Rich lending nations love to see Africa poor

AUTHOR Robert Greene in his book titled: 48 Laws of Power, writes, ‘Learn to keep people dependent on you. Never teach or give them enough so that they can do without you.'

By Joyce Njeri

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Published: Wed 12 Sep 2007, 8:40 AM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 1:34 AM

This book is my second bible, of course after the real Good Book. In this eleventh law, Greene expounds: ‘To maintain your independence, you must always be needed and wanted. Make people depend on you for their happiness and prosperity and you have nothing to fear.'

He gives an example of a person who has slacken his thirst. He says that this person immediately turns his back on the well, no longer needing it. ‘When dependence disappears, so does civility and decency, then does respect,' he argues.

Let me come back to my topic of the week. There's a certain image that conjures up in someone's mind when some countries in Africa are mentioned. A picture of a young eight-year-old boy, vagaries of malnutrition showing on his petite body with a distended stomach, protruding ribbed chest and holding a bowl on his skinny hands waiting for alms. Isn't that right?

The truth of the matter is that rich western countries are happy to see Africa surviving on monetary aid. They have perfected the art of applying Robert Greene's eleventh law with abandon. The continent has continuously been portrayed in extremities by the international media notably for famine, the HIV/Aids pandemic, civil wars and increasing poverty.

But let me put it straight. This is a rich continent that can do without aid, but powerful nations have continued to scuttle that because they know very well they get paid back the debt in huge profits. In my local language back home there's a saying that goes: Cheap is expensive. As easy and cheap the loans come, poor Africans bear the pain of repaying the expensive debt back.

It is important to note, however, that despite the generous monetary aid the continent receives, poverty levels have increased. Does this ring a bell now? Put simpler, increase in aid leads to increase of poverty levels. This is where the rich countries know how to manipulate and play their cards right.

What prompted me to write about money, though something I abhor, was the report I read in Kenya's press this week, that the country's debt burden has risen. The debt went up from 18.6 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) in the year 2004 and 2005 to 20 per cent by the end of 2005 and 2006.

Though I welcomed the recent G8 summit debate on debt relief to impoverished nations, Kenya was not among the lucky forgiven countries. I will not be treading uncharted waters by saying that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been pushing poor African governments with aid conditions that are of no particular benefit to the people of Africa.

Africa does not need aid, but the opportunity for fair trade! From South Africa to Sudan, Tanzania to Benin, it is common knowledge that the continent is rich in natural resources but its people continue to languish in absolute poverty. Why? Unfair trade practises as well as manipulation by developed countries that are always fast to give them aid.

No single country has ever developed by depending on aid. Of course there are other self inflicted causes in Africa like corrupt governments and leaders, unequal distribution of wealth, poor planning, lack of respect for the rule of law and illiteracy. All these factors have worked to reverse the little gain the continent had made in the early years.

In Botswana, for instance, tourism is the second largest industry after diamonds and worth around $250 million a year to the economy. Flowers and tea exports in Kenya earn the country more than $800 million annually. Gold in Angola, textile products from South Africa and cocoa from Ghana are few examples. But the sad thing is that a huge percentage of revenue and profits from these products all go to debt servicing.

Another sin the ‘big guys' perpetrate in Africa is the so called ‘privatisation' of major organisations that provide essential services to the local citizens. These include banks, oil and power sector, telecommunications, water and railways. Majority of multinationals are now controlling these sectors and minting huge profits while sending all the funds to their home countries. The profits are not ploughed back into the local economy.

The whole affair is a game that goes round and round. If there is to be any achievement, African governments must realise that the continent can develop with its own resources so long as there is no external interference from the rich Mr ‘Money Bags.'

Joyce Njeri is a Sub Editor with Khaleej Times. She can be reached at joyce@khaleejtimes.com



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