Aid to Africa, an epitome of corruption

The Palaver Hut

The British Prime Minister David Cameron recently vowed to double UK trade to China to $100bn (£62bn) a year by 2015.

At the same time, he announced a whooping £12bn in Aid deal for encouraging democratic reform in Africa. I thought, what an eye catching, mouth watering offer to make to a cash-strapped continent, for some greedy government officials to embezzle into their personal Swiss bank accounts again and again.

Since the Coalition Government’s slogan is ‘Change’, with job cuts and benefits slashed up and down in the UK to save money, I would have expected Mr. Cameron to ignore the old-time practice; I mean the so-called ‘budget support’ to African governments, and to channel that money through existing Non-Governmental Organisations that have proven track record of reaching the most needy people in Africa.

And this has made me wonder whether the prime minister has any idea of how the money would be spent? Well, I’d tell him, if he denied knowing. The recently-released Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index for 2010 shows that corruption is widespread in Africa and is a major obstacle to the continent’s development. In Cote d’Ivoire, for instance, clandestine road tolls cost the Ivorian economy US$600 million. The Mayor of Nairobi faced a KSh 283.2 million fraud charge. And what should be an example to the whole of Africa, the successful implementation of the Rwanda 2003 Constitution has made corruption negligible. In fact, not one single African country is immune to all sorts of embezzlements and corruptions.

And let’s not forget the Liberian President Johnson Sirleaf who declared corruption a number-one problem in the country, saying she would tackle it head on. Even in Liberia, there are numerous daily reports of millions of dollars pillaged from the various ministries.

I think we can all agree on the fact that there’s considerable corruption in Africa. It’s no longer news that the foreign Aid to Africa doesn’t come cheap. We all know it comes with a price of influencing selfish and self-centred policy change in Africa by direction, omission and commission.

If we are waiting for the Western leaders to trigger economic development (Health-Care, Education, Infrastructures, Security and other beneficial public goods in Africa) where African governments have failed due to corruption, then I believe that it won’t happen.

As an African who has experienced life both in Africa and abroad, I’ve came to realise that the free-aid handouts given to African governments has often been ineffective and in many cases harmful. For instance, the US Government encourages and financially supports American farmers to produce far more food than the country needs. This creates food security. At the same time, the Western countries discourage African countries from giving subsidies to their farmers. The US Government then takes that food surplus and ships it to African countries experiencing famine – the result is good for American farmers and shipping companies, but very bad for African farmers, who are forced to compete against free food. As it appears, many African governments rely on the Aid from the Western governments for a large slice of their ‘inflatable’ annual spends.  

This makes those African leaders continue to be puppets of the international aid community, which in practice is hindering true democratic development in Africa.

Now, what does this mean in this great period of history? It means the young generation of Africans must face the tragic fact that our Africa is famous for continuous rampant corruption and misuse of public office for personal gains.

Wealth of some well-known African government officials was acquired not by any successful ingenuous enterprise but by outright corruption and patronage. When public officials, their cronies and close relations’ source of wealth become questionable and traceable to the public trust, the need for accountability arises to restore confidence, trust and integrity in public service.

The global political and economic power base will be shifting sooner or later in Africa, and that will be a critical time for the young generation of Africans to position ourselves on this global chessboard either by direction or otherwise.

By Joseph Spencer