Sunday, January 08, 2006

Bono aid is making Africa sick by Paul Theroux

Africa: First showed up in the New York Times and last week in the Sunday Times.

"There are probably more annoying things than being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat, but I can’t think of one at the moment. If Christmas, season of sob stories, has turned me into Scrooge, I recognise the Dickensian counterpart of Paul Hewson — who calls himself “Bono” — as Mrs Jellyby in Bleak House. Harping incessantly on her adopted village of Borrioboola-Gha “on the left bank of the River Niger”, Mrs Jellyby tries to save the Africans by financing them in coffee growing and encouraging schemes “to turn pianoforte legs and establish an export trade”, all the while badgering people for money. It seems to have been Africa’s fate to become a theatre of empty talk and public gestures. But the impression that Africa is fatally troubled and can be saved only by outside help — not to mention celebrities and charity concerts — is a destructive and extremely misleading conceit. " Those of us who committed ourselves to being Peace Corps teachers in rural Malawi more than 40 years ago are dismayed by what we see on our return visits and by all the news that has been reported recently from that unlucky drought-stricken country. But we are more appalled by most of the proposed solutions. "....If Malawi is worse educated, more plagued by illness and bad services, poorer than it was when I lived and worked there in the early 1960s, it is not for lack of outside help or donor money. Malawi has been the beneficiary of many thousands of foreign teachers, doctors and nurses and large amounts of financial aid, and yet it has declined from being a country with promise to a failed state. In the early and mid-1960s we believed that Malawi would soon be self-sufficient in schoolteachers. And it would have been, except that rather than sending a limited wave of volunteers to train local instructors, for decades we kept on sending Peace Corps teachers. Malawians, who avoided teaching because the pay and status were low, came to depend on the American volunteers to teach in bush schools, while educated Malawians emigrated. When Malawi’s university was established, more foreign teachers were welcomed, few of them replaced by Malawians, for political reasons. Medical educators also arrived from elsewhere. Malawi began graduating nurses, but the nurses were lured away to Britain, and Australia and the United States, which meant more foreign nurses were needed in Malawi. When millions of dollars disappeared from Malawi’s education budget, and a Zambian politician was charged with stealing from the treasury, and Nigeria squandered its oil wealth, what happened? The simplifiers of Africa’s problems kept calling for debt relief and more aid. I got a dusty reception lecturing at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation when I pointed out the successes of responsible policies in Botswana compared with the kleptomania of its neighbours. Donors enable embezzlement by turning a blind eye to bad governance, rigged elections and the deeper reasons why these countries are failing. Gates has said candidly that he wants to rid himself of his burden of billions. Bono is one of his trusted advisers. Gates wants to send computers to Africa — an unproductive not to say insane idea. I would offer pencils and paper, mops and brooms: the schools I have seen in Malawi need them badly." "....Africa is a lovely place — much lovelier, more peaceful and more resilient and, if not prosperous, innately more self-sufficient than it is usually portrayed. But because Africa seems unfinished and so different from the rest of the world, a landscape on which a person can sketch a new personality, it attracts mythomaniacs, people who wish to convince the world of their worth. Such people come in all forms and they loom large. White celebrities busybodying in Africa loom especially large. Watching Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie recently in Ethiopia, cuddling African children and lecturing the world on charity, the image that immediately sprang to my mind was Tarzan and Jane. Bono, in his role as Mrs Jellyby in a 10-gallon hat, not only believes that he has the solution to Africa’s ills but he is also shouting so loud that other people seem to trust his answers. "
Read it.

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