Dr Edward Kissi

I thought of captioning my piece today with the title "Smart Aid or
Smart Analysis of What Goes On in Africa?" Then I thought of a better
title that draws on the ideas of Professor Ayittey, "When The Blind
Leads the Clueless." Or better still: "The Thesis of The "corrupt"
and "stupid" African politician, or perhaps "The Myth of Civil
Society." But I decided to proceed with my thoughts and leave titles
to the good moderator of the forum.

It seems to me that a book that I need to write, and very soon, is
one that explores the role that the theories, assumptions,
testimonies and policy prescriptions of African scholars living
abroad have played in Western policymaking towards Africa, and how
those Africans and their prescriptions directly or indirectly
improved or worsened conditions in Africa. Because it is not enough
to testify before US and Canadian legislative committees that about
$32 billion flow from diaspora Africans to the African continent
annually and that money is sufficient to lift the continent from its
throes. Somebody ought to ask: how many Ghanains living
abroad--individually or groups--have built a new cocoa processing
plant that can employ thousands of new school graduates? How much of
Ghanaian diasporic remittances has gone into founding a private
airline company to relieve the Ghana Airways Corporation of the
burdens of domestic and international air transportation. Are there
any individual Ghanains or group of Ghanaians living abroad who have
pulled money together to build a University or a private hospital to
improve education and healthcare in Ghana? Has Professor Ayittey
built a road or a railway line, a telephone company, a huge private
hospital in Ghana? Or has he used his dollars to build a house for
himself and improve the living conditions of members of his extended
family? So much for the myth of private enterprise and diaspora

Let it be known that, in many cases if not all cases, money sent to
the African continent by Africans living abroad goes into buying land
for those Africans, building palatial homes for future retirement or
periodic sabbatical leave, rehabilitating aging parents. None goes
into building new infrastructure or rehabilitating old ones. I stand
to be corrected here if any groups of diasporic Africans have pulled
resources together to build an infrastructure in their countries of
origin. Not even Alumni organizations are able to raise the funds
they need to provide the minimum of needs to Alma Maters: sports
jerseys, books and computers. So Western governments need to be aware
of the fact that the $32 billion or so flowing from Africans abroad
to Africa is not money meant for public projects. They are resources
for individuals and families and politicians cannot be blamed for not
channelling it into public projects. The money is not for public use.

        There is also the implicit assumption that mega-aid
initiatives undertaken on behalf of Africa are "freebies" that
intrinsically "corrupt" (often codeword for stupid) African
politicians misuse. Would some African politicians clarify this
rampant assumption? Much has been written already about the
conditionalities of AID. But the  broad-brush assumption or theory
that aid is somewhat free money misused by silly and grafting
vampires is often made in the hope of advancing another ideology
(read mythology: "Bypass the state and those who operate it who are
corrupt and put it in a moral private space for groups of people who
are so pure and pristine in their morals. Call them by the vacuous
terminolohy "civil society" as if that civil society or
non-governmental organization operating in the same country has
different values and had different aspirations."

Let it be known that when theoreticians descend from the pinnacle of
myth-making to the trenches of field-research or to interview people
on the ground, they might notice that not all AID money the continent
received went down the drain. A sense of history should moderate the
theory of the grafting state. In the period 1960 to 1997 that Ayittey
claims $450 billion of Western AID money went into ratholes or was
embezzled by African politicians, the historical record suggest that
Ethiopia used US AID money to build roads, establish Alemaya
Agricultural College (now a University); build a library at Addis
Ababa University that Ethiopian politicians named after J.F. Kennedy
as a gesture of appreciation for American help. In that same period
of time, it is US AID money that went into establishing the
prestigious Law School at Addis Ababa University. I have spoken with
US Ambassador Edward M. Korry who participated in that effort.
Western AID money has also been used to build an Aluminium company in
Ghana and a Cocoa processing factory---infrastructure necessary for
turning some of Ghana's natural resources into manufactured products.
So a balance analysis of how AID has been used in Africa is necessary
to defuse the mythology that the African is so corrupt that he/she is
undeserving of help. The "abandon Africa" thesis is advanced by those
who lack what Ayittey himself calls "cognitive pragmatism." That
charge can also be levelled agaisnt Ayittey himself and African
scholars who theorise in testimonies before American and Canadian
legislative committees.

Ask Willet Weeks of Save the Children Fund-US office in Addis Ababa
and he would share with you unpleasant stories about the turf wars or
mandate conflicts that Ethiopian and Western NGOS---the civil
society--waged in the late 1980s in Ethiopia that complicated the
famine-relief operations there. So civil society is not immuned from
the graft and greed that inheres in the public sphere. It is the same
needy people in a country who mismanage the public sphere who can
also be found operating the private space. And do private sector,
NGO, civil society organizations have their own infrastructure of
roads, railways, warehouses and others to do the kind of work that
civil-society theorists try to impose on them?

Ask officials of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission of
Ethiopia, the state institution that was responsible for public
famine-relief where Bob Geldof's Live Aid money went. While doing
field-research on the international relief operation in Ethiopia, in
the early 1990s, I tried to follow the LIVE AID money and did not see
it. I plan to write about this in the future. If Bod Geldof and his
group bypassed the state and offered that aid money to civil society,
it would be great to know which civil societies or NGOS---Western,
African and Ethiopian that AID money went to? If it went to Western
"civil society", then much of it went into paying the salaries of NGO
officials, purchasing fax machines, Toyota Land Cruisers for
furnished "aid" and NGO offices in Addis Ababa. Here, one does not
need to lambast "civil society" for using AID money to buy cars and
rehabilitate cars. Neither should one be overly critical of
"politicians" who use the same AID money for similar purposes. That
may not be  corruption. Civil society and politicians need to move
from one village to another before things can get done.

So lambasting corrupt African politicians, venerating and
romanticizing the private, waging war on the state, bypassing it, in
fact underming and weakening it, in the name of the Angels of the
Private Sphere,  is theoretical rant. When Western legislators pay
too much attention to such theorists, it is similar to what Ayittey
calls the blind leading the clueless. Ayittey himself may be blind to
some facts on the ground in Africa and are leading the clueless in
Congress and the Canadian Parliament into swallowing his corrupt
African politician thesis and his myths about civil society. Ayittey
has become the "state" he lambasts. Western legialators should bypass
him and seek other views on Africa from other Africans or scholars
who study Africa.

On Independent media, I am all for it. But Rwanda, in 1994, tells us
to beware what we wish for. Even in the good US of A, there are
voices calling for the curbing of media excesses. A free Radio RTLM
was used as a tool of genocide in Rwanda in 1994. There were calls
then on the UN and US to jam that radio. Radio RTLM, an independent
media of the kind Ayittey calls for,  engaged in what Ayittey calls
"vituperative utterances" against the Tutsi. Valerie Bemeriki, the
female DJ on RTLM who spewed venomous hatred against the Tutsi,  was
a journalist not a politician. The US Embassy in Rwanda concluded, in
the name of free-press theory, that jamming RTLM's signals would
infringe on universal broadcast laws and the venerated right to free
speech. 800,000 died. One of the causes was "free media." So we need
to qualify what we wish to see our media freely do.

My good countryman George comes across in his perspectives on
Africa---in books and on PBS---as someone who has absolutely no
practical knowledge of how government works in Africa. He needs to
visit the continent and stay in an archive or remain at many places
long enough to interview people. Some of his ideas appear to be
copycats of what he hears daily in Washington. There was a Radio Free
Europe that freed the Communist Eastern Europe so there should be a
Radio Free Africa. I urge George to look at some of the literature on
US foreign relations and recent Eastern European history to grasp the
many converging forces that made younger people in Eastern Europe
reject Communism. Washington talked recently about Smart Sanctions in
Iraq so George wants Smart Aid---one that should aim at deploring,
weakening and undermining the state and engage with civil society.
The fact is the same greed and graft that pollute the public shpere
exist in the private. Civil society has its own contradictions.

In American history, private US companies such as Boston's United
Fruit Company operating in Guatemala, in the 1950s, Standard Oil, in
Iran in the 1950s, Kalamazoo Spice Company in Ethiopia, in the 1970s,
and Folgers coffee company in Rwanda, in the 1990s, were heavily
subsidized, helped, shielded and given huge tax breaks by successive
US administrations. So the private is not too private and independent
as the theorists would have us believe. One wonders why scholars like
Ayittety call for the weakening of the state in Africa while closer
to him,  in his abode in Washington,  the resurgence of the state in
the United States is at its utmost and Europeans are steadily moving
towards the creation of a superstate in Europe.

Ayittey calls for "new leadership" and "genuine reform". Nobody would
disagree with that smart advice. The story is told of an Ethiopian
academic who was given to "vituperative utterances" against the Haile
Sellasie regime. So the Emperor made him a Governor of a distant
province from the capital city. He failed miserably to put his
theiries into practice. The art of changing human thoughts and
desires is different from the science of talk because talk is cheaper.

Let me make a smart suggestion: Would the Government of Ghana invite
the good Professor Ayittey to take over the Ministry of Finance and
Economic Planning for a period of two to three years and let us watch
how the good Professor would organize things. Perhaps the rest of
Africa may learn from how he would manage the Economic Ministry.

Let the reflections continue!!!