Out of Africa?: Foreign aid is part of the problem, but so is corrupt politics.

Francis Fukuyama – Slate

Copyright Slate
An excerpt of a discussion of new books on Africa by Wangari Maathai and Zambian Dambisa Moyo:
…If bad politics is at the heart of Africa’s development problem, how did it come to be that way, and how can the region evolve in a different direction? Here the two authors, obviously, differ markedly. Dambisa Moyo is ready with evidence to back up her lengthy indictment of foreign aid as the source of bad government. She notes that during the Cold War, aid was given out indiscriminately to rulers like Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, who flew his daughter to a wedding on a Concorde the moment Western donors agreed to reschedule a loan. Were it not for the continued availability of concessional loans, she argues, African countries would be forced to get their acts together and meet international governance standards so as to be able to access global bond markets.
There is a lot to this argument. Foreign assistance in the past has simply fueled the patronage machine and helped keep corrupt rulers in power in places like Somalia and Equatorial Guinea. African governments, many of which receive upward of 50 percent of their national budgets from international donors, find themselves accountable not to their people but to overlapping and contradictory echelons of foreigners. Even seemingly benign interventions like humanitarian food aid can undercut local farmers or be used as a means of strengthening the ethnic base of particular politicians.
But Moyo’s case that Africa would have good government if it weren’t for the influx of aid stretches credulity. The roots of Africa’s political malaise go far deeper than the post-independence foreign-aid regime. Unlike East Asia before its encounter with colonialism, more than half of sub-Saharan Africa was not governed by a state structure at the time of the European scramble for Africa that began in the 1870s. The Europeans built colonial institutions on the cheap, seeking to govern vast tracts of territory with skeleton administrations. The big man of contemporary African politics is in many ways a colonial creation, since Europeans sought to rule indirectly by empowering a series of local dictators to carry out their purposes. And, finally, colonialism imposed a set of irrational borders on their colonies. South Sudan fought a 30-year civil war with the regime in Khartoum only because a long-dead British administrator in Cairo didn’t want to offend Egypt by giving it to Uganda, where it more naturally belonged…
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