Stop the Aid!


In an interview with Der Spiegel, Kenyan economist James Shikwati gives another tragically hip raspberry to Live 8. A sample:

SPIEGEL: Following World War II, Germany only managed to get back on its feet because the Americans poured money into the country through the Marshall Plan. Wouldn't that qualify as successful development aid?

Shikwati: In Germany's case, only the destroyed infrastructure had to be repaired. Despite the economic crisis of the Weimar Republic, Germany was a highly- industrialized country before the war. The damages created by the tsunami in Thailand can also be fixed with a little money and some reconstruction aid. Africa, however, must take the first steps into modernity on its own. There must be a change in mentality. We have to stop perceiving ourselves as beggars. These days, Africans only perceive themselves as victims. On the other hand, no one can really picture an African as a businessman. In order to change the current situation, it would be helpful if the aid organizations were to pull out.

SPIEGEL: If they did that, many jobs would be immediately lost …

Shikwati: … jobs that were created artificially in the first place and that distort reality. Jobs with foreign aid organizations are, of course, quite popular, and they can be very selective in choosing the best people. When an aid organization needs a driver, dozens apply for the job. And because it's unacceptable that the aid worker's chauffeur only speaks his own tribal language, an applicant is needed who also speaks English fluently -- and, ideally, one who is also well mannered. So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs. That's just crazy!

SPIEGEL: The German government takes pride in precisely monitoring the recipients of its funds.

Shikwati: And what's the result? A disaster. The German government threw money right at Rwanda's president Paul Kagame. This is a man who has the deaths of a million people on his conscience -- people that his army killed in the neighboring country of Congo.

Whole interview here. More detail here. Thanks to reader Mark Bonacquisti.

Shikwati, director of Kenya's Inter-Region Economic Network is an interesting character. It's inevitable that an eloquently pro-market citizen of a sub-Saharan country will be adopted by western free traders and condemned by western leftists. And sure enough, if you poke around online you'll find that Shikwati is using classical liberal ideas to enable and encourage the development of Kenya, East Africa and Africa in general. Or else he's a shill for various right-wing NGOs run by "whites." He's also on the cutting edge of a wave of change. Then again, he's a ruthless elephant-basher.

Whichever side you come down on, the tart comments above are no fluke. Shikwati can be counted on for strongly worded arguments that, ironically, are pretty close to the more market-oriented approach the Live 8 organizers claimed to be promoting. It's certainly some sign of progress when all sides seem to agree that trade rather than relief is the solution to Africa's troubles—however much they differ on what "trade" really means.