This is an interview between James Shikwati, a Kenyan economic expert, and Der Spiegel, a German newspaper.
SPIEGEL: Mr. Shikwati, the G8 summit at Gleneagles is about to beef
up the development aid for Africa...
Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop.
SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to
eliminate hunger and poverty.
Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the
past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the
Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries
that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are
in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa,
the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money),
corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be
beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens
the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship
that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid
is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel
these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the
functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the
world would stop turning without this development aid.
SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death
each year. Someone has got to help them.
Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these
people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt
politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches
the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of
apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being
dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being
faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only
natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not
uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective
African government originally requested. They then forward that request
to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn
are shipped to Africa ...
SPIEGEL: ... corn that predominantly comes from highly-subsidized
European and American farmers ...
Shikwati: ... and at some point, this corn ends up in the harbor of
Mombasa. A portion of the corn often goes directly into the hands of
unsrupulous politicians who then pass it on to their own tribe to boost
their next election campaign. Another portion of the shipment ends up
on the black market where the corn is dumped at extremely low prices.
Local farmers may as well put down their hoes right away; no one can
compete with the UN's World Food Program. And because the farmers go
under in the face of this pressure, Kenya would have no reserves to
draw on if there actually were a famine next year. It's a simple but
SPIEGEL: If the World Food Program didn't do anything, the people
Shikwati: I don't think so. In such a case, the Kenyans, for a
change, would be forced to initiate trade relations with Uganda or
Tanzania, and buy their food there. This type of trade is vital for
Africa. It would force us to improve our own infrastructure, while
making national borders -- drawn by the Europeans by the way -- more
permeable. It would also force us to establish laws favoring market
SPIEGEL: Would Africa actually be able to solve these problems on
Shikwati: Of course. Hunger should not be a problem in most of the
countries south of the Sahara. In addition, there are vast natural
resources: oil, gold, diamonds. Africa is always only portrayed as a
continent of suffering, but most figures are vastly exaggerated. In the
industrial nations, there's a sense that Africa would go under without
development aid. But believe me, Africa existed before you Europeans
came along. And we didn't do all that poorly either.
SPIEGEL: But AIDS didn't exist at that time.
Shikwati: If one were to believe all the horrorifying reports, then
all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being
carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly
exaggerated. It's not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of
the sudden, it's only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a
problem, but people rarely talk about that.
SPIEGEL: And why's that?
Shikwati: AIDS is big business, maybe Africa's biggest business.
There's nothing else that can generate as much aid money as shocking
figures on AIDS. AIDS is a political disease here, and we should be
SPIEGEL: The Americans and Europeans have frozen funds previously
pledged to Kenya. The country is too corrupt, they say.
Shikwati: I am afraid, though, that the money will still be
transfered before long. After all, it has to go somewhere.
Unfortunately, the Europeans' devastating urge to do good can no longer
be countered with reason. It makes no sense whatsoever that directly
after the new Kenyan government was elected -- a leadership change that
ended the dictatorship of Daniel arap Mois -- the faucets were suddenly
opened and streams of money poured into the country.
SPIEGEL: Such aid is usually earmarked for a specific objective,
Shikwati: That doesn't change anything. Millions of dollars
earmarked for the fight against AIDS are still stashed away in Kenyan
bank accounts and have not been spent. Our politicians were overwhelmed
with money, and they try to siphon off as much as possible. The late
tyrant of the Central African Republic, Jean Bedel Bokassa, cynically
summed it up by saying: "The French government pays for everything in
our country. We ask the French for money. We get it, and then we waste
SPIEGEL: In the West, there are many compassionate citizens wanting
to help Africa. Each year, they donate money and pack their old clothes
into collection bags ...
Shikwati: ... and they flood our markets with that stuff. We can
buy these donated clothes cheaply at our so-called Mitumba markets.
There are Germans who spend a few dollars to get used Bayern Munich or
Werder Bremen jerseys, in other words, clothes that that some German
kids sent to Africa for a good cause. After buying these jerseys, they
auction them off at Ebay and send them back to Germany -- for three
times the price. That's insanity ...
SPIEGEL: ... and hopefully an exception.
Shikwati: Why do we get these mountains of clothes? No one is
freezing here. Instead, our tailors lose their livlihoods. They're in
the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of
Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products.
In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria's textile industry.
By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in
all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African
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
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.
SPIEGEL: What are the Germans supposed to do?
Shikwati: If they really want to fight poverty, they should
completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to
ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that
immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa
should stand on its own two feet.