Help usually hurts

There is something fascinating going on in Africa that strikes close to home.

James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, is making headway with this idea: Countries like ours should stop sending aid to impoverished African nations. He goes so far as to say “For God’s sake, please stop the aid.”

This strikes close to home for a couple of reasons. One is, of course, because America and its allies have poured many billions into Africa to relieve poverty. Another is that we did the same for our own poor people. We sent money, food, assistance of all sorts. Welfare writ in huge letters.

We needed decades of this to learn that pouring money into poverty programs did not lower our poverty rate. It had the opposite effect. It encouraged too many people to sit back and accept the welfare. Fortunately, we finally reformed welfare programs to encourage the poor to work more. And to take more responsibility for their actions and situation.

James Shikwati would tell us our earlier welfare programs addressed the wrong subject. They addressed the problems. They failed to address the opportunities.



This is his complaint with aid to African nations from advanced nations. “Aid looks quite sexy. (As does welfare.) If we see a beggar on the street, we feel we should help him.” he says “... you’ve been giving us aid and have made us lose confidence in ourselves. I think you are not helping Africa.”

“Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past forty years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured into Africa, the continent remains poor.”

Why is this so? The aid we send sticks to the fingers of bureaucrats and corrupt politicians. The bureaucrats don’t want the aid to improve their people’s lot. Because if it does, the aid will stop. And they will be out of their jobs.

Too, our aid teaches Africans to be beggars. It does not teach or encourage them to be independent and responsible for their own destinies.

Our aid also ruins local farmers. Our free food and low-cost food undermines their efforts. Imagine if most of the milk for Americans was free. Donated by Australians and New Zealanders. Our dairy farmers would be wiped out. None of us would want to buy their milk. Not when we could get free milk from government agencies.

Shikwati cites a problem with donated clothing. From Europeans. “Why do we get these mountains of clothes?” he asks. “No one is freezing here.

“Instead, our tailors lose their livelihoods. They’re in the same position as our farmers. No one in the low-wage world of Africa can be cost-efficient enough to keep pace with donated products.

“In 1997, 137,000 workers were employed in Nigeria’s textile industry. By 2003, the figure had dropped to 57,000. The results are the same in all other areas where overwhelming helpfulness and fragile African markets collide.”

Shikwati would like to kick foreign agencies out of Africa as well. They create artificial jobs. And because they want even their drivers to speak English fluently, they end up employing the best educated Africans - like biochemists - to chauffeur them. “So you end up with some African biochemist driving an aid worker around, distributing European food, and forcing local farmers out of their jobs. That’s just crazy!”

Investor’s Business Daily reckons “If the West freely gives anything to poor nations, it should be the American style of government. Nothing can build and sustain economic growth better. Handouts can relieve short-term misery, but they should be limited only to the most urgent situations.”

All of this reminds me of Morgan’s Maxim: Help usually hurts. And hurt usually helps.

From Tom ... as in Morgan.

For more columns and for Tom’s radio shows (and to write to Tom): tomasinmorgan.com.

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