Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Phenomenal and the Fundamental

Dambisa Moyo (Foreign Policy, “The Next Big Thing: Africa,” May/June 2009) argues that the current global economic crisis could benefit Africa by reducing the supply of foreign aid to the continent. This is on the grounds that aid is not only ineffective but counterproductive (as so ably shown in her highly stimulating and readable recent book “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa”) and that the removal of aid will force African leaders to find alternatives.

Moyo states that “Africa’s renaissance is firstly economic” and gives a largely economic analysis of the continent’s predicament and possibilities—not entirely surprising perhaps since she’s an economist.

But this approach is somewhat misleading in that it deals with phenomena and not fundamentals.

It is true that the removal of foreign aid will prompt the search for other sources of funding. However, fundamentally, it is not true that these alternatives will necessarily be good, as we see from the recent history of aid-starved Zimbabwe, where hyperinflationary printing of money was used as an alternative source of government funding.

It is true that there have been some improvements in governance, access to telecommunications via mobile telephony, and financial systems in Africa. However, unless these improvements are fundamentally linked with the cultural and institutional entrenchment of democratic values, progress will be ephemeral and short-lived.

This is the basic challenge facing Africa: Not the need for a past-focused African Renaissance to restore lost African identity and pride; but the need for a future-focused African Enlightenment based on the best ideas and ideals, which Africans themselves create, adopt (regardless of historical or geographical origin), cultivate and implement. This is much more involving, but ultimately sustainable, than any other development strategy for it embraces all aspects of that quality that Africa and Africans have been in search of for so many decades: Freedom.


Dave Lucas said...

You and your readers may be interested in a recent interview I conducted with Dambisa and one of her critics, an African student attending college in Canada.

ambersun said...

An interesting post. I hope Africa does, indeed, become more independent and enlightened although I wouldn't know how this could happen.