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AIrica, a continent enormously rich in resources and people, remains the sick child oI the modern world.

Why, and what can we

do about it? is AIrica still poor? What happens to the billions oI aid dollars given yearly? Why do trade rules that Iail AIrican
countries also cost us at the checkout line? Why doesn`t AIrica matter? In this engaging, jargon-Iree, reader-Iriendly guide,
longtime aid worker and diplomat Giles Bolton oIIers his radical analysis oI the problems AIrica Iaces, drawing on years oI
experience on the ground. Dividing the book into Iive sectionspoverty, aid, trade, globalization, and changehe analyzes the
issues, breaking them down with helpIul Ieatures like sidebars and bullet points and humanizing them with stories about real
people in AIrica and anecdotes Irom his own years in the Iield. In a Iinal section, he outlines what we as individuals can do to
make a diIIerence.
In 2006 |Americans| spent nearly as much money subsidizing the U.S. cotton industry, $4 billion, as the entire value oI the cotton
it produced. |Europeans| are paying to subsidize every cow in the European Union at $3 a day. |The Japanese| recently spent
more than 1 percent oI |their| annual income at least $600 per household` on rice through a combination oI high prices and
Iarmer support.

Five Myths about Africa
Famine is due to Iood shortages.
Drought or conIlict can certainly lead to much-reduced Iood production in particular areas. But it`s rare that a country as a whole
has insuIIicient Iood, and the market can always bring supplies in Irom other places, or even Irom abroad. Famine occurs because
individuals can no longer aIIord to buy Iood, so there`s no point in traders bringing in any to sell. Famine is really the result oI
Iragile, poor lives, where just one bad harvest-or the death oI your cow, a collapse in crop prices, the loss oI a job-can leave you
with nothing, and no means to provide Ior your Iamily.
AIrica is overpopulated and they keep having too many children
For its size, AIrica is relatively underpopulated. India is barely a tenth as big and supports more people. Rwanda has the heaviest
land pressure in AIrica yet still has Iewer people per square mile than England. The problem is that economic growth too oIten
lags behind population growth, land use is ineIIicient, and pressure on good land intensiIies in the absence oI other opportunities
Ior employment. With stable growth and the new jobs it brings, AIrica`s population could aIIord considerable expansion. But in
any case, birth rates tend to Iall where growth, education, and health care improve.
AIrica has many killer diseases
No, it doesn`t-or at least, little more so than other parts oI the world. Most deaths in AIrica don`t occur elsewhere simply because
there is treatment available in hospitals and clinics, drugs we can aIIord, and inoculations we have as children. Some oI AIrica`s
big killers?
* HIV/AIDS (over 2 million a year). It`s pretty simple. II you get HIV in the West, you take antiretrovirals, which have a very
high success rate at keeping you alive and healthy Ior years. II you get it in AIrica-and 70 percent oI the people in the world with
HIV Live in AIrica-you probably don`t, and you will soon die once Iull-blown AIDS takes hold, unless you`re one oI a lucky
* Malaria (about 1 million a year). Aside Irom the deaths, malaria takes a massive toll in sickness and loss oI productivity, with
hundreds oI millions suIIering bouts every year. But with proper treatment and use oI bed nets, it could be reduced enormously.
Southern Europe used to suIIer Irom malaria; it`s now all but extinct there.
* Diarrheal diseases (about 700,000 a year). Yes, people die Irom diarrhea, especially the vulnerable, such as young children, all
Ior want oI simple treatment like oral rehydration and access to clean water.`
And so on and so Iorth. More than 4 million children in AIrica under Iive die every year; two-thirds oI their deaths could be
avoided with low-cost solutions like vitamin A supplements, insecticide-treated bed nets, and oral rehydration tablets. Want to
know how easy it is to stamp out a disease iI you put enough eIIort behind it-and enough resources? In a rare success story, polio
is close to being wiped out in AIrica, Largely due to a mass inoculation campaign since 1988. Nearly all disease is about poverty.
AIrica has many dangerous animals
In some ways this would be quite romantic iI true, even though Irightening. But elephants don`t rampage through backyards on a
regular basis, and leopards don`t make a habit oI chewing Iarmers in their Iields. Most wild game is conIined to relatively Iew
reserves; there are thought to be only around 23,000 Lions across the whole continent, a decrease oI 90 percent in two decades.`
They kill only a couple oI hundred people a year (and barely ever a tourist).8 In killing terms, it`s the malaria-carrying mosquito
that is the true king oI the jungle.
The climate isn`t conducive to development
People tend to Iorget that much oI AIrica is in the tropics and receives lots oI rainIall. It is, aIter all, the continent we`re all
descended Irom, so people have been living there successIully Ior millennia. Even on dusty plains, livestock can survive well as
long as there is reliable access to water. It is thought that Uganda, a smallish country oI around 25 million people, could still
probably Ieed the whole oI AIrica iI commercially Iarmed. II you can irrigate, almost anything will grow with all that sunshine.
The bottom line is that iI you are able to extract enough water-substantially an issue oI cost-climate is hardly a problem: look at
the agricultural heartland oI the American South (though it has been pointed out that part oI the reason the American South got
rich in the Iirst place was AIrican slave labor).
It`s easy to Iorget how young most current countries on the oldest continent are. The landmass Irom which mankind originated
was dotted with various realms and territories up until the 1870s, but these bore little relation to subsequent borders. The Iew
European spheres oI inIluence were little more than trading posts along the odd stretch oI coast, plus the longer-established
British colony oI South AIrica at the tip. The rest oI the continent got on with liIe as usual, having escaped the colonial march oI
Europe`s powers across other parts oI the globe over previous centuries. There were powerIul kingdoms at various diIIerent
times, such as Ashanti, Dahomey, and Oyo in the west, KanemBornu in the center, Abyssinia and Buganda in the east, and the
Zulus in the south. Meanwhile, the detail in European atlases tended to peter out as soon as they covered any distance inland in
AIrica, and whole rivers, lakes, kingdoms, and mountain ranges Iailed to bother the illustrators` pencils.
Then came Europe`s mad scramble Ior AIrica. This was the era oI eccentric explorers and compliant cartographers, backed by the
incomparable Iorce oI modern weapons. Gaps on Western maps were Iilled in apace. A small and reckless breed oI land-grabbing
adventurers traversed their way across the continent, establishing 'Iacts oI ownership by signing treaties with bullied or giIt-
Ilattered local leaders, or through the direct imposition oI Iorce. The resulting paperwork made its way back to European
conIerence rooms, where it was considered and contested until pretty much the entire continent was divided up between Britain,
France, Portugal, Germany, Italy, and Belgium. Then the mapmakers were called in to transpose these rough agreements into
indelible ink, agreements that owed everything to imperial bickering, bribery, and the gun and little to the logic oI landscape or
ethnicity. Thousands oI miles oI borders ended up in geography-deIying straight lines purely because they were nice and easy Ior
Europe`s hungry aggressors to negotiate. It`s a strange situation when cartographers have a greater inIluence on the birth oI
countries than the inhabitants oI those regions themselves; and it would come back to haunt much oI the continent.
In the space oI IiIteen years, thirty new colonies and protectorates were established.
The late 1950s and early 1960s saw liberation and independence spread like wildIire across the continent, starting with Ghana in
1958, decades beIore the colonialists had expected it. A generation oI AIrican heroes oI independence triumphed aIter years oI
struggle, reclaiming their land Ior AIrican rule: Nkrumah in Ghana, Kenyatta in Kenya, Senghor in Senegal, and countless others.
. Fresh Irom the success oI independence AIrica`s new leaders Iaced a stunning set oI challenges. Three stood out above the
First, the entire continent remained desperately poor and grossly ill-equipped to thrive as a bunch oI newly independent nation
states. Few oI the colonial powers had done much to educate their subjects in the running oI the territories they had claimed.
There was little transport inIrastructure to connect diIIerent regions and peoples in the same country, not least because what roads
and railways there were had been designed to deliver raw materials to the coast Ior export rather than enable people to get
together. Entire constitutions were created in an instant, sometimes copied word Ior word Irom other countries. State institutions,
modeled on idiosyncratically European systems, were handed over in a job lot, with vacancy signs hanging over every senior
post. In Iormer British colonies, AIrican judges dispensed sentences wearing eighteenth-century-style London periwigs. In
French ones, communications between AIrican civil servants were written in the highly Iormalized legalese oI old-Iashioned
Parisian government. The surrealism oI Europe`s arrogance in trying to rule AIrica in the Iirst place was outdone only by the
inevitable culture clash oI the legacy it leIt behind.
. While many thousands oI new politicians and public servants across the continent were inspired by their new responsibilities
to build a Iresh Iuture, Ior thousands oI others the brieI celebrations oI independence were soon superseded by more practical
questions oI securing their own status. People`s loyalty to a state that had done little or nothing Ior them to date was too oIten
overtaken by attempts to get the best deals Ior traditional allegiances oI Iamily and tribe. In many countries, a struggle Ior power
and a culture oI corruption took root.
. Desperate poverty, lack oI national identity, hugely disproportionate rewards oI oIIice . not exactly a great Ioundation on
which to build a brave new Iuture. Plunged headlong into a global economy on a competitive basis just as Southeast Asia was
beginning to thrive, AIrica lacked a workIorce educated and skilled to compete, let alone the contacts and guaranteed custom oI
colonial powers. Freed Irom Ioreign rule, it was also cut oII Irom the capacity to control access to the rich markets it needed to
reach, or to inIluence international prices Ior the Iew exports on which so much now depended-exports that were attractive to the
West but not essential enough to give AIrica a strong voice at the negotiating table.
While AIrica struggled to make a success oI its Iuture, the international community hardly covered itselI in glory. The
enthusiasm oI cold war powers Ior compliant support Ior their cause saw them provide assistance to a number oI dubious AIrican
rulers, which was oIten as inept as it was inapt. The Soviet bloc, short on cash, handed out arms shipments to Iavored leaders
across the continent, even though most were communist only to the extent oI quotes craIted Ior Kremlin consumption. ConIlict
boomed. Almost as inappropriately, the West courted its own set oI shady allies with large loans that bought immediate loyalty
but leIt rising debts and nourished corruption. Western companies were happy to make deals to exploit the continent`s raw
materials even iI they were signed by evidently crooked leaders with no intention oI sharing the rewards with their countrymen.
By the 1980s, President Mobutu Sese Seko oI Zaire . was thought to be the IiIth richest man in the world thanks to his own
knockout combination: the rape oI his country`s resources and the reliable Ilow oI poorly monitored external loans (and other aid:
by the late 1970s the United States was splurging nearly halI its aid budget Ior sub-Saharan AIrica on Zaire). Mobutu built
monuments and personal bank accounts but little else, while the West, especially the U.S., Iound itselI in the absurd position oI
encouraging ever more loans Ior Iear that Mobutu`s previous Iailure to use them responsibly leIt Zaire increasingly Iertile ground
Ior a socialist backlash. The irony was only deepened by the Iact that Patrice Lumumba, the leader who probably had the best
chance oI leading his country smoothly through independence, had been murdered back in the 1960s in a crime widely thought to
have been carried out by Belgian agents with CIA support Ior Iear he might not prove sympathetic enough in the Iight against
Marxism.* Zaire may have been one oI the more extreme examples oI corruption and ill-advised Western eIIorts, but it was these
kinds oI loans that did so much to give aid a bad name and make Western taxpayers skeptical their money would ever be well
used. The ongoing civil war that has beset Mobutu`s country (now known as D.R. Congo) since his eventual departure and death
in 1997 is a reminder oI what can happen when people receive no beneIit Irom their citizenship oI a state Ior too long: they are
much more likely to Iight to get their own hands on the Iew assets leIt lying around.
The predicaments oI AIrica`s highly stressed societies were worsened |in the 1990s| by a new ideological stringency the
'structural adjustment policies |the West| now insisted borrowers Iollow were overly prescriptive and Irequently ill judged.
Optimistic about the power oI markets to provide solutions Ior populations too poor Ior the market to have any interest in them,
structural adjustment policies generally included rigid diets oI privatization and severe cuts to essential services like health and
education in order to balance budgets. While the desire to get the books in order was understandable, in business terms this was
the equivalent oI selling oII many oI your best assets at the same time as cutting spending on training and research and
development and guaranteeing a large increase in sick days taken by your staII. Many economies declined Iurther, debts
continued to build, and budgets still weren`t balanced.
What was the eIIect oI these diIIicult years on AIrica`s great nation-building challenge? Unsurprisingly, Iaith in governments and
the nation-state Iailed to grow in many places as people gained little Irom their still-new capitals, while tales oI pocketlining
politicians gave even the good guys a bad name. The temptation to vote Ior your local big man regardless oI his policies or
honesty-who at least promised your town a tangible new road or school or paid you directly Ior your vote-grew bigger than ever,
compounding the calamity oI corruption.
An astonishing 70 percent oI U.S. aid is 'tied to U.S. consultants and materials, and Iully 47 percent oI U.S. aid spending in one
recent year went to consultants. Nearly halI oI U.S. national aid never even got anywhere close to AIricans in terms oI Iood,
water pumps, or direct support Ior AIrican systems: it went into consultants` pay envelopes, the vast majority oI whom are
Only about $4 in every $10 oI global aid goes to low-income countries (most oI which are in AIrica).
Many donors` aid still goes to 'strategic partners in support oI Western national interests rather than need. the two largest
traditional recipients oI U.S. assistance in the last couple oI decades have been Israel and Egypt.
Being lending institutions, the |World| Bank and |International Monetary| Fund are closely involved in the unsustainably high
levels oI debt most AIrican countries built up in the couple oI decades aIter independence.
How did AIrica`s debt crisis come about? In the 1960s, 1970s, and early 1980s, AIrican governments took out countless loans
that Western governments and banks happily Iarmed out to them with little regard to how they would be repaid. Some went to
prop up bad governments or military regimes that are now long gone, oIten in pursuit oI cold war agendas. Some were simply
wasted by the governments that received them. Others Ioundered on Ialse expectations oI economic growth.
Skyrocketing interest rates and bad economic policies multiplied these old debts over and over again. Many AIrican countries
reached a point where they needed new loans simply to pay oII old ones. The Iull crisis hit when the lenders stopped lending at
all, losing Iaith that new loans would ever be repaid, and AIrica inevitably started to deIault on existing payments. It was at this
point that the international community, mainly through the Fund, started to apply stringent conditions Ior any new money.
The blame Ior the debt crisis is a classic example oI AIrica`s problems. It lies primarily with the continent`s governments that
wasted the money. But the West was highly irresponsible to support so many corrupt regimes, and nave in the extreme to allow
AIrica`s debts to build up when economic growth was clearly insuIIicient to enable repayment
. Regardless oI who was at Iault, the debt crisis leIt the West in what ought to have been a terrible dilemma. On the one hand
Western countries wanted to be repaid and want the principle oI repayment to be maintained. On the other, they were demanding
billions oI dollars Irom countries that were simply unable, by anyone`s calculations, to meet the basic needs oI their people.
Should modern AIrican governments and their impoverished people pay Ior the Iaults oI previous regimes? Which comes Iirst:
repayment or basic human rights?
. Western Iinance ministries didn`t seem to Iind this much oI a dilemma until public pressure built up among Western
electorates, not least through an international campaign in the late 1990s, Ior debts to be written oII on a one-time basis. Until
that point, many AIrican countries simply continued to deIault and saw their debts rise and rise.
The campaign Ior debt relieI has seen gradually increasing amounts oI money written oII, not least an agreement at the 2005 G8
summit in Gleneagles to write oII the entire debt oI the world`s eighteen poorest countries, most oI which are AIrican an
initiative that has since been delivered on and expanded to other countries. Finally, AIrica`s debt problem is being tackled in a
serious way. But it has yet to beneIit all needy countries and, rather depressingly, some Western governments continue to pay Ior
debt relieI out oI their aid budgets-which means as an AIrican president that you might get some debt canceled, but you get less
aid as a result.
. AIrica`s continuing debt problem continues to grab headlines. But is debt relieI more important than aid, and would we need
aid at all iI we wrote oII all the debt? Uganda, the Iirst AIrican country to beneIit Irom debt relieI and a big recipient oI aid, used
the money saved to help double primary school enrollment and invest in its national HIV/AIDS plan, which has contributed to
the country`s successIul reversal oI HIV inIection rates. It`s an example oI what can be achieved. In 2004, Uganda received
$760 million overall in aid grants, more than eight times the savings Irom its debt relieI and hence could achieve much more with
The truth is that a dollar oI debt relieI is pretty much the same as a dollar oI (good, systemic) aid. Writing oII debt is important,
but Iar more aid will still be required iI AIrican countries are to have a chance oI meeting their basic needs. In many ways, debt is
simply a useIul rallying point Ior public attention, an issue where the inequity and unsustainability oI AIrica`s plight stands out
particularly clearly. It`s unconscionable to make people who have almost nothing send money to people who have lots, just
because they used to have some bad leaders to whom the West gave money in the past.
A 2005 Washington Post survey revealed that about halI oI Americans thought that more money was spent on Ioreign aid than on
Medicare or Social Security (combined 2006 cost: $921 billion Iorty times more than the aid budget). A similar 1996 survey
showed that the median amount oI the Iederal budget Americans thought ought to be spent on aid was 15 percent-IiIteen times
the actual sum.` When inIormed in a 2005 survey about the 0.7 percent GNI aid target, 65 percent oI Americans wanted their
government to meet it as long as other rich countries were doing the same.
There is no doubt, thereIore, that America`s government persistently spends less on aid than its electorate wants or believes. The
reality is that spending oI 0.17 percent oI GNI on aid (2006) is dwarIed twenty to thirty times by Iunding Ior the military. And
very little oI that little aid is the systemic support AIrica needs. AIter the 40 percent or more going to consultants, much oI the
rest is spent through charities, leaving those charities loath to criticize administration policies Ior Iear oI losing Iunding.
There is a simple, iI shocking, reason why the West doesn`t do better by the poorest continent. AIrica Doesn`t Matter. Its poor
markets hold little interest Ior Western business, and the continent provides almost no political or strategic threat to the West`s
stability, Ior the moment at least. There are thus no natural incentives to allow it a Iairer deal.
Unlike poor groups within our own societies, or potentially volatile countries near America or Europe`s borders, AIricans provide
almost no threat to this new global market`s stability. AIrica can remain marginalized, whereas marginalized groups within
national and regional markets had to be brought (or bought) in.
What it means is that AIrica becomes increasingly aIIected by the international decisions we make in a globalizing world-
especially those on aid and trade arrangements-but has little or no ability to inIluence them. It has no markets oI its own to
interest us, only a Iew tempting natural resources, and no major military machinery to make it geopolitically dangerous. It doesn`t
produce terrorists that we need to take account oI (not yet, at least). Everything Irom aid to trade to our attitude toward conIlict
resolution and humanitarian relieI is aIIected by its impotence.
In theory, the |World| Bank and |International Monetary| Fund are global bodies. This is certainly how they are presented. All
countries are represented on their executive boards, which make all key decisions. But look at the small print. Who actually holds
the votes on these boards? The combined share oI the vote oI all sub-Saharan AIrican countries adds up to around 5 to 7 percent.
The people with a real stake in Bank and Fund activities do not have . a real stake.
This is a Iundamental Ilaw at the heart oI these two key institutions. Sure, donors provide much oI the money so they are bound
to demand much oI the say, yet they must have an interest in eIIectiveness too. Not only does common sense suggest that those
countries with most experience oI Bank and Fund work should have some real input to their policies. But the sometimes painIul
reIorms required in their programs are much more eIIectively accepted and implemented iI they result Irom selI- and peer
analysis, rather than external imposition.
It`s that old measure oI eIIective aid again: ownership. AIrican countries have been demanding a larger share oI the vote on the
issues that most aIIect them Ior several years now. Rather typically, America and Europe, which currently hold the vast majority
oI votes (and all the aces), have decided not to listen.
Denied an eIIective vote, AIrican countries also lack the human resources to try to inIorm and inIluence the discussions that take
place when the Bank and Fund boards consider how much and what kind oI support to give them-or to cut back on. To put this in
some kind oI context, the oIIice oI a large European country in the Bank and Fund in Washington will have nine or ten highly
qualiIied staII working Iull-time to prepare Ior board votes and policies, and a permanent place on the boards. Then there are
large support teams carrying out and commissioning Iurther research back in European capitals, oI which I was once part (the
United States, oI course, has the whole oI its Treasury Department just up the Street). And sub-Saharan AIrica? Its Iorty-eight
countries have two seats on the boards between them, and are lucky iI they have one single oIIicial Irom their own government
among the teams there.
The Iinal irony is that while Bank and Fund programs are sometimes used by Western powers to increase pressure on AIrican
countries to move toward democracy (not in itselI, oI course, a bad thing), their own procedures are Iar Irom democratic. The
idea is that AIrica should move to electing leaders by merit, on the basis oI popular mandate, in order to try and get the best man
or woman Ior the job. Strange, then, that the leaderships oI the |World| Bank and |International Monetary| Fund are, by tradition,
never voted on. Instead, the United States gets to choose the leader Ior the Bank (how else did you think that neocon and Iraq war
architect Paul WolIowitz ended up as its last / president?). And Europe gets to appoint the head oI the Fund.
What oI the World Trade Organization, oIten held up as an example oI a more democratic institution? It`s certainly true that the
WTO doesn`t deserve the demonization it suIIers at the hands oI antiglobalization protesters. Each country in the WTO has a
vote, nominally giving AIrican nations as much inIluence as anyone else-and much better representation than in either the World
Bank or the International Monetary Fund.
Unsurprisingly, however, some nations are more equal than others. Unlike the Bank or Fund, the WTO rarely votes-it is more oI
a talking shop in which agreements are gradually hammered out, and no institutional design could ever change the Iact that poor
AIrican countries need access to rich markets much more than vice versa. The rules may be nominally Iair, but the contenders are
utterly mismatched.
The UN is a genuinely democratic organization, and powerIul Western countries dislike giving their money to bodies they can
less easily control. Yet, in a sign oI how diIIicult international governance will be and we will surely move toward it over the
next 200 to 300 years the inconvenient truth is also that having many, equal bosses also makes it much harder Ior UN agencies
to be operationally eIIective.
Edmund Burke
No one could make a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.
ln the long term, AIrica`s prospects must eventually be bright, iI only because it will eventually be the world`s only remaining
repository oI cheap labor.