Some optimistic observations on development and democracy, and some more aid-trade stories

“A New Dawn for Africa” from Johnathan Dembleby in the Daily Telegraph.

The boss of the call centre was born in Nairobi but left for the States to make his fortune. He became a big player in corporate America but now he is back home, running Kenya’s largest call centre, which has contracts with Britain and the United States as well as domestically. What brought him back? “I saw a chance to make serious money here. If they can do it in India, why not Kenya?” He abhors Africa’s “begging-bowl image” and the cronyism and corruption that bedevil his own country, but he is an optimist. “Of course we need better leadership but Kenya is full of entrepreneurs – that’s the way forward.”
. . . .
There are scores, hundreds, thousands of such examples. It is not yet a flood but it is more than a trickle as a steady stream of African émigrés return to make a better life for themselves and their families in their own countries. This “brain gain” does not yet balance the “brain drain” but it is a symptom that much of Africa is changing for the better. While the fundamental conditions for a thriving economy – the rule of law and transparency – are not yet deeply rooted in any African state, the foundations are at last being nurtured in many of them.
. . . .
Democracy is still a fragile flower but has started to bloom in many parts of the continent including Nigeria. Though instability is a constant predicament, tyrants and military dictators are now the exception not the rule. Freedom of expression, dramatically enhanced by Twitter and Facebook and the ubiquitous mobile phone, is proving exceptionally difficult to suppress except by the kind of brute force that only a tiny minority of African regimes are nowadays willing to exercise. Whether it is for these reasons or because they have been voting with their feet to confirm the latest New Scientist survey – which reports that regardless of their multiple tribulations, Nigeria is home to the happiest people on earth – some 10,000 Nigerians returned home last year. A similar flow is reported in many other countries.

None of this is to magic away the desperate circumstances that millions of Africans endure. Over the past 40 years, I have witnessed far too much hunger and too many deaths from disease, conflict and tyranny to be a Pangloss about this continent. The suffering is heart-breaking, the inequities are offensive, and the corruption is corrosive. My point is that these miseries are very far from being the whole story. The Africans I met on my 7,000-mile journey through nine countries resent the pitying and patronising attitudes that are so often adopted towards them by a Western world which – from their perspective – doles out aid with one hand while nicking the oil and minerals (by which the continent is blessed in super-abundance) with the other.

Again and again, at every level, people told me: “Don’t give us aid – trade with us fairly. Stop ripping us off.” Of course, most of them don’t mean that literally; they simply want a relationship with the rest of the world that is grounded in greater respect and understanding. Well-meaning sound bites like Tony Blair’s “Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world” inadvertently label as “victims” hundreds of millions of energetic and hard-working individuals who are resilient, inventive and enterprising – and who live in vibrant and peaceable communities that have much to teach our own dysfunctional societies.

On the aid front, “Dar rushes to spend $700M as U.S. official jets in”, from The East African. Worth noting that this $700M from the Millennium Challenge Corporation for Tanzania approaches twice the amount of the annual budget for AFRICOM. A BBC report asks five years after the Gleneagles Summit: “Did more African aid deliver fewer coups?”

And back on the entrepreneurial side, see “Trader in grasshopper delicacy hops to fortune” from the Standard.

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