William Easterly’s 2006 book, White Man’s Burden, places the amount of aid sent to Africa over the last 50 years at over $2.3 trillion dollars—yet poverty, corruption, and the AIDS crisis continue to be insurmountable problems there.
Foreign aid’s ongoing failure to spark change recently incited Edward Luttwak to declare that things would improve if only the international community would leave Africa alone. “If anybody cared about Africa what they really would want to do is to do the very opposite: do everything possible to bring about the disappearance of the state,” Luttwak said at a CATO institute event.
A senior associate at the Center for International and Strategic Studies, Luttwak attributes the current African crisis to the structural limitations left behind by colonial powers. Many of these institutions are founded on modern concepts of civil society not necessarily found in these countries, he argues. “The [colonialists] left behind the state structure without any of the moral and ethical, political social superstructure that made that state function,” he said.
“But the real macro effect …[of aid] has been, in direct and indirect ways, to sustain the African state. Instead of undergoing a natural evolution, which is disintegration, disappearance of the state, which would then make it possible for the emergence of organic African political entities [sic],” he said.
Even the CATO Institute moderator, Marian Tupy, found Luttwak’s comments sensational, saying “Well, what can I say. We call this forum ‘a radical solution to underdevelopment’ and as I like to say to my colleagues, ‘if you can’t say it at CATO, there is no where else you can say it.’”
Other policymakers at the conference roundly criticized Luttwak’s suggestion to induce a state of nature in Africa. “Now remember this, it is exactly the same international community which will be called upon to help the refugee problems in neighboring countries,” Professor George Ayittey said, continuing, “So in other words, if a failing African government…collapses, in the end we are the same international community which are asked to come and pick up the pieces.” Such collapsed governments are usually accompanied by “chaos, anarchy, destruction, etcetera,” he pointed out.
The American University professor, a native of Ghana, pointed to the contrast between the international community’s intervention in Somalia (which eventually cost $3.5 billion) and their ensuing reluctance to intervene in Rwanda. In the case of Zimbabwe, he noted, the ensuing “turmoil” drove out investors and has “caused more than $35 billion in economic damage to the economies of the surrounding countries.”
Mauro De Lorenzo, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, pointed out how hubristic it was for the other speakers to assume that Western government aid was keeping African governments viable. “It’s not really in our power to either build the institutions which are going to make African states strong, nor is it in our power to cause them to collapse or prevent them from collapsing if they’re going to do it,” he argued.
Luttwak believes that aid to Africa not only keeps corrupt governments afloat, but is detrimental to the local economies of these nations. “The best kind of aid is where the money gets stolen at source… Stealing at source—why do I say it’s better? Because a lot of the aid projects have been disastrously destructive of wealth,” he said.
Aid, in these cases, is meant to signify economic development assistance—not necessarily humanitarian health programs.
Luttwak later explained, “I myself fortuitously intercepted a project which was introducing some wonderfully improved seeds…and if these people had used these wonderfully improved seeds, they would all have died of hunger because…nobody had checked against the nematodes in the soil.”
Luttwak is not alone in his skepticism of aid’s benefit to African countries.
Easterly also criticized many humanitarian organizations for their top-down approach to aid, working with corrupt governments instead of the local populations’ real needs.
Similarly, Professor Ayittey argues that aid needs to be refocused to target and empower citizens within African countries. “Africa really doesn’t need aid, but in this country, in this town for example, it is extremely difficult to make the case for less aid to Africa, extremely difficult,” he said, continuing “ Now believe me, for the past 20 years I’ve been singing this particular tune. It got us nowhere. Now look, the Bush Administration has quadrupled aid to Africa. So ‘no more aid, no more aid to Africa’ sounds like a broken record.”
Ayittey believes that Africa would be better served by building accountable democratic institutions such as
· an independent media,
· an independent central bank,
· an independent judiciary (e.g., rule of law),
· neutral and professional armed forces,
· an efficient civil service,
· and an independent electoral commission.
“If you gave Africans these six critical institutions, they themselves would cross [sic] out of government. They themselves would reform what in Africa we call the ‘vampire state’,” Ayittey argues.
Bethany Stotts is a Staff Writer at Accuracy in Academia.