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"Biodun": Make Bad Governance History

"Biodun" is a regular visitor to ConservativeHome and authors her own weblog - Peaks and Troughs.

Geldof_bob_2On Wednesday morning, I woke up to the sad news that Bob Geldof will be shaping the Conservative Party’s policy on Globalisation and Global Poverty.

In the day’s Guardian, Geldof wrote about Live8:

“The single greatest lobby for a political platform ever achieved, it forced on the top table of world politics a hitherto economically unacceptable package of benefits for the poor of Africa.”

Why is this sad news? For one thing, the package of benefits Geldof has forced on to the table has so far been unacceptable for very good reasons.  They help few people in the West, and even fewer in Africa, least of all the poor.

Another reason is that Geldof is a man who does not learn lessons from the past and who does not admit when he is wrong.

In 1985, Live Aid generated a lot of publicity and a lot of money for the famine in Ethiopia.  Yet in spite of, siphoning most of it for their personal use and their genocidal policy of not delivering food aid from abroad to rebel areas, the Mengistu government received little criticism. To this day most Westerners actually believe that the money raised from the concert ended the suffering and famine that actually went on for two more years!

Why is all of Geldof’s talk focused on aid debt relief, and fair trade, when the main problem is bad government and corruption?

This year, distressing images of the famine in Niger shown on TV, were quickly followed by calls for more government aid and private donations. In desperate times, a nation’s leaders are seen asking for help from the international community.  While this was being done by the Red Cross, Niger’s leaders were out and about denying that there was any famine.  To this day, insisting that there is a food surplus in the country, and even spending over $10 million dollars hosting the little-known Afro-Francophone games in the capital, this December, far away from the starving citizens.

Why should the Nigerien government feed its citizens, when the International Community will do it for them without any censure?

Whilst I am not advocating that people should be left to starve, one wonders if democracy would have spread round the world, if someone had been dropping food packages in Paris, just before the French revolution.  The situations are analogous.  A parent who has watched a child starve to death is more likely to be involved in overthrowing an evil government than one who knows that food will fall from the sky, come what may.

There will be many more famines to come as long as the responsibility of feeding a population belongs to Christian Aid and not to the government.

Last month, I went for a talk at Chatham House on Corruption, Looted Assets and the Hypocrisy of the International Community.  The scale of the corruption is so vast, an endless amount of lists, statistics and articles fail to convey just how much looting goes on.  According to Transparency International, the cost of corruption is about $1 trillion dollars in bribes and $30 trillion to the world economy.

Africa’s problems start and end with bad leaders, many receiving support from the West.  I expect the Conservatives to be formulating ground-breaking policies where Labour has failed, ostracizing badly-run countries while forging partnerships with good ones.  They should not be joining a Geldof band-wagon, where Labour is already in the front seat.

Africa’s intellectual giants are in exile in the West, many of them in London, while some governments are headed by men who do not even have a primary school education.  I’d like to see the Tories getting more of such people on board if they are determined to have outsider input in their policies.

Why is Geldof silent on the kleptocracies and kakistocracies raping and looting from their own people?  Leaders who borrowed money from Western banks in their countries’ names and promptly deposited the money back in personal accounts with those same banks?

More than $500 billion dollars was embezzled by Nigerian military dictators since independence.  This is equal to all the money pumped into all of Africa from 1960 to 1997.

Former members of Nigerian governments hold £220 billion in foreign bank accounts, dwarfing the $35 billion required to clear the country’s external debt.  Earlier this year, the Daily Telegrah stated “The looting of Africa's most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent.”.  It is bad enough that these people steal so much money, even worse that they choose to invest it outside their own countries.

The fact that Africa has been receiving aid since the 1960s and is getting poorer and poorer, year on year seems to have escaped many. 

While trade barriers and high tariffs are indeed a major cause of woe, few know that tariffs within Africa are higher than tariffs between African the West. It is cheaper to fly from Sierra Leone to South Africa via London than it is to fly direct. Cheaper to import Tesco Value tea bags for sale in a Lagos market, than the better quality stuff from Kenya and Ethiopia.  World Bank figures show African nations have tariffs as high as 33.6 percent on agricultural goods from their neighbours.  This drops to an average of 19 percent for goods coming from Europe.

This phenomenon is often referred to as “colo-mentality”, where former colonies see their old rulers as being the best or only possible partners for trade.  Why should the rest of the world trade favourably with Africa when she refuses to do so with herself?

On blogs and message-boards all over the internet, one of the few places where genuine voices of Africans living in Africa can actually be heard, the arguments are all about the governments and the leadership.  Few have heard of Live8, those who have are aghast at what Western citizens think is going to solve their problems.

Two interesting blogs:

  • The first by a British man living in Nigeria and the second by an African living in London are just a few of the examples of those who are really affected being completely against aid handouts and dropping debt when it can be repaid by those who stole the money.

If Cameron can use Geldof’s ill-deserved credibility and PR for what it’s worth, while ensuring that the intellectual foundations for the policies come from real economic experts in the UK and the under-developed countries that would be a fantastic achievement. However, judging from Geldof’s comments “What I am trying to do is agree to help formulate a policy that I would agree with." One wonders whether it’s actually Geldof who is using the Tories...


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