Are we too poor or too stupid?


Relations between Zimbabwe and Britain have been frosty for over a decade. But Britain has continued to give aid to Zimbabwe, on humanitarian grounds, it claims. The Department for International Development (DFID) explains why Britain works in Zimbabwe in a June 2013 leaflet: “After years of misgovernment, the economy in Zimbabwe was brought to its knees and development indicators fell dramatically. The establishment of the Inclusive Government in 2009 began the process of recovery, but access to basic services is still limited: 20% of Zimbabweans need support to meet their basic food requirements; 1.6 million people in Zimbabwe are living with HIV/AIDS; 84 of every 1 000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday; 960 mothers out of every 100 000 die from complications in childbirth and 80% of Zimbabweans do not have formal jobs.”

Britain’s aid to Zimbabwe, now estimated at £88 million a year, it says, will achieve the following by 2015:

  • 86 000 economic opportunities created
  • Ensure over 190 000 people benefit from cash transfers
  • An additional 100 000 households provided with enough food to eat
  • Over 2.9 million more people provided with access to clean water and over 1.2 million more people with access to improved sanitation
  • Ensure all children in primary school in Zimbabwe have a core set of textbooks
  • Nearly 120 000 births delivered with the help of a nurse, doctor or midwife

This is the image that Westminster wants the British taxpayer to get -that of a benevolent government, helping poor Africans. What it is not telling its taxpayers though, is that for every £100 it gives to Africans, it gets £640 back. In other words, Africa is aiding Britain and not the other way around.

This is what a new study released on 10 July 2014 entitled: Honest accounts , says. The study was carried out by a group of non-governmental organisations spearheaded by Health Poverty Action and has the subtitle: The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses.

It says while the West wants its citizens to think they are helping to alleviate poverty in Africa, “the reality is that Africa is being drained of resources by the rest of the world. It is losing far more each year than it is receiving. While $134 billion flows into the continent each year, predominantly in the form of loans, foreign investment and aid; $192 billion is taken out, mainly in profits made by foreign companies, tax dodging and the costs of adapting to climate change. The result is that Africa suffers a net loss of $58 billion a year. As such, the idea that we are aiding Africa is flawed; it is Africa that is aiding the rest of the world.

“Whilst we are led to believe that ‘aid’ from the UK and other rich countries to the continent is a mark of our generosity, our research shows that this is a deception. Wealthy countries, including the UK, benefit from many of Africa’s losses. While aid to Africa amounts to less than $30 billion per year, the continent is losing $192 billion annually in other resource flows, mainly to the same countries providing that aid. This means African citizens are losing almost six and a half times what their countries receive in aid each year, or for every £100 given in aid, £640 is given back. This demands that we rethink our role in addressing poverty in Africa.”

African countries, however, continue to extend the begging hand to the West not just for aid but also for foreign investment, raising the question: Are Africans too poor or too stupid?

South Africa’s former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel asked this question twelve years ago. But it was the other way around. He asked: “Are we too stupid or too poor?”

Manuel, who served as South Africa’s Finance Minister for 13 years under three South African presidents- Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe- had every reason to be upset. He had advocated spending cuts, the dismantling of trade barriers and fighting inflation for six years- all under the guidance of the World Bank- but he had nothing to show for it.
“Developing countries have undertaken many reforms, but the benefits are, in fact, very slim,” he conceded.

Patrick Bond, who was at the University of Witwatersrand at the time, concurred: “South Africa did everything the World Bank said they should and more, and yet it’s not working. They failed in getting growth, employment or redistribution.”

The Structural Adjustment Participatory Review Network said at the time that developing countries were going round and round in a vicious circle. Forcing poor countries to lower trade barriers undercut local businesses. Curbing food subsidies meant they had to rely on imports and focusing on inflation meant that economies were not given a chance to grow.

Manuel complained that rich governments such as that of the United States and those of the European Union pushed poor nations to lower trade barriers, but they maintained their own subsidies on food and textile products, making it difficult for developing countries to benefit from more trade.

Kevin Hassett and Robert Shapiro, in their article: How Europe sows misery in Africa, said while “the average person in sub-Saharan Africa earns less than $1 a day, the average cow in Europe—thanks to government subsidies—earns about $2 a day”.

It was this glaring anomaly that prompted Manuel to ask, just before he became head of the World Bank’s development committee, “Are we too stupid or too poor?”

Manuel had already been South Africa’s Finance Minister for six years when he asked this question in 2002. The African National Congress, which Manuel belongs to, had ditched the Freedom Charter that it adopted in the 1950s, when it won the elections in 1994, to accommodate the West.

The Freedom Charter , which calls for equal distribution of South Africa’s land and wealth, opens: “We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people; that our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief; And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter; And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.”

Nelson Mandela vowed, only four years before becoming president, that: “nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industry is the policy of the ANC, and a change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable” but he started singing a different tune immediately after his election.

The ANC did not only stick to the guidelines by the World Bank, as Patrick Bond said, it did even more. It went all out not to upset the cart by maintaining the apartheid structure to gain international acceptance. It retained the last Finance Minister under apartheid, Derek Keys, who served under Mandela for four months.

Keys was replaced by another white, Chris Liebenberg, a banker, who served nearly two years before Manuel was moved from Trade and Industry to Finance. But Manuel looks so white that most non- South Africans are not aware that he is not white but coloured.

After 13 years, Manuel gave way to someone slightly darker, Pravin Gordhan, before Pretoria finally appointed the first black Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene this year, 20 years after “democracy”.

Some black South Africans noticed the lack of progress. The Economic Freedom Fighters capitalised on this and more than one million voted for the party led by ANC renegade Julius Malema despite the fact that he was facing racketeering charges and 52 other counts.

Malema said something that resonated with them- getting their land back and nationalisation of mines- something that the ANC had promised during the fight for liberation but had abandoned. This was an indictment that the free market was not delivering.

During his campaign, Malema said something that must have irked parties like the Democratic Alliance and even some in the African National Congress: “We are going to take charge of our own lives like the Zimbabweans have done,” he said.

“You can say whatever you want to say about Zimbabweans. In the next 10 years they will be the only Africans in the whole of Africa who own their country because, why, they were ready to take the pain. Revolution is about pain. Revolution is change and change is painful. We are ready for that pain. We need that pain.”


To be continued. Click here if you want to read the rest of the story now.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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