Thursday, July 30, 2009

Does Africa Need Food Aid?

The Group of 8 at its last meeting pledged 20 billion dollars in agricultural aid to African countries to the delight the beggarly African leaders and some aid agencies, but not everybody is happy about it.
Although the amount, which is for three years, does not compare favorably with the $13.4 billion which the G8 said it disbursed between January 2008 and July 2009, aid groups said the new pledge in Italy is more clearly focused and could be more beneficial.
For the first time, instead of being given directly as food aid, these funds are to be allotted for building an agricultural economy in African nations in need. It is for agricultural infrastructure such as fertilizer and seed, grain storage vessels and plant variety research.
Although the form of the aid looks more decent than the traditional food handouts, it still does not justify Africa’s food insecurity. Not even the on-going global economic meltdown justifies the level of poverty in the continent.
According to the United Nations, the number of malnourished people most of who are in Africa, has risen in the past two years and is expected to top 1.02 billion this year. This reverses decades of declines.
For years, the face of Africa has been the poor and hungry malnourished child with flies perched on his lips. Considering Africa’s enormous resources, we find this face of the continent unacceptable.
The same view was expressed by US President Barack Obama during the announcement of the aid. "There is no reason Africa should not be self-sufficient when it comes to food," Obama said, recalling that his relatives in Kenya live "in villages where hunger is real," though they themselves are not going hungry.
Africa’s geography and environment are in direct contrast to its political and social circumstances.
According to observations made by the British charity Oxfam, development efforts have been in place all over the continent throughout the past two decades, yet Africans continue to grow poorer with each passing year. Africa is blessed with all the resources that make for greatness — human, material, and ecological. The continent harbours more than 40 percent of the world’s potential hydroelectric power supply; the bulk of the world’s diamond and chromium resources; 30 percent of the uranium; 50 percent of the world’s gold; 90 percent of its cobalt; 50 percent of its phosphates; 40 percent of its platinum; 7.5 percent of its coal; 8 percent of its known petroleum reserves; 12 percent of its natural gas; 3 percent of its iron ore; 64 percent of the world’s manganese, 13 percent of its copper, vast bauxite, nickel and lead resources, and millions of untilled farmlands.
But a continent that is so rich in natural resources has been plagued by destructive leadership motivated mainly by greed. Most African leaders have personalised their countries and appropriated the countries’ resources in such a greedy manner that some of these shameless leaders are richer than their countries.
We believe that the poverty and devastating diseases that serve as the hallmark of the average Africa citizen’s daily existence is caused by the widespread failed leadership on the continent. It is a continent where citizens have no opportunity to change their failed and inefficient leaders. Rather, it is a continent, where leaders plunder state treasuries and suppress their people to sit tight over the ruins. They build themselves into monsters, thinking that they are powerful, when indeed they should build institutions to strengthen democracy and good governance.
Speaking in Ghana shortly after the G8 summit, President Obama noted that Africa does not need strong leaders but strong institutions - “ capable, reliable and transparent institutions are the key to success .....those are the things that give life to democracy, because that is what matters in people's everyday lives.”
While we agree that some drought stricken African countries genuinely need food aid, we believe that with effective and visionary leadership, hunger would not have been pervasive in those countries.
Despite the desirability of the food aid, we believe that poverty and hunger can only be sustainably addressed with economic growth and development. And that these have a clear linear relationship with good governance. Therefore, we urge the G8 to also use all the opportunities available to it to promote good governance in Africa. This include efforts to ensure that even the aid they provide to the continent is used effectively. Also, Africa, more than food aid, deserves foreign investment.