ONE wonders after 60 years and more than $1 trillion in post-colonial development-related aid, Africa is not yet free from chronic poverty. Real per-capita income today is lower than it was in the 1970s, and more than 50% of the population live on less than a dollar a day, a figure that has nearly doubled in two decades. But what went wrong and why?
On the other hand, a low-profile nation of Eritrea that literally won its independence from Ethiopia’s colonization in 1993 is doing something virtually unheard of in Africa. It simply turn down foreign aid in favor of partnership and investment. In the past two decades, it has walked away from millions of dollars in aid, including food from the United Nations, development loans from the World Bank and grants from international charities that meant to build roads and deliver healthcare.
As one of the world’s poorest nations, it is still struggling to feed its people. Even if it results in short-term hardship, the country aggressively continued to rely on its own people and meager resources based on the principles of Self-Reliance.
After ten years of implementing the Self-Reliance program, the country has started to show promising results on education, food security, health and infrastructure developments. Measured on a variety of U.N. health indicators such as Millenium Development Goals, life expectancy, immunizations, infectious disease controls, malaria prevention, etc… Eritrea scores impressively higher than any of its neighbors, including Ethiopia and Kenya.
President Isaias Afwerki defends Self-Reliance programs as crucial not only to the long-term survival of his country but also to that of his continent.
“We need this country to stand on its two feet,” said President Isaias, a rebel hero who has led Eritrean independence struggle .
Aid from rich countries has trapped many African nations in a cycle of corruption, slower economic growth and poverty. Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower.
Even the IMF lately acknowledges that Aid will not lift Africa from poverty. In its 2005 report entitled “Aid Will Not Lift Growth in Africa,” the IMF cautioned donors to be more modest in their claims that increased aid will solve Africa’s problems.
“Anyone who takes aid is crippled. Aid is meant to cripple people,” said President Isaias in one of his many interviews in relation to aid.
“Governments in Africa and elsewhere are not allowed to write their own programs. And when it comes to implementing programs, it deprives you of building institutions and the capacity to implement your programs. We need to write our own programs in the first place. We need to articulate on the projects we write. We need to have a comprehensive strategy, plans on how to implement those programs … Unless we do that on our own, we can’t possibly imagine that we are achieving any of the goals – millennium or non millennium.”
The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, and more unattractive to higher-quality investment.
President Isaias argues African mineral resources are not sustainable for economic development in the immediacy. Developing infrastructure for this will take generations to come. Comparative advantage are of greater immediate importance.
“You need to think least on mineral resources (for economic development)… Gold glitters but it blinds people…If you forgo agriculture because you have gold, you go into a trap. If you forgo comparative advantage that you have because you have gold, then you make a big mistake.”
“Your location could be a comparative advantage. If you have a long coastline, then you develop fisheries, develop your services industry – shipping, transportation – air, land. Provide industry and manufacturing.”
As recently as 2002, the African Union estimated that corruption was costing the continent $150 billion a year, as international donors were apparently turning a blind eye to the simple fact that aid money was inadvertently fueling graft. With few or no strings attached, it has been all too easy for the funds to be used for anything, save the developmental purpose for which they were intended.
“Africa can produce its own food and grow more. Why aren’t we able to do that?” You have to produce something. Emphasize sustainable sectors. Agriculture is a sustainable sector. You need to put in place agriculture infrastructure. It’s a strategy commodity for communities.
African nations should focus on increasing trade. Food sovereignty and local production, local manufacturing and development are also more critical than depending on resource exploitation.
Eritrea’s Self-Reliance policy might be one of the most ambitious social and economic experiments that underway in Africa. But Eritrea isn’t getting much credit out of it. For a change, Western countries can help Africa by cutting off the cycle of giving something for nothing.
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