Out of Control Policy Blog

Can celebs save Africa?

William Easterly argues that Africa won't be saved by Bono, Bob Geldof, or even Angelina Jolie:

    Everyone, it seems, was invited to the "Save Africa" campaign of 2005 except for Africans. They starred only as victims: genocide casualties, child soldiers, AIDS patients and famine deaths on our 43-inch plasma screens.

    Yes, these tragedies deserve attention, but the obsessive and almost exclusive Western focus on them is less relevant to the vast majority of Africans -- the hundreds of millions not fleeing from homicidal minors, not HIV-positive, not starving to death, and not helpless wards waiting for actors and rock stars to rescue them. Angelina, the continent has problems but it is not being destroyed.

Easterly highlights this story:

    Kenyan Robert Keter, a former world-class runner, is busy investing the proceeds of the telecom venture CDR, which he co-founded in 2000 and ran profitably until the Kenyan government abruptly shut him down for no apparent reason. Keter was recruited into business by Monique Maddy, a Liberian entrepreneur with a Harvard MBA (who is now offering advice to Google on global anti-poverty programs). CDR was offering customers voice over Internet protocol long before the service was made mainstream by Skype and Vonage. The company did so well during its brief operation that Keter and his U.S.-based partners decided to raise money to help rebuild a school in his home village of Kericho, located in the tea-growing region of the Kenyan highlands. Keter also used part of his earnings to purchase a tea farm, where he employs more than 400 workers.

    The West's focus on sensational tragedies obscures the achievements of people such as ... Robert Keter, who are succeeding even against tremendous odds. Economic development in Africa will depend -- as it has elsewhere and throughout the history of the modern world -- on the success of private-sector entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs and African political reformers. It will not depend on the activities of patronizing, bureaucratic, unaccountable and poorly informed outsiders.

    Development everywhere is homegrown. As G-8 ministers and rock stars fussed about a few billion dollars here or there for African governments, the citizens of India and China (where foreign aid is a microscopic share of income) were busy increasing their own incomes by $715 billion in 2005.

Column here.

Some thoughts from Kenyan economist James Shikwati here.

And if you prefer to get global economic perspectives from celebs, check out Minnie Driver.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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