Aid & Politics in Africa
“The worst drought in 60 years has thrown some 13 million people across the Horn of Africa into crisis. In Somalia, ravaged by two decades of conflict, the consequences have been disastrous. We ask if aid in this region of the world has become politicised? And has Washington’s pre-occupation with terrorism in the Horn of Africa contributed to the deadly consequences of this disaster?”
The answer to the first question is, “Duh.”
Aid work in Africa has been tied to politics since the first time outside governments decided to step in. I think the grassroots Christian groups and other non-profit organizations (like Doctors Without Borders) do a better job at maintaining aid. OK, so there are some bible-thumping on the part of the Christian groups and the other NPOs tend to lean left, but this does not affect the fact that they are helping out in practical terms. When it’s a government involve, not just Washington in this example, the rice and anti-malaria kits come with diplomats. Famine should never be used as a pawn in a political chess game. The only benefit of a government body bringing aid is that they are backed up by millions of tax payer money and logistical resources.
Now, this goes deeper than that. In the book “Dead Aid”, which I read a while back and is a book worth checking out at your local library, the author, economist Dambisa Moyo, states that aid actually harms Africa more than it helps them. What you get (and this is obvious) is a system of dependence. Dependence on outsiders is what set Africa back to begin with, like colonialism for instance, in which they had no choice but to depend on their European colonizers. You see, food is politics. Famine is one of the best ways to gain power over a region politically.
On to the second question. Pirates, Muslim militants and warlords have been conducting a bloody orgy in the Horn for some time now. It doesn’t help that western-made guns end up there either. The U.S., I think, still remembers the Blackhawk incident in Somalia. But if top officials are found in the Horn, the U.S. will go there and destroy them. And it has been conducting operations there, even if just intelligence gathering.
So, what you have now is an imbalance of priorities. Do we go after terrorists or aid the civilians? There are really no one-way options here. It’s like a branch with an intricate set of twigs protruding out. You can’t have access to the civilians without dealing with the political elements of the country. In this case, before you can even bring aid you need to do some politicizing, which may contradict with my first argument, but in this circumstance you have no choice but to give in to the push-pull mechanism of political bargaining.
The West is good at setting up sanctions and that may work well for countries like Iran and North Korea, because they’re major players in the global stage, but a nation in the Horn won’t flinch a nerve over threats of sanction. To them this is nothing new. When was the last time anyone had truly done anything in Africa that affected the region? Oh, right, Libya. But when it comes to sub-Saharan Africa, it’s as if these government suits show a kind of guilt. Oh dear, we made a mess of that continent. Let’s just throw them money from afar. Stepping into a sub-Saharan African country is like stepping back into your own crime scene.
Quelling terrorism anywhere is an important priority, but the local governments in that area need to step their game up as well. American/NATO operations are still in Af-Pak. We don’t need another front. We just pulled our troops out of Iraq; Let’s give them a rest. Washington should focus more on humanitarian efforts (with as less politics involved if possible) and diplomatic missions than military actions. This can be done by taking a more regulatory role, in that making sure aid money and supplies actually get into the hands of civilians and the non-profit organizations already working there. The U.S. and the EU needs to make sure that medicine and canned foods don’t end up being filtered through local governments and are used for their personal profit. Helping with economic programs might also work. Tell the local government to either get with the program or face a larger crisis. If aid—medical, food and educational—isn’t put to use properly, the country could sink deeper into a death pit. The links between terrorism and poverty has been well-studied in developing countries. I’d rather see people being fed than being blown up in a guerrilla war between western forces and militants.
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