ending charity: alone, is not the answer

>

“Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” – Anonymous

There are a lot of confusing buzzwords being thrown around these days: ending charity, dead aid, patient capitalism, impatient optimists, and investment over aid. What does it all mean?

My initial thoughts on this subject were spurred by zyOyz founder Steve Jennings’ repost of an article titled: “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty”. Well I agreed with the article’s basic premise that just giving money is not the only solution or the best, I was troubled by the article’s absolute statements that business models and capitalism will save the world.

The article, reposted from the Financial Times, notes the work of the Acumen Fund founded by Jacqueline Novogratz, which invests in small businesses with a social impact termed as “patient capital.” It has become a highly successful model, however Novogratz is quoted as saying: “We need creative approaches to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more inclusive.” The most inclusive business model that I know, with high degrees of success, is the cooperative model based on needs of those involved, inclusion, and participation. Looking at history, capitalism has generated exclusion: great amounts of wealth for many people, but it has also perpetuated extremely flawed systems that create great degrees of poverty for many people. The evidence is in any major city where the consequences of capitalism lay bare the desperation of good people who are left with nothing.

At the root of the article, “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty,” is the long-running debate on whether investment is more effective than aid. Professor Bill Easterly made popular the fact (through his book, “White Man’s Burden”) that over $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa over the last 50 years with limited positive results, Dambisa Moyo has termed this “dead aid” and calls for a complete end of aid to Africa. Others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given vast amounts of aid (which they often call “investment”) to Africa with their foundation, label themselves as “impatient optimists.” They are hopeful for the future and want more done at the present time.

However, there is a problem with their impatience that many have critiqued. Impatience tends to push solutions that are ineffective. Ian Wilhelm gets further into this topic in a blog about “irrational aid.” In the post he writes about Alanna Shaikh’s critique of ineffective aid, such as outdated pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that has no use in the field. This argument is countered by Isaac Holeman’s disagreement that well that aid may be irrational, it provides immediate personal stories of need to bring in more donors. I have to agree with Alanna in saying that this irrational, possibly impatient, aid does more harm and basically no good.

How have we now moved from decrying the failures of charity and aid to highlighting the benefits of business models and the capitalist system back again to smiling about greater benefits of monetary investment in people and ideas? Where is the line drawn between investment and aid? As far as I can tell it is mostly semantic. Isn’t aid when transparent, effective, and driven by best practices an investment? Giving an investment is essentially the same as giving aid or charity.

Investment is the buzzword used by social enterprises, microfinance, and has become the new fad in international development organizations. I think that it is important to make a distinction between what is effective and what is not. Aid can be very effective and investment can be very ineffective. The reverse is also true. Where does effective aid change from being a type of investment? When experts talk about the broken aid system do they forget that the broken aid system is merely a reflection of the broken financial system. The same interests and individuals who have run financial systems have run foreign aid systems.

The real issue in this debate need not be if businesses are better than charities or who’s money is better spent. What is most important needs to be the question of, “How?” The systems, structures, and practices that implement aid and drive investment need to be cooperative, inclusive, needs based, and people-centered – in one word: effective. If you are looking for a return on investment (ROI) or accolades for your donated or invested dollars, then maybe you should reconsider why you give?

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

the final battle in the continent

The noise will make all else inaudible, not even the whisper of, “here they come,” will be understood. The noise will be unbearable. TICK TOCK, time is running out to stop and realize the impending doom. CHING, money is flowing so fast and smoothly for anyone to truly care and take notice. RATTA-TATTA, RATTA-TATTA, anti-terrorism gunships will tear through the sky and open fire marking holes on the cratered dirt roads, the cargo shipments will crash and the cheap goods will burn as the bombs fall, KABOOM, refugees will run from camp to camp to avoid the madness of it all, AHHHH, disease will run rampant as systems of infrastructure are torn apart, rebel groups and religious sects will race to claim control before they are cut down in the streets, RATTA-TATTA, buildings and factories will be contructed and destroyed all in the same day, BOOM KA-BLAM, the force of trade will combat the force of military imperialism in the last great epic battle for the African continent.

Africa has already faced two huge battles between superpowers on its soil, this I am telling you will be the last and the greatest. The first great battle for Africa was during and after the Berlin Conference of 1884-5. As the Western powers of the day argued and squabbled over land rights to various parts of Africa, the African pie was sliced and later devoured. After the conference many of the Western powers preceded to lay claims to more of the continent slowly moving Africa in to the period of colonialism or maybe a better term would be pure exploitation of land and people. Leopold II of Belgium ravaged the Congo Free State’s people for rubber, the Firestone Tire company established itself in Liberia, Brazil perpetuated the slave trade in Senegal, France’s blatantly promoted colonial racism, the British imposed custom and culture, and the list goes on of colonial atrocities and wrong-doings. The division of the ‘African pie’ led to the failure seen in later years and in the future created by colonialism. The Great Western powers of that age saw Africa only as an opportunity to gain territiory and resources, to exploit being who walked the earth for their own good and nothing else, to be bigger, stronger, and more impressive. However, this was not always the Western European view of Africa.

Africans and Europeans worked and lived as equals in the Ancient and Renissance eras. Europe depended on Africa for its economic stability. In the Greek, Roman, and European Renissance societies ‘blacks’ and ‘whites’ were treated as equals as evidenced in paintings from the time periods. Africa was an ancient center for learning, religion, and wealth (ie: Timbuktu). Ships from the Swahili coast reached farther than any European vessel and the Swahili people mastered sailing techniques before the Europeans. This spread the sale of goods, cultures, and ideas. This is evidenced by porcelain from China embedded in East African tombs and Chinese paintings of an African giraffe, given as a gift to Chinese emperor. This wealth and power of Africa lasted up until Vasco de Gama‘s voyage around the tip of Africa, when he noted the great gold wealth of Africa. This prompted the return of Western fleets to plunder and pillage African Islands and coasts for the wealth and gold.

The Second great battle for Africa came with the end of the Second World War and the rise of the Cold War. With the ‘threat’ of spreading communism through the Soviet Union and the US’s mandate to halt that spread the greatest proxy wars were waged on the African continent. Angola, Mozambique, Rhodeisa (Zimbabwe), Zaire (DRC), Guinea Bissau, Egypt, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Benin were all hot spots for the tug-of-war in the continent. <a href="http://www.piedmontcommunities.us/servlet/go_ProcServ/dbpage=page&gid=01350001151109257610111573
“>”When two elephants are either making love or fighting, the grass perishes.
And when the Third World countries become the hotbed of struggle, they suffer.” Most African countries gained their independence during the height of the Cold War and so the terms of independence were dicated by either the Soviet Union or the US. The African people lost the opportunity to set up their own governments and systems. The lasting effects of this are evidenced in the current civil wars and conflicts happening today (ie: Sudan). Many African countries are now moving towards adopting democratic governance and conflict resolution. The ill effects of the Cold War are being reversed and yet there is an ever growing presence of foreign dominance on the continent.

This brief background moves us into the third and what I believe will be the last epic battle in the African continent. This third battle involves the use of neo-colonialism, mercantilist trade, military intervention, and resource exploitation. The battle in the African continent pits China’s production and trade poweress over the US’s seeming military might. At this stage China is winning the battle. With its history of supporting the African independence movements and its current bi-lateral trade agreements set-up in twelve African countries, China is well on its way to taking the continent by storm. The US has seen this rise of Chinese investment in Africa and has come back with actions against terrorism. The new <a href="http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=36396%22
“>AFRICOM, or Africa Command, is now official. The US has been involved militarily in Africa for a long time. Many believe that since the Somalia 1993 conflict where 18 servicemen died, that the Pentagon is un-interested in Africa. Ethiopia has received extensive US military support in the way of training and supplies. The US has also led efforts to attack Islamist terrorist groups and has used Ethiopia’s support. Many Sahelian countries have recieved support as part of a Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative focusing on Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Nigeria, and Morocco, the US has become more involved in West Africa where US energy interest is growing. The Pentagon is taking on more humanitarian roles usually filled by USAID, however I would argue that this may be a better approach. Adding aid to military support brings good governance and stability of the people. What does bother me is that this is being initiated through the Pentagon and through military means with a goal of US national security as the underlying issue motivating the anti-terrorism actions and support.

While the US works to gain militarily for national interest, China is developing more peaceful trade gains for its national interest. President of China, Hu Jintao, has been touring the continent looking to make investments and partnerships to give the Chinese market a place to trade more. Recently in South Africa, where diplomatic ties of nine years ago have strengthened trade, Jintao announced huge loans for the country, increase in trade, and increases in South Africa’s tourism industry. Agreements were signed in South Africa and Namibia to increase the “brotherly friendship” between the countries. Also recently in Nigeria nine Chinese oil workers were freed from Nigerian gunmen. This comes as President Jintao is touring eight African countries. There was no reported ransom paid. Many foreign workers are held hostage in the Niger Delta as the region wrestles with poverty and an uncaring oil industry. Even as the Chinese are working to increase trade and investment, their workers are not free from the conflicts and issues of the continent.

As the US and China are increasing investments and military actions other countries are joining the battle to gain influence and power in Africa. <a href="
http://allafrica.com/stories/200702020829.html”>Brazil is hot on China’s heels. Brazilian President Luiz Inicio Lula da Silva apologized for almost 400 hundred years of slave trade on a visit to Senegal. Brazil is seen as being in contention with China and India as the next superpower. Engaging Africa is the centerpiece of Lula’s diplomacy. He has visited 13 African countries and has opened 12 embassies in Africa during his term. Brazil is slightly ahead of the game in regards to China with bi-lateral agreements with Ghana, Nigeria, and Mozambique. Lula is interested in “digging beneath the layers of guilt and sorrow to find commercial and geo-political issues.” The German government is also joining the iniative to increase African investment. Germany’s plan is to create <a href="http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/node/3511
“>African Bond markets: “Berlin has presented its initiative, part of its agenda as president of the G8 group of industrial nations, as part of an effort to help African countries to insulate themselves against rapid swings in international exchange rates. However, Thomas Mirow, deputy finance minister, said the move would also address concerns fuelled by Beijing’s policy of granting generous, unconditional loans to African countries as a way of securing access to these countries’ resources and markets.”

So as the country is over-run by Western powers seeking to increase their trade options and other forces are working to gain a military influence I wonder what lasting effect this will have on the continent. As you can gather from my introduction I cannot see this initiative as being completely positive. While China is offering great loans and investment to Africa, but on the flip side China is one of the world’s premier arms suppliers. Countries cannot afford expensive Western arms and so they line up to buy from China. China is heavily invested in Sudan where there is an intense internal conflict, a genocide – fueled by Chinese arms deals. China often ignores the impact of its arms deals. China claims to not mess with the internal affairs of countries, but these arms deals can have massive impacts on internal affairs. However China is concerned with being viewed as a responsible world power, so it may make efforts to invest positively. China, Brazil, Germany, the US, who is next to join in this last rush for the resources of the African continent? Will this last ‘battle’ and investment tear the continent apart?

growing impact; china’s investment in africa, where is the US?

When you think about where your life is going and what you want to do and why you want to do it, do you ever consider the impact your decision will have on others and not just yourself? I am an strong idealist and I with the work that I do I can’t see defining myself as anything else. I dream of a world with universal access to the necessary healthcare that all people need. I dream of a world where co-existance and peace are a norm, I dream of a world where everyone, whether they know it or not, is connected by their actions and decisions. However, I not only dream, but I envision and believe that such a world is a possibility.

At any rate, if you have been reading the news lately you very well have noticed that there are peace talks in Uganda and they seem to have gone very well, since a peace accord was signed late last month. This accord will end two decades of violence and will hopefully lead to a rebuilding and return to positive advances. Peace is growing in the region, yet as it does the crisis and genocide in Sudan continues as reports of indiscriminate aerial bombings by Sudanese government planes was reported today. Reconciliation talks continue in Rwanda, presidential elections in Gambia, and the Liberian president is recognized for her peaceful efforts.

The stability of the continent is growing, but is the western model the best? Is capitalism and democracy the only right way to run a country? Only time will tell, and of growing concern is the role of China in African Affairs. My friend is currently studying in Egypt and has said that he has seen the growing Chinese presence in Egypt within the tourism industry. The growing impact of China in Africa is alarming not for the fact that China is the last remaining communist state, but what is alarming is the policy that China presented in January of this year (2006). Click the title of this post to view the full Policy.

China and Africa have had a long relationship of political support. As China and various African states gained independence the relationship grew and, as China writes, increase in bi-lateral trade and economic cooperation. China outlines a number of cooperations, however as with most documents, everything looks good on paper and it makes me wonder if this is the last sweep and takeover of Africa. China is in search of natural resources and the resource rich African continent is ripe for the picking. With China and Africa’s history and China’s policy to assist any form of government to develop (regardless of a particular government’s disregard for human rights or caring for its people). What I take from this policy is that China will assist African leaders to build their infrastructure in exchange for natural resources. Will China finally suck Africa dry and leave its people to rot with no chances for sustainable development? Will the US or other Western powers not also take on a stronger policy on Africa? Will our leaders continue their policy of turning a blind eye toward the African continent. The US has carried this policy well. With our military failures and the tyrant leaders we propped up all leading to disaster, I feel the US has an even greater responsibility to invest in the continent and assist in its positive development to support its people. I am worried that China will toss aside the African continent like an empty candy wrapper after devouring the delicious chocolate inside before the African people can even rebuild their lives. Again only time will tell, but this is my call to the US government to adopt a strong African Policy based on investment for sustainable development and cooperation, as China has declared to do, but we owe it to the people. I hope to travel back to Africa soon, will I need to know Chinese to get around? (Note: I have nothing against the Chinese language or people, but its government’s history makes me worry)