In response to the U.N., Tony Blair and George Bush discussed ending poverty in Africa this week. This is a stage-setting visit for the upcoming G8 summit in Scotland. Now Rick Warren and other evangelical leaders have drafted a letter to President Bush urging him to double the amount of U.S. aid to Africa.
Since this blog is dedicated to “hostility toward every form of tyranny over the mind of man,” let’s get our minds straight on this one because this guilt trip we’re all on is tyranny over the mind. But first, this disclaimer: Africa is not the "cause of the month" for me. I love Africa. Africa is my home. I was born in Africa. I lived in South Africa for the first 20 years of my life. The sounds, the smells, the tastes of Africa are real to me. And the people are wonderful. They are full of joy. They are welcoming and hospitable. I’ve been to Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Zambia. I’ve seen the Cape of Good Hope, climbed Table Mountain, smelled the pines of Tstsikamma, seen Victoria Falls, and stood at the convergence of Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique in the Luangwa Valley. I’ve gone by boat up the mighty Zambezi to villages like Kavaramanja, Chadiza, Kalomo, Lundazi, and many others. In 12 days I’m going back to Zambia as part of a team to help train preachers and take medical care to remote villages.
So, with my credentials as a “compassionate conservative” in hand, I need to say that anyone who believes President Bush's Africa initiative will amount to more than a hill of beans is whistling Dixie. Most of Africa is a continent without much hope for its people. Let's look at it.
According to the Hoover Institution, two-thirds of African countries have either stagnated or shrunk in real per capita terms since independence in the 1960s. Most African nations today are poorer than they were in 1980 - by very wide margins. Poverty is not a cause but a result of Africa's problems. According to the Netherlands-based Genocide Watch, since 1960, around the time of independence, about 9 million black Africans had been slaughtered through genocide and mass murder. The Democratic Republic of the Congo leads the way with 2,095,000, closely followed by the Sudan with 2 million, Nigeria and Mozambique with a million each, Ethiopia 855,000, Rwanda 823,000, Uganda 555,000 and hundreds of thousands more in other countries. There are a couple of especially sad observations one can make about this ongoing tragedy. The first is that if an equivalent number of rhinos, giraffes and lions had been similarly slaughtered, the world would be in an uproar. We'd see demonstrations at the U.N. and African embassies. The second is there was one African country that was the focal point of mass demonstrations, moral outcry and economic reprisals. It was South Africa – my childhood home. But was South Africa the worst in terms of black lives lost? It turns out that about 5,000 South African blacks lost their lives during apartheid. Do you see anything wrong with that picture? World silence in the wake of millions upon millions of black lives lost on the rest of the continent, but world outrage in the case of South African apartheid and 5,000 lives lost? Might it be that us white Africans are held to higher standards of civility, thus our mistreatment of blacks is unacceptable, while blacks and Arabs are held to a lower standard of civility and their mistreatment of blacks is less offensive? This is the bigotry of low expectations, an annoying trademark of the smarmy do-gooders.
But wait, there’s more. According to the World Bank it takes two days to incorporate a company in Canada. In Mozambique, it takes 153 days. And Mozambique's company law has been unchanged since 1888. In the midst of the unending demands that Bush do this, Blair do that, do more, do it now, would it be unreasonable to suggest that, after 117 years, the government of Mozambique might also be obligated to do something about its regulations? Meanwhile, next door in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe's government is being given hundreds of thousands of tons of emergency supplies from the UN's World Food Program. At the U.N. the head of the WFP emphasized that the famine was all due to drought and Aids, and nothing to do with Mugabe's stewardship of the economy. I guess no one remembers that during the 2002 G8 summit, also devoted to Africa, Zimbabwe's government ordered those commercial farmers whose land had not yet been confiscated to cease all operations. Until the do-gooders of the world get serious about the thugs in power, their efforts will remain a silly distraction.
President Bush is pledging to send more foreign aid to some African nations. But foreign aid goes to governments. So instead of helping the poor, foreign aid has enabled African tyrants, like that Stalinist Mugabe, to buy cronies and military equipment to stay in power, not to mention establishing multibillion dollar “retirement” accounts in Swiss banks. What African countries need, the West cannot give. What Africans need is personal liberty. That means a political system where there are guarantees of private property rights and the rule of law. If you’re living in some impoverished African village, would you want any “wealth” if there is the constant likelihood that the government, or some irate chief, or some marauding tribe will come through to rape the horses and ride off on the women (a line from the "Three Amigos" in case you’re wondering)? The Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Wall Street Journal, lists Botswana, South Africa and Namibia as “mostly free.” World Bank GDP rankings put Botswana 89th ($2,980), South Africa 94th ($2,600) and Namibia 111th ($1,700). Is there any mystery why they're well ahead of their northern neighbors, such as Mozambique 195th ($210), Liberia 201st ($150) or Ethiopia 206th ($100)?
The lack of liberty means something else: A nation loses its best and brightest people first. According to the 2000 census, there were 881,300 African-born U.S. residents, of whom I am one. Want to end poverty in Africa? The first step must be removing those petty dictators who rule throughout that continent - dictatorial mini-giants like Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Yes there's hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe; but the blame is to be placed squarely on Mugabe, not on a lack of help from the west. The G8 summit? Don't look for any discussion on getting rid of Africa's dictators and warlords. It will all be about wealth redistribution. Hide your wallets while I go to Africa in a few days and offer some real help!