“A fool at 40 is a fool forever”

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Internationally acclaimed film maker Sorious Samura has a critical article on aid on the BBC News web site in advance of his Panorama programme on aid to Sierra Leone and Uganda – which is broadcast tonight (see our post a few days ago). He writes:

“Where I come from in West Africa, we have a saying: “A fool at 40 is a fool forever”, and most African countries have now been independent for over 40 years. Most are blessed with all the elements to help compete on a global stage….. And yet today, my continent, which is home to 10% of the world’s population, represents just 1% of global trade. I have no doubt we have to take responsibility for our failures. We can’t afford to keep playing the blame game. But when 50 years of foreign aid has failed to lift Africa out of poverty, could corruption be the reason?”

Much of what he says hits the nail on the head. Corruption has been pervasive, and the Rich World must take its share of the blame – for everyone taking a bribe, there is someone giving. And ‘grand corruption’ has been spectacularly rampant in Africa’s oil sector (see EITI here). My IDPM Colleague, Sarah Bracking, has a new book out on corruption and development and what is being done to reduce it (go here).

One point that I do take issue with in Sorious Samura’s article is his view that Uganda is being crippled by what economists term ‘Dutch Disease’, resulting from large aid inflows:

“Large inflows of foreign currency push up the value of the Ugandan shilling making its agricultural and manufactured goods less price competitive. This results in fewer exports and less home-grown, sustainable earnings for the country. Local entrepreneurs such as coffee growers and flower exporters should be cashing in on rising food and commodity prices across the globe at the moment, but they are finding themselves crowded out of their own economy by foreign aid dollars”.

Maybe, but I would like to see hard evidence of this in Uganda’s case. Aid also funds infrastructure investment which, when well-designed, reduces the costs of production, marketing and transport. This raises the profitability of businesses that use the infrastructure. This can more than offset the disincentive to export production resulting from the currency appreciation that Samura worries about, making exporting more profitable, not less, after aid.

As I said it has to be well-designed aid. Aid that simply goes to raising consumption won’t do the trick (although if it is consumption of the poor – including humanitarian aid – then I worry less). And nobody doubts that Africa needs a lot more infrastructure – partly to change the pattern of infrastructure that was created to serve the colonial economy. That pattern still dominates much of Africa 40 years on. Disadvantaged regions, in which chronic poverty is high, especially need better transport infrastructure. Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, quotes a study that road transport in Francophone Africa is six times more expensive than in Pakistan.

So, I look forward to tonight’s Panorama programme. Sorious Samura will be rightly hard-hitting. We can’t tolerate corruption. And we need well-designed and well-implemented aid. In the meantime, I shall be reading up about Uganda’s aid programme, and whether “Dutch Disease” has been a problem. If you have some suggestions, do please send them along.

Tony Addison is Executive Director of the Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester.

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2 Responses to ““A fool at 40 is a fool forever””

  1. tilt-shift photoscape Says:

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  2. Wiaan Pretorius Says:

    As a South African citizen “corruption” is a daily occurrence from submitting a tender to a municipality to the traffic cop who stops you 10 kilometers from Polokwane trying to convince you that this is actually a 100 kilometer stretch and this is only if you are an average citizen.

    Personally I can only wonder about big corporations and the government (my favorite pondering point Nkandla!).

    The second best excuse for the struggling economy after 20 years of democracy is of course (yes you guessed it) Apartheid! What really gets to me is how the younger generation, that was never influenced by this event, is the first to use it as an excuse. For me the solution is simple – focus on using aid from foreign countries for what is was actually meant – empowering us to become economically independent.

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