Moses Ochonu replies to Jeffery Sach's No. 281:
Jeffery Sachs' piece on the poverty question in Africa (dialogue #281) is as iconoclastic as it is challenging. It takes intellectual courage for an erstwhile defender and purveyor of the free-market-as-cure-all orthodoxy to break ranks and to begin to advocate a massive capital infusion into Africa. For a former advocate of economic liberalism model and of the so-called trickle-down phenomenon to come out so brazenly in favor of direct capital transfer from the West to Africa is significant.
Those who have been following the distinguished economist's career would however not be very surprised at his recent "epiphany," which occurred, instructively, after a visit to Ethiopia, the country which, unfortunately, embodies both the physicality and symbolism of African poverty. There is a precedent to Prof. Sach's recent departure from the failed liberalization orthodoxy-an orthodoxy that even the Bretton Woods institutions now strain very hard to repudiate or humanize. In the heat of the anti-sweatshop movement in the US, Prof. Sachs declared to the chagrin of his colleagues that sweatshop factories in China, Indonesia, and other Asian centers of cheap labor were actually good for the local populations of those countries, however abhorrent and exploitative Americans may find them. He has since been vindicated as many now see outsourcing of jobs to cheaper labor markets as an inevitable outcome of globalization and, grudgingly, as a redistributive mechanism.
Professor Sachs has again blazed another trail on the question of what to do about African poverty, or, for that matter, global poverty. By getting away from an approach to poverty alleviation that he himself had signed off on, he again demonstrates that he is a pragmatic scholar, that intellectual flexibility is a strength, not a weakness, and that scholarship and intellectualism can still be guided and shaped by the higher moral imperatives of providing existential relief to those segments of humanity who need it most.
I am in complete agreement with Prof. Sachs that Africa needs and DESERVES a massive capital infusion of Marshall Plan proportions. But I disagree with the premise of his recommendation, which is that African leadership is not the problem, and that the discourses of African mismanagement and corruption (AKA wastage) are myths that, if allowed to stand, could somehow undermine Africa's eligibility for a significant fiscal intervention. The truth is that Africa indeed has a leadership crisis on its hands; that postcolonial African leaders have failed woefully to live up to the expectations of independence, and that this failure of leadership already undermines Africa's case for debt relief and for the kind of large-scale intervention that Sachs is advocating.
Because of the patrimonial states that postcolonial African leaders have been running, and because of massive public corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and the proliferation of military and civilian autocracies on the continent, it has become very difficult to make an otherwise strong case for making Africa a template for the eradication of world poverty. The fact that the massive historical and on-going devastation of the continent by ruthless Western capitalist forays should entitle Africa to the kind of aid that Sachs demands is weakened by the staggering evidence of political malfeasance on the part of African leaders.
So, leadership is not just a problem; it is the problem. This is why I cannot in good conscience accept Sach's appeal without qualifying it with my rejection of his premise and his diagnosis of the poverty problem in Africa. Any massive Western financial intervention in Africa must be accompanied or, better yet, preceded by an equally massive and determined effort to DEMAND and insist on COMPLET accountability on the part of African leaders. If need be, the funds must be administered and their utilization superintended by agents of the donor countries. If the aim of such an intervention is not the reinforcement of African dependence but the empowering of Africans and the eventual obliteration of the stigma of destitution, then the West, if they listen to Sachs, must aim at shedding the Santa Claus image and at stripping Africans of the begging bowl. Africa is NOT a charity case; it deserves any amount of aid that the West provides. But implementing a huge program of capital injection without being serious about accountability will be read by perceptive minds-perhaps rightly-as the West's ploy to confirm the Western Right-Wing discourses about Africans having an innate dependency syndrome, which predisposes them to charity.
It seems to me that Sachs' pragmatic, courageous, and unprecedented prescription can be made without denying a well-known problem of Africa: the massive leadership failure of the last four decades. There are many myths about the African condition that are staples of Western academic and popular discussions, but the leadership crisis is not one of them.
My nuanced position may elicit charges of over-complication. That may be true. But oversimplification is not the answer. I myself, while recognizing that the African condition is complex, and it that requires an equally complex set of solutions, worry about complexity translating into complicity or alibi, or both. There are problems in Africa that are not complex at all; providing better access roads, drinking water, electricity, and better credit facilities to farmers to enable them increase their yield and to compete with the government-subsidized farmers of the West are fairly straightforward matters that can and should be carried out by African leaders with existing state resources. That said, however (here comes the complexity again!), I completely agree with Sachs that Africa's structural poverty and the historical and economic interpellations of Africans have made an African Marshall Plan an imperative.