African Nations Must Reject Promises of Aid and Handouts to Abandon Their Oil and Gas As COP28 Wraps Up
By NJ Ayuk, Executive Chairman, African Energy Chamber
There was an era when Africa and Western pop music were closely linked.
Western entertainers spearheaded a number of internationally renowned events to raise awareness about the plight of starving Africans and generate funds for famine relief.
In December 1984, the supergroup Band Aid sang about feeding the world, asking “Do They Know it’s Christmas?” Within a year, the group had raised over USD9 million. Three months later, USA for Africa released “We Are the World” and banked USD44.5 million after one year for its African humanitarian fund. Then on a hot July day in 1985, the worldwide concert event Live Aid raised more than USD150 million for famine relief in Africa.
These are just a handful of grand and noble gestures intended to lift Africa out of poverty. And these famous events arguably raised both awareness and funds. Unfortunately, the efforts — and others like them — fall far short of making any real socioeconomic change. In fact, some argue that injecting monetary aid into Africa, time and time again, has actually done more harm than good.
I acknowledge that stance may sound ungrateful. At first blush, many might counter that starving people have no agenda. Destitute parents still need to feed their children. Turning a blind eye to their plight is inhumane.
Let me explain why the African Energy Chamber (AEC) continues to push for free-market solutions rather than good-will handouts.
History of ‘Help’
Even aid genuinely given to help Africa tends to do more harm than good.
Since 1960, more than USD2.6 trillion has been pumped into Africa in the form of aid. From 1970 and 1998, when aid was at its peak, poverty actually rose alarmingly — from 11% to 66% — due in large part to this massive influx of foreign aid that counteracted its intended good.
Aid decreased long-term economic growth by fueling systemic corruption, in which powerful aid recipients funneled foreign funds into a personal stash instead of public investment. Many leaders realized that they no longer needed to invest in social programs for their constituents because of the revenues from foreign donors.
Large inflows of aid also caused higher inflation, hindering African nations’ international competitiveness in exporting. That resulted in diminishing the manufacturing sector – which is critical in helping developing economies grow — across the continent. And well-intentioned Westerners who saw the economic shrink just kept pouring more and more money at “the problem” — leading to a vicious cycle that furthered corruption and economic decline.
But here’s the kicker: The World Bank has admitted that 75% of the agricultural projects it implemented to help Africa failed. So why do they and other aid providers continue to fund these failing efforts?
Examples of Failure
Across the continent, we see example after example of failed aid projects, with agricultural projects routinely providing little or no benefit to African farmers.
In Mali, the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) injected USD10 million into “Operation Mils Mopti” to increase grain production. The government imposed “official” prices on the grain, which forced farmers to sell their crops at these below-market rates and resulted in grain production falling by 80%.
AID also spent USD4 million to help livestock producers grow the number of cattle in the Bakel region from 11,200 to 25,000 — but ultimately only succeeded in increasing it by 882 head. Another USD7 million was injected into the Sodespt region, but that investment managed to sell only 263 cattle and failed to sell any goats or sheep.
Then we see example after example of Westerners wastefully “helping” without any understanding of the local situation. Norwegian aid agencies built a fish-freezing plant to improve employment in northern Kenya — a region where the local people traditionally do not fish because of their semi-nomadic pastoralist lifestyle. Couple the lack of fishing experience with the unfortunate reality that the plant required more power than was available in the entire region, and the result was that the brand-new processing plant sat idle.
The World Bank financed a USD10+ million expansion of Tanzania’s cashew-processing capabilities, which resulted in 11 factories with the capacity to process three times as many cashews as the country was growing on a yearly basis. The plants were too efficient for the available workforce and cost so much to run that it was cheaper to process the raw nuts in India. Half the plants were inoperable, and the other half only ran at about 20% capacity.
I’m not saying that we Africans are ungrateful for the outpouring of heartfelt care. The compassion of the West is certainly real. However, the outcome of said compassion is the concern: The more foreign aid African governments receive, the worse they perform. As long as the aid keeps flowing, government leaders and their employees who administer development programs may prosper while the rest of the citizenry continues to suffer the effects of a mismanaged economy.