The answer to why Africa is poor is simply that its leaders have made this choice, argues Greg Mills in Why Africa is Poor: And What Africans Can Do About It (published in 2011 by Penguin). The Big Man mentality that is ubiquitous all over the continent has done Africa’s development a lot of harm.
Aid, on the other hand, has proven to have the opposite of its desired effect in the continent – it has helped us move backwards rather than catapult us forward into the league of other nations of the world. “Aid results in less, not more development,” says the author who in 2008 served as adviser to Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
The rulers of Africa have externalized her problems, blaming the donor countries and bodies for all her unaccomplished ills. Often when foreign development finance is within reach, the Big Man will only accept it, argues the author, if it is in his personal and financial self-interest or that of his family.
The quagmire that modern-day Democratic Republic of Congo finds itself in can be traced back to the bad fiscal management of the Mobutu Sese Seko regime in the then Zaire. He had no interest in the welfare of the general population – only in the gains due to him personally and his immediate family and, further down the line, his cronies.
The stark difference between, say, Vietnam and her African counterparts that had known the ravages of colonialism and war is that while the rulers in the East are committed to rebuilding the country, those in Africa are in it merely to line their own pockets. The government of Vietnam (page 66) is driven by the imperative to raise the living standards of all her people. This resulted in the country enjoying 20 years of high-paced economic growth, lifting 50 million people out of poverty in the process.
If Vietnam can do this, why can’t any of the African countries once assailed by similar crises lift themselves, even remotely, out of the hardships?
The sad truth is that Africa’s economic challenges are strictly the designs of her politics.
The book is not just another high-brow discourse on the troubles that beset us but it also offers clear guidelines on “what Africans can do about it”.
Our man-made problems are not beyond us to solve. But the question is, how many of Africa’s rulers are prepared to embark on this drive to remedy the situation?
If, almost overnight, Vietnam can become an exporter of rice, no longer an importer, why has Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of the continent, suddenly become a sorry basket case?
Look no further than the political leadership, Mills implores.
Now sure-footed thanks to a thinking leadership, those at the helm in Kazakhstan swear it will never be a colony again. Robert Mugabe is famous for saying the same too but where is Zimbabwe in the greater scheme of things. Next to the former USSR ‘Bantustan’ it is a poor enclave.
Kazakhstan took $40 billion from oil revenue to put it into a rainy days fund. But in Nigeria, such revenue has disappeared into offshore accounts of rulers and is largely unaccounted for. The oil-rich Niger Delta has in fact become a blight that mars Nigeria.
Harsh as it may seem, the thrust of the thought-provoking book is that aid is no good for Africa. The status quo will remain until bad leaders and their wrong policies are replaced by fresh minds open to the opportunities than come with globalization.
© makatilemedia 03/2012