Christian Long

Andrew Mwenda: Let’s Take A New Look at African Aid

In TED Talks on April 4, 2010 at 8:08 pm

Reflection by ADITYA M.

Original TED page w/ speaker bio, links, comments, etc:

Andrew Mwenda: Let’s Take a New Look at African Aid

Africa is a poorer nation, and it is important to give aid and help this poorer nation. But, as Mwenda states, the whole of Africa is not poverty stricken.

Poverty in Africa is actually one of the smallest realities. Africa is not totally immersed in civil war either, and only six out of the fifty-three countries in Africa are. Mwenda says that the media tells the truth about Africa, and about the poverty, but they don’t tell the whole truth. Africa offers many opportunities for people, but no one really knows because only word of poverty, helplessness, hopelessness, and despair comes out.

Only giving Africa aid, and only reducing poverty (or trying to) won’t solve all of Africa’s problems. Mere poverty reduction is not productive, Mwenda says, because it merely “treats the symptoms, not the causes of Africa’s fundamental problems.”

Instead of random acts of kindness, Mwenda says money needs to be put where it can productively grow. Random acts of kindness do help, for instance a road could’ve been too help people, or a house could’ve been built to help a family, and so on, but, in order for aid to help Africa more in the long run, money needs to go to something that will help them in the long run. So far, the money is going to primer health, primer education, and food relief. All these categories, although helpful, only achieve short term goals. Mwenda states that one area that money can go into to help in the long run would be support research institutions. He says knowledge is an important part of wealth creation.

Wealth creation should be the goal in Africa. All money donated to Africa should go toward making the poor country richer. Mwenda asks:

“Has anyone gotten rich by receiving alms?”

All Africa is doing at the moment is receiving alms. Receiving alms won’t make Africa rich. Again, it only helps in the short run.  Richer countries are doing good deeds by giving money to Africa, but that process needs to be backed up. The money needs to go where it can effectively grow.

The problem with aid is that it has distorted the incentives for governments in Africa. The governments expect the extra money from other countries. The productive margin in Africa’s search for revenue doesn’t lie in domestic economy, but in international donors. Because of the money coming in from international donors, governments find it better to consult with organizations like the World Bank rather than with the African citizens themselves. The World Bank then tells the citizens what they need, which is backward because the citizens know best what their country needs. The World Bank has taken over the rights of the African citizens. So the governments, because they are dependent on aid, listen to international creditors rather than their own people.

Aid isn’t always destructive, but the mistake is that, again, aid is only going through as random acts of kindness. These random acts need to be generalized, billions and trillions of dollars need to be invested into them, and they need to be spread across the whole world.

Mwenda gave figures of the 2006-07 budget of his own country, Uganda. He showed where most of the money went; to public administration, which got 690 billion Ugandan shillings (one US dollar  about 2079 Ugandan shillings). Agriculture, where 18% of poverty in Uganda lies, got only about 18 billion (about $6,644,518). Trade and industry even got more than agriculture, with 43 billion.

The public administration consists of 70 cabinet ministers, 114 presidential advisors, 81 units of local government, 333 members of parliament, 134 commissions and semi autonomous government bodies. All these people own cars. These people are not poor, and therefore the money is not going where it is supposed to go, and not fulfilling it’s purpose, which is to help the poor.

There are about 3000 four wheel drive vehicles at the ministry of health headquarters. There are 961 sub-counties in Uganda, and none of them have ambulances. Four wheel drive vehicles drive around ministers, secretaries, etc. who work on aid projects, while the poor themselves die without ambulances and medicine. The money is not being effectively used. But, the next part of the process, where it goes, how it is used has proved unfruitful, and this part of the process, when it is fixed, will much lessen poverty in Africa.


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