To the aid workers charged with saving the dying, the immediate challenge is to raise relief money and get supplies to the stricken areas. They leave it to the economists and politicians to come up with a lasting remedy. One such economist is James Shikwati. He blames foreign aid. “When aid money keeps coming, all our policy-makers do is strategize on how to get more,” said the Kenya-based director of the Inter Region Economic Network, an African think tank. “They forget about getting their own people working to solve these very basic problems. In Africa, we look to outsiders to solve our problems, making the victim not take responsibility to change.” Moving the aid can be nightmare in itself. Africa’s good roads are few, and often pass through the front lines of civil wars. But Shikwati notes an additional problem: Even African countries that have food to spare can’t easily share it because tariffs on agricultural products within sub-Saharan Africa average as high as 33 percent, compared with 12 percent on similar products imported from Europe. “It doesn’t make sense when they can’t even allow their neighbors to feed them. They have to wait for others in Europe or Asia to help,” he said. “We don’t have any excuses in Africa. We can’t blame nature. We have to tell our leadership to open up and get people producing food.”
Here’s a recent Der Spiegel interview with Shikwati. Here’s one exchange:
SPIEGEL: The Americans and Europeans have frozen funds previously pledged to Kenya. The country is too corrupt, they say. Shikwati: I am afraid, though, that the money will still be transfered before long. After all, it has to go somewhere. Unfortunately, the Europeans’ devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason. It makes no sense whatsoever that directly after the new Kenyan government was elected — a leadership change that ended the dictatorship of Daniel arap Mois — the faucets were suddenly opened and streams of money poured into the country.