George Ayittey disagrees with the editorial by the New York Times (USA/Africa, No. 304)

  This section caught my eye:
"The strongest, and probably most legitimate, critique of approaches
that flood poor countries with money is that many of these poor
countries are run by corrupt governments that will stash most of the
donor money in private Swiss bank accounts. That has certainly proved
true in the past, particularly in Africa, where the poor have stayed
poor while a succession of despots have run country after country into
the ground."
Now, the New York Times is no right-wing conservative newspaper. Ten
years ago, the politically-correct NYT would never have used such
"Ayittey language." How times change.

Schematically, what you have under this discussion is this:


The New York Times, Jeffrey Sachs and others HOPE - and I stress HOPE -
that somehow they can bypass the vampire or gangster state and give
"bigger amounts of real, quality aid DIRECTLY TO RECIPIENTS ON THE
GROUND. That means money to clinics and schools, to build generators and
buy medicine and food, instead of the usual low-interest loans to
benefit companies back home." Will this approach work? Maybe, the New
York Times has never been to Equatorial Guinea, Sudan or Zimbabwe. I do
not think this approach will work for two reasons.

First, the Mugabes, the Eyademas, the Beshirs would not allow this to
happen. They will insist that such aid be channeled to
"government-approved" or government registered NGOs, if you know what I
mean. Send food aid to Zimbabwe and Mugabe will distribute it to only
ZANU-PF supporters. Further, there is only so much foreign donors can do
in bypassing the vampire state without incurring the charge of
"interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign African nation."
Suspicious African autocrats would ask if the aid is not strengthening
dissident activity.

Second, this is a BANDAID solution, AVOIDING the root cause of a disease
and seeks, instead, to treat the symptoms. It is now clear that the
gangster state is a huge obstacle in the transmission of foreign aid to
the people. Instead of dealing with it, this approach seeks to bypass or
avoid it. But in the long run, this is untenable. Without reform, the
gangster state will implode (Somalia, Rwanda, Burundi, Zaire, Sierra
Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, etc.) and it will take down with it all the
clinics, schools, generators and medicine built or purchased with aid
money in the ensuing mayhem and chaos. What happened to all the aid that
was given to the collapsed states in the past?

The question which almost everybody is avoiding is: How to Reform the
Vampire State and who should do it? Remember that Western donors and the
international lending institutions (the World Bank and IMF) tried to
reform it  in the 1990s by "conditioning" foreign aid and loans on the
adoption of political and economic reforms. But the record on reform has
been extremely disappointing. The democratization process has stalled in
Africa (only 16 out of 54 African countries are democratic) and the
record on economic reform is even more abysmal (less than 7 can be
called economic success stories). African autocrats are simply not
interested in reform. Period. Western donors gave up on them; even
President Clinton got fed up with them - hence, AGOA and Bush's
Millennium Challenge Account.

Now, foreign aid to Africa is back on the front burner again but note
the NEW APPROACH - trying to avoid the corrupt autocrats and reaching
the people directly. This won't work because it avoids the fundamental
issue: Reforming the gangster state. This reform cannot be dictated from
the outside; it must come from WITHIN. And where are Africa's
intellectuals and scholars on this?

George Ayittey,
Washington, DC