Big Man Disease Killing Africa
Story by CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO / WHAT OTHERS SAY
Daily Nation (Kenya) Publication Date: 7/14/2005
If Matthew Parris, a writer with The Times of London, were a journalist on an African newspaper, he would have been jailed long ago for "insulting the person of the Head of State".
I suspect, however, that he would be very popular with readers. With all the recent pressure on the G8 to forgive poor Africa’s debts and pour more aid into the continent, Parris wrote an article entitled "We Must All Sneer And Scoff At The Corrupt, Cruel Jackasses Of Africa".
His point is that Africans are decent hard working people, who are ruled badly, and whose attempts to make a dignified living is undermined by an "invading army of safari-suited relief workers".
"God spare Africa from mercy...God send Africa a little less of our charity and understanding, and a little more of our anger and disdain," he writes.
Leaders of the G8–should be pitiless in their resolve to make pariahs of black Africa’s cruel and rotten governments. A ruling class of greedy men, sheltered by a popular culture of gawping passivity in the face of political swagger, is suffocating the people of Africa and neither tears nor money or rock music [Live8 concerts] should be our first response. Rage, not rock, is called for.
The cult of the Big Man is the tap-root of Africa’s suffering. That culture has to change– Africa’s leaders should be the laughing stock of the world, and ordinary Africans should know it. Where is the satire, where the anger, where the mockery and derision, that these brutal boobies deserve?"
It is patronising to think these criminals and crackpots can’t help it because they are black. They should be exposed to universal hatred, contempt and ridicule. We should sneer, rail and scoff, as we did with the leaders of apartheid South Africa. The populaces before whom these jackasses puff themselves up should know –that they are led by outcasts.
For all that, Parris argues, the invading army of spanking, top-of-the-range, white, air-conditioned Toyota Land Cruisers and their pale-faced, safari-suited occupants sent in by aid agencies and non-governmental organisations are not on the reformers’ side. NGOs and relief workers’ instructions are to keep out of politics and engage constructively with the political elite.
Heaven only knows what these well-paid and fashionably sunglasssed recruits to ‘a career in Development work’ are in Africa for but it is not to bother the political elites. If you work in development in Africa and are not bothering political elite you have some serious questions to ask about meaning and direction in your life.
We rightly protest at the cavalcades of Mercedes for black governments whose debts we must now write off. But perhaps we should remind ourselves too that hard men at Toyota, too, have done well out of war and famine in Africa; the development industry grows fat on Africa’s failure, and peasant faces pressed to the windows of smart restaurants in Nairobi may make little distinction between the black politicians and the and white aid executives sipping imported Scotch.
Where is the evidence to justify Parris’ anger at African politicians and the aid industry? The Times has some numbers and examples.
- Swaziland: King Mswati has spent £500,000 on eight Mercedes cars with gold-plated number plates, £8 million on palaces for his 13 wives and £330,000 on his 36th birthday party. Swaziland received £15 million in aid in 2003. In other words, all of Swaziland’s annual foreign aid is only enough to purchase about 45 birthday parties for the king!
- Tanzania: The World Bank lent £22 million in 1980 for it to open one of the world’s biggest shoe factories, selling millions of pairs to Europe. The Morogoro factory lay idle because of lack of suitable leather in Tanzania and closed in 1990. It operated at 4 per cent capacity and cost £277,000 a year to keep open.
- Nigeria. £2.8 billion of aid (in Nigeria, you talk billions mostly) was spent opening a steel factory in Ajaukota. £1.1 billion was allegedly stolen by cronies of the late dictator Sani Abacha, and £27 million on the factory’s upkeep. The factory produced nothing.
- Kenya. In 1981 the Norwegian International Development Agency built a fish-freezing plant at Lake Turkana in the desert to help 20,000 nomadic subsistence cattle farmers to exploit fish stocks. The diesel-powered generators cost more to run than the fish were worth. So it was adapted to produce dried fish. It closed after the 1984-85 drought killed most of the fish.
Between 1984 and 2003, the total aid to Africa was $404.53 billion. East Africa did very well, with Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda being among the Top Ten recipients of aid. In fact, Tanzania was Number One, bagging $20.83 billion. Kenya was fourth, picking up $13.65 billion. Uganda was eighth, running away with $12.15 billion.
How much has this money changed Africa? On the whole, for the worse, particularly if you factor in the effect of Aids and war.
Again let us look at the numbers in The Independent.
- Africa life expectancy: In 1980 it was 50 years. In 2003 it was 45.6 years.
- Health: Number of hospital maternity beds. In 1985 they were 73,368 but in 1998, they were 20, 545. Incidence of TB (per 100,000) was 154 in 1990 but in 2003, it was 353.
- Poverty: The population living below $1 a day was 44.6 per in 1990 but rose to 46.4 per cent in 2000.
Take heart, there are some bright spots.
- Literacy: The percentage of population who are illiterate). 1985 (56.1 per cent). 2000 (37.8 per cent).
- Immunisation against measles. 1985 (32.8 per cent). 2001 (58 per cent).
- Phone use. The most dramatic improvement is in telephone use (fixed and mobile phone), and you have the private sector to thank for that. 1990 - 10 per thousand. 2003 - 62 per thousand.
The story goes on and on. But Africa isn’t alone. The Guardian reports that a study released a fortnight ago revealed that Indians paid more than £2.7 billion (Sh364 billion) in bribes last year to receive public services.
Finally, our hearts were extremely warmed by a story in The Guardian about the impending introduction in UK supermarkets of an avocado without a stone. The stone takes up a quarter of an avocado fruit.
Where the word avocado come from? The Guardian says it derives from the Aztec ahuacuatl, meaning testicle tree. Aztec virgins were said to have been closeted indoors when the aphrodisiac plant was being harvested. Well, the avocado with no stone comes to the world from South Africa.
Mr Onyango-Obbo is Nation Media Group’s managing editor for Convergence and New Products.