war and mistaken IMF and World Bank programmes in the 1980s are cited as other reasons for Africa’s decline. (They rarely point out that Asian countries were also involved in the cold war, and had to deal with the IMF and World Bank too.) Lockwood points out that while the Asian tigers overtook and soared ahead, Africa remained dependent on a few raw commodities and lost market share, even in traditional African commodities, to Asian producers. With coffee, for example, while Ugandan production has remained level in recent years, Vietnam has in the past 20 years or so gone from zero to producing 20 times more than Uganda. As African industry withered, the Asian tigers managed to break into western markets even when tariffs were high. Tariffs today are non-existent or low for African produce, but Africa simply does not produce the right goods at the right price.
Of all the other books on the state of Africa this year, none has come near to confronting this fundamental truth. Jeffrey Sachs, for example, seems blissfully unaware of the realities of African politics. The Commission for Africa report comes closest but still makes too much use of that neutral word “governance” to evade the brutal core of Africa’s political problem. The report claims, on very thin evidence, that governance is getting better. On this basis, it urges an immediate doubling of aid—though it is honest enough to admit that the first tranches of aid must be used to build government capacity. Lockwood says it is not at all clear whether governance is improving. He is right.
The problem is not an inefficient civil service or lack of local government. Nor is it just about corruption. The governing class in Asia was often corrupt too. But they ploughed back their money into their own countries. In Africa, an estimated 40 per cent of privately owned wealth—about half the value of Africa’s debt stock—is held outside the continent. How can Africa ask for more foreign investment when its own wealthy do not invest in their own countries? African rulers strain every muscle to prevent anyone else developing a wealth or power base, even at the price of famine, war and national economic ruin. As they say in Kenya, it doesn’t matter how thin the cow gets if you are the only one on the teat.
When that changes, African countries will develop. Africans will not flee abroad, people will have better health, their children will go to schools. Until it happens, we can double, triple, quadruple aid to Africa, and although we may see a small improvement for a while, nothing will really change. Africa will not grow.
This leads to the conclusion that only Africans can develop Africa. “The international community can play only a minor, supporting role in this drama,” says Lockwood. This is often a hard lesson for donors to accept. It also casts doubt on the Live 8 message that we—or even eight men in a Scottish hotel in July—can end poverty in Africa. The Make Poverty History message has set everyone up for cruel disillusionment.
But what is to be done? The dilemma is that the majority of poor people in Africa live in badly run—though often rich—countries that are held back by their political structures. Aid to these countries helps to preserve the status quo. It is a dilemma no one has an answer to, not even Lockwood. He recommends setting an aid safety net for Africans and basing aid more on incentives: give aid to governments that hit targets for health, education and economic performance.
He also touches on the damage that rich countries still do to Africa. We may not be able to “save” Africa, but we can ensure that we do less harm. That does not just mean reforming our trade rules. It also means ending unnecessary arms sales (see Joe Roeber page 52), tackling corruption by western-based companies in Africa, tracking stolen money in western bank accounts. It means stopping and reversing the brain drain from Africa and thinking creatively of ways in which African professionals abroad can be helped to contribute to development in their own countries. This may not save Africa, but it will remove some of the barriers to it creating its own future.End of the article


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