It is festival time, here in Edinburgh. The city is very busy, there are countless events and performances, and you never know what you may see round the next corner.
Neither Devil Nor Child: How Western Attitudes Are Harming Africa, by Tom Young.
I found this book full of fascinating insights which, despite extensive readings on Africa, I did not already know. It was slightly heavy going at times, but worth the effort.
I had no idea that there were so many NGOs operating in Africa. Young estimates that there were between 8,000-9,000 in 1988, but by 2005 this had risen to nearly 99,000 in South Africa alone. Kenya had 6,000 in 2008, Tanzania had 10,000 by the year 2000. Young states that many of these are ‘briefcase’ NGOs set up merely to funnel funds into their directors’ pockets. That gives you a flavour for where Young is coming from. He is not a big fan of aid.
Africa has received about $1 trillion in aid over the past sixty-five years. In 2014, for example, Britain spent £11.4 billion on foreign aid, of which almost 40% went to Africa. Young looks at many examples of aid initiatives, and then the effect of all of this aid and concludes that it “…has had some impact on poverty; probably does not explain much growth, and has done little if anything to bring about economic transformation.” He then looks at why such huge amounts of aid resources have not had a greater effect. If you want to know all of the reasons, you’ll have to consult the book, as there are too many to list, but the final ones are that aid induces dependency, aid becomes a substitute for domestic policymaking, aid can cost money to implement (in terms of salaries of those involved), aid can contribute to the poor accountability of African states to their own people, and aid can reduce credibility of their own domestic policies.
Young reckons that aid in Africa appears to be as much about transforming people in the image of Western modernity, as anything else: “Such a project is often thwarted; practical politics often dictate compromise; the vagaries of international relations, and the fickleness of Western public opinion, shift energies from one campaign to another. Realities intrude: it is simply easier to bomb Libya than Zimbabwe. But underneath these swirling currents and tactical shifts lies a dogged determination to make Africans like us.” There are numerous damaging consequences of this determination, which Young analyses.
Young also addresses issues around aid which has been provided to reduce conflict. In the case of Sudan, those in the north were ‘nasty’ (very nasty) to those in the south, those in the south capitalised on the situation, played the part of a state in waiting, and received much aid and assistance. Shortly after South Sudan held a referendum and became independent, the fragile SPLA alliance shattered and conflict broke out between various groups, with great resulting violence. $4 billion went missing. Young concludes that “It is not at all clear that the foundation of a new state in South Sudan was a step forward.” This is but one example of many where the West has intervened to prevent conflicts, only to make them worse.
Then he looks at how aid can affect the self-esteem of Africans. Too often they are portrayed as helpless, and in need of assistance from the West, even though that aid does not seem to work and can even make things worse. The impression in the West is often that Africans can’t do anything for themselves. This can cause resentment. There are anxieties about lack of respect. Africans always seem to be in a subordinate position. Some, perhaps, start to think that aid is bogus, and not really meant to help solve problems.
The final chapter of this book, entitled ‘Changing Direction’, is extremely thought-provoking. I may not agree with everything Young writes, but he is a very stimulating author, and I’m looking forward to attending his presentation at the Edinburgh Book Festival in a couple of weeks.