Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Africa's number one problem - corruption

Listening to Bob Geldof you might be excused of thinking that the reason so many Africans are poor are because you've been too self-centred and not given money to charities, or that evil nasty Western governments haven't wiped debts of those well intended poor African governments. In fact anyone who has had much to do with African governments will know that this is far from the truth. In my dealings with representatives from Africa they were always better paid than their Western counterparts, stayed in the best hotels, had chauffeured limos to drive them around, flew first class everywhere - and then pleaded poverty and how life was for their countryfolk.
Sure there are some issues the West can help with, primarily removing barriers to trade and abolishing subsidies for agriculture and other industries - something that can be aimed clearly at Brussels, Washington and Tokyo for being the biggest offenders. However, this wont achieve much unless Africa governs itself well - and it doesn't. The bigger issue is that too many fear offence by declaring the truth - many African governments are corrupt ridden, unaccountable and are simply international recognised racketeering gangs.
So the Channel 4 documentary this week - Dispatches - How to Get Ahead in Africa - tells all. Set in Kenya, it shows how people must bribe receptionists to get hospital appointments, bribe all sorts of strongmen to get "permits" to build a shack on public land, bribe neighbours to not appeal it to higher up corrupt officials, bribe policemen to allow taxis to travel, bribe to get a job interview. Furthermore, it showed how easy it was to bribe a licence to be a charity, that had no accountable but could claim a share of foreign aid funds. Charities with vague addresses - that don't exist - get funding through the government, from foreign aid. It's fraud on a grand scale, and it keeps Africa back. Sierra Leone was visited also, where aid to supply electricity to a town was effectively siphoned off to officials requiring bribes before allowing homes to be connected. More disturbingly, school children were required to bribe teachers for lessons - given excuses such as payment for copying papers and the like. Corruption agencies were themselves little more than show ponies, which dealt with a handful of high profile low level cases, but did nothing.
The solution to Africa's governance problems is complex, it is partially cultural, but clearly any aid to governments is likely to risk being siphoned off to corrupt officials. Africans are poorly served by post-colonial governments, but the best way to deal with them is for private aid to be provided to private efforts on the ground. This means that education should be provided by agencies that have the money, and take the power to avoid corruption - which means using force to defend themselves. It means being somewhat colonial, and Africans want it - they vote in governments on anti-corruption tickets, only to be bitterly disappointed.
As one man on the show said, the best way to "make poverty history" in Africa is not aid, indeed he dismissed Bob Geldof's efforts entirely, but to help end corruption. So I say to Oxfam, indeed all those who try to place guilt in our hands for African poverty - start spreading a new philosophy to Africa - not one of "give me money for nothing" of socialism, but earn money and be accountable if you don't perform.
Accountability for government, and prison for those who are corrupt - which means having rather efficient effective small governments that do the bare necessities - police, law and order and defending personal and property rights. You see, as a libertarian I DO believe government is essential. The rule of law and transparent, accountable and corruption free enforcement of law, defence of individual freedoms, property rights and enforceability of contracts - Africa's governments do all this very badly - it's about time they shed everything else they try to do, and be taught to be small good governments - not corrupt tinpot rusting hulks of post colonial Marxist fantasies.


Brian S said...

Or is the solution to get rid of government? This article argues that Somalia has functioned better without a government than with a government.

Anonymous said...

It was a pretty good program. A little bit sanctimonious. I got the impression that a fair amount of the fees simply augmented pathetic remuneration for govt officials. There were a limited number of very powerful people who were obviously creaming the system. Focusing on destroying the regulations that allow those people to prosper would seem to be the best mid term. It was not very hopeful for Africa.