8 October 2012

Rwanda: The Bulk of Aid to Africa Comes From Ordinary Africans


There is so much debate today about aid and dependency with regard to Africa. The Western world media coverage of African and other refugees and the ever increasing asylum seekers are frequently portrayed as leeches and illegal aliens who are a helpless burden depending on generous Western assistance. This extends to African countries that are portrayed by the said media as constantly in need of help. The reality is, however, interestingly the opposite.

A big chunk of aid that reaches ordinary Africans come from Africans themselves in the form of self-help. This "aid" is in form of remittances. It is estimated that monies that flow to Africa through a combination of formal and informal channels amount to roughly $250 billion a year according to the World Bank estimates.

Incidentally the media rarely talk about Africans being their own biggest aid donors and investors. But the media's oversight does not stop here. Africa remains a huge aid donor to the West in form of skills transfer. I have mentioned in this column before about brain drain in form of highly skilled Africans working in the Western world. Professor Ali Mazrui calls this brain gain.

Africa's giving goes beyond this. For instance, Africa sells its commodities at throw-away prices because rich countries skew their markets through tariffs and subsidies to ensure that little value can be added to raw products at source in Africa. Other subsidies enable American cotton farmers or European beef farmers to dump their products at artificially low prices on African markets. This means that it is Africa that is keeping Western farmers in business! Yet more aid from the African continent comes in form of capital flight sent to Swiss and other bank accounts by corrupt officials and, of course, investors who lack confidence in the stability and profitability of African economies.

Why is it that given the foregoing, Africa does not impose its own conditionality upon its aid recipients? It is a pity that African leaders, civil society activists and others are inadvertently complicit in perpetuating the myth that seven years ago, in 2005, there was a feeling that it would be a make or break year for Africa. But that was not to be. That G8 Summit was supposed to galvanize Africans in Africa and the Diaspora to decide to maximize the impact of aid that flows from Africa and how to maximize the impact of aid and investment that flows in Africa.

A 2004 BBC survey of views of some 7,500 Africans living in the urban areas of 10 African countries gave a clear picture of their major concerns. Some 20 per cent of respondents identified securing a well-paid job as their main concern. Two out of three respondents said making money is a priority for them. Far from being an example of greed, this desire to make money focuses attention upon African peoples' aspirations to make something of their lives and to enjoy basic economic security which has eluded them since independence.

With a job and reasonable economic security, more Africans will take care of their own basic needs of health, education, housing, food and leisure, just to mention but a few. More people in productive employment, most likely through small and medium enterprises would dramatically reduce dependency on an increasingly bloated and self-serving aid industry.

Ultimately, self-determination, self-help, self-reliance, self-respect and self-confidence should and must be the watchwords that should set a new framework for relations with the donor community. In Rwanda, we call this Agaciro, in Kenya it is called Harambee. What is needed is a win-win situation in which our histories should not be defined by cherry-picking incidents. They should instead focus on addressing serious issues of trade iniquities that are themselves the cause of war, disease and starvation.

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