Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Take backs

I’d like to take back (or re-think) my comment yesterday regarding the role Africans must play in democratizing their countries, ushering in a respect for the rule of law, freedom of the press and that other good stuff. To tell you the truth, I was inspired by a comment page on the BBC where readers could write in and respond to this question: Should there be a limit to the amount of terms or years African leaders serve? By looking at the names or the addresses, most of the comments were from Africans themselves. The polling wasn’t scientific by any means, but the responses sent a clear reminder how much the West needs to consider the opinions of regular Africans in this process.

Ok, put that aside for a moment.

My new argument is that the Western/Donor/Former-Colonial nations have a role to play in this, too. It’s their money (or, their taxpayer money) that funds these countries and we should have a say in the matter. That’s not to say regular Africans shouldn’t have a say; they should, perhaps they should possess the greatest say. Also, I don’t mean to say that the West should instruct a foreign government how to run its own country. (That went out in 2003.)

Rather, donors have the right choose whether a country gets funding at all. It’s the right of the West to say no to aid – although few countries have the guts to pull out every stake and walk away from the table.

Perhaps these donor nations can take the lead from Robert Calderisi, a former World Bank guy and author of The Trouble with Africa: Why foreign aid isn’t working. In his primer on ten ways to change Africa, he says the Richie-Rich nations should “focus foreign aid on five countries that are serious about reducing poverty.”

That’s right, have the international aid community give five well-run governments blank checks to help them fight poverty, hire teachers in villages, fight river blindness, whatever they choose. He creates this list from what he sees are the best run governments on the continent: Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Tanzania and maybe Mali. (My paperback has a 2006 copyright date, so my guess is that he would now include Mali on the list.)

His argument is simple: these well run governments are transparent enough so corruption isn’t a major worry and inclusive enough so the people have a say on where this development money should go. (Which should be the whole point of development.)

As for those other countries? He’d like to expand the list and give out money to more countries, but not until their governments start playing nice.

“The number could grow,” he writes of the list of five, “as political systems throughout the continent are opened up, corrupt leaders are replaced, and the benefits of self-directed development become clear.”

His arguments remind me of another World Bank turncoat, William Easterly, who wrote a book with a title surprisingly similar to Calderisi’s: The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. (What is it with these former World Bank guys and their long titles?)

Easterly looks at development from a global vantage point and is markedly crankier than Calderisi (he’s an economist), but nobody would confuse either as a stoolie of the development crowd. Calderisi’s prescription for those leaders who don’t meet his demands: “[G]overnments that are indifferent to poverty, cannot guarantee basic education for their citizens, or offer only lip service to fighting HIV/AIDS should not be helped at all.”

If you think that is harsh, his prescription goes on from there:

  • Introduce mechanisms for recovering public funds, that is put controls on secret banks and money stashes of African leaders, just like you’d target terrorist organizations;
  • Require all heads of state, ministers and senior officials to open their bank accounts for public scrutiny. (My guess is the political big wig building the mansion across the street from my house may not support that one.);
  • Require all countries to hold internationally supervised elections;
  • Supervise the running of Africa’s schools and HIV/AIDS programs. I never said he was a bleeding heart.

It’s a bitter pill, this stuff. But as a Ghanaian said in the BBC forum:

African democracy is in its early stages and therefore must be given enough chance to grow. The continent is now going though an era of transition from the military days to the rule of law. In order to avoid the mistakes of the past, African leaders should not be given the mandate to rule for more than four years. The longer they stay in power the more complacent and less popular they become. We must give democracy a chance.

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