Meshack Owino,

I cannot remember exactly where I read about this, but
there was this old African woman who, upon being asked
to participate in a Western-funded project to develop
her community, reportedly retorted that she was “tired
of being developed.” “We are tired of being developed
by the west,” she reportedly said. Every time a new
project was initiated to “develop” her community, it
pushed her and her community deeper and deeper into
poverty and misery.

I have been thinking a lot about this old sagacious
African woman lately, especially now that it is
reported that Tony Blair has managed to wriggle some
money from the bulging coffers of the G-8 to
facilitate a debt-reduction program for some of the
world’s poorest countries. Under normal circumstances,
the countries that are going to benefit from this
initiative should be agog with delight and glee. We as
Africans should all be happy even if not all African
countries have been covered by this initiative, and
not all African debts have been written off. We should
all be celebrating despite the knowledge that these
same G-8 rich, largely western, nations, while
committing themselves to a debt-reduction initiative
for Africa, have continued to deny African countries
the opportunity to manufacture generic medicines for
the millions upon millions of Africans who are
infected with HIV, patients who require real,
much-needed medicines right now to prolong their lives
and be able to see tomorrow rather than debt-reduction
initiatives whose effects may or may not be felt until
sometime in the future. There should be cause to toast
to Tony Blair’s name, and celebrate his initiative as
indeed some of us are already doing.

Having said that, those of us who are not ready to
join in in the celebrations for one reason or another,
or are not taking the initiative seriously, or are
taking it with a large pinch of salt should not be
written off. Western relations with Africa have taught
us to be very suspicious, if not downright cynical and
apprehensive of Western initiatives in Africa.
Although ordinary Western citizens on the street
cannot be said to mean nothing but well for the
African people, the same cannot be said of Western
government intentions and activities in Africa.

Official, formal Western relations with Africa for the
last five hundred years have largely been
characterized by mendacity, brutality, and theft under
the guise of benevolence towards the “Dark Continent,”
aka, the “Scar on Human Conscience” [to quote Tony
Blair]. Something dark and malevolent always lies
deeply imbedded in the dark corners of
altruistically-looking western programs in Africa.
Walter Rodney tells us that when one British monarch
wanted to participate in the Atlantic slave trade, she
gave a notorious British sea pirate a ship called
“Jesus Christ” to transport slaves from Africa to the
Americas. He tells us that contrary to what one would
expect of a ship called “Jesus Christ,” this one was
not a harmless ship bringing benevolent missionaries
to evangelize in Africa, but a rapacious ship involved
in large scale plunder of the African continent, a
fact that hapless and sad African slave victims soon
came to appreciate shortly after coming aboard the
ship. When King Leopold II started getting ideas about
having a piece of the “magnificent African cake,” he
did not say so directly; he instead came up with a
nicely-sounding initiative supposedly for the
exploration, and scientific development of the Congo –
an initiative his subjects ended up paying very
heavily for.

When the West started fighting against the slave
trade, it used nicely-sounding rhetoric, only to
replace it with colonialism soon after. When
colonialism ended there soon emerged neo-colonialism.
One initiative always giving way to another
initiative, coming along with a plethora of hidden
conditionalities, terms, clauses, requirements,
regulations, and rules, some open, some hidden. When
SAPs were imposed on Africa as part of the World
Bank/IMF lending conditions, billed as a panacea that
would cure Africa once and for all of its maladies, it
was the World Bank/IMF and its share-holder nations
rather than Africa that ended up benefiting, earning
more in interests and other perquisites from their
loans to Africa while Africa ended up with more debts
even after coughing up more money to service those
loans. Today, even after paying back the World
Bank/IMF more money than it owed at the start of SAPs
program, African debt repayment obligations to these
institutions and their share-holders have become even
more complicated.

Whether one talks about SAPS or the so-called Poverty
Alleviation Programs, AGOA, The Millennium Challenge
Account, and so on and so forth, there are all these
benevolently-appealing, nicely-sounding,
harmlessly-looking Western-sponsored initiatives in
Africa, which always end up exacerbating the problems
they are designed to solve in Africa. Now we have the
debt-reduction initiative!

Given previous Western relations with Africa, it will
be a major shock if this debt-reduction program does
not come along with the usual raft of hidden
conditionalities that are designed to maximize returns
from Africa while pushing it deeper and deeper into
the arm-pit of western control and domination. It is
very difficult not to think otherwise, to not be
cynical of Western initiatives in Africa. Once beaten,
twice shy. The more the West comes up with one
initiative after another in Africa, initiatives that
are always leaving the West laughing all the way to
the bank, and Africans in a worse state than before,
the more it becomes clear that these initiatives are
never really designed to develop, but rather, to
exploit Africa. Only Africa and her African people
will develop their continent.

I am therefore more inclined to stand by the side of
the sagacious old African woman I mentioned above who
has been saying that, “she is tired of being developed
by the West.” But Tony Blair can still prove us wrong
if he wants to, which means that the ball is in his
court to demonstrate why we should take him more
seriously and treat him more differently than previous
Western monarchs, rulers and leaders who have come to
Africa with high-sounding plans and programs only to
leave it poorer and more miserable than before.