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Is Aid Holding Africa To Ransom?

africaThe recent sentencing of a gay couple in Malawi to 14 years in jail has got me thinking about aid in Africa, and wondering if our aid dependency has reduced us to one ‘gigantic welfare state.’ These words resonate with me because they were the same words used by Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the series, Tutu Talks on BBC 4, recently.

I am of the opinion that 14 years is harsh and uncalled for. I also think, we as Africans need to wake up to the fact that homosexuality is not something you catch. In fact, it has been here from ‘time in memorial’ and it is only in recent years, people are waking up to it in parts of Africa though it has been the way of life for some people. However, they lived their lives in silence and outside the limelight. Let me also state, that every human being has a right to be who they are. You may not accept or agree with it but you have to respect them and have no right to tamper with their life or cause them pain because they are different, and do not fit your box of what is normal.

At the same time, I believe we as Africans need to sit down and ask ourselves questions because with the known fact that 40% of the development budget in Malawi is from donors and the international community, who have spoken out against this ruling, the threat to cut or reduce their aid is something they could easily pull out of the hat to make them change their stance.  Let us not forget about Uganda and the bill which aims to make sentences on gay related issues harsher.  Again, I say this is uncalled for.  While I have no answers to each countries resolve on dealing with the issue of homosexuality, I do think that punishing people in ways that one cannot begin to comprehend is not the way to deal with it. Hence, we need to talk to each other.

We also have to look at the other side of the coin because we are feeding the news media more stories with which they can keep ‘bashing us’ in ways that are uncalled for and make us look like we live in the ‘dark ages, especially the western media, claiming they are the ones who are up-to-date. Though they fail to admit that to be gay in London or some parts of America is still frowned upon and people suffer gravely even as far as physical abuse but that is an issue for another day. With headlines like to be ‘African and gay’ or ‘Being gay and African today’ or to be ‘Gay in Africa is death,’ instantly, the whole of Africa is grouped as one and so, the stereotypes continues and when that begins to percolate, it affects other areas we may not even give second thought to. Or take the case where news stories about bills being passed in African nations about homosexuality which are not true being published. This was the focus of a comment piece, ‘Africa Needs Responsible Reporting,’ by Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s foreign minister in the UK Guardian, January this year.

In the same vain, I think the west or let me go one better, the ‘civilised world,’ needs to get off its own moral high-horse and tokenistic approach to Africa and the way its people think, and get with the programme. You preach at the world with the mantra best known as freedom of speech and expression and oh, did I mention, human rights but do not practice all of these as such. It is okay when you say it but in action, do you really believe you have achieved that? Take a mirror to yourself and then tell me. This is one of the reasons, I was rather irritated at the news article in the Guardian yesterday, African Statesman Condemns Homosexuality As An Abomination.’ For frigging crying out loud, the man is entitled to his opinion and your decision to get sensationalistic about it is not helping anyone but adding petrol to a fire that is gradually engulfing an issue which, I think must be handled with care. Not because you are not entitled to report what you want but there are lives involved and if you want the country at the heart of this dance to relent, then stop making them look like primates or other Africans at that. Why pick and chose to dissect what he says based on the way it suites your ideology of what a statesman ought to say or not say at all. For the record, Obasanjo is not one of my favourite people in the world. The writer’s introduction went for a group of words some would say was in a way suggestive and maybe condescending…words can be interpreted in a varied number of ways. For example, when you read the opening paragraph, you sense the writer may well think that Obasanjo should not share the same podium with the likes of Tony Blair or Bob Geldof, because he holds these views. Don’t get me wrong, people in a position of power should aim to speak words that bring calmness to a situation and not intensify but for the love of mankind, talking about his comments causing embarrassment for the African Progress Panel. Oh, please, give us a break! I bet you the same people know him better than you the writer and may well be aware of his stance and views on many subjects. Do you now want them to remove him from the panel? He has a point when he says countries have a right to enforce their own laws but please do not use this as another one of your opportunities to start a crusade for the ‘dark Continent.’ If you did not want his opinion, then you should not have asked for it. The man very well goes on to put his opinion in context based on his faith. While at the same thing reiterating this is not what is considered right in his part of the world or his culture. In the same vain, Kofi Annan is also entitled to his opinion and voicing it but for the writer to finish off his news piece, with Annan saying he will work on Obansanjo, are you then suggesting or by any chance insinuating that all those who do not agree with homosexuality need to be worked on. Better still, would you prefer they were brainwashed? This is what I mean by the western condescending and tokenistic approach to news reportage where Africa is concerned. It is always about what they, ‘the civilised world’ believe Africa must do and what is right yet, when you look at their own record, it stinks like horse shit, in fact, horseshit smells better. How interesting the writer also refers to Obasanjo’s human rights record, which by the way can and should be questioned. But do me a favour while you are at it, take a good look at Iraq, Guantanamo and other atrocities,  committed by the west over the years, including the invasion of sovereign nations and then talk to me about human rights.

Do not misunderstand me, I am not preaching at anyone to protect the image of Africa. Besides, what’s to protect, she has been naked for decades and if you want to dress her up, then we as Africans must start in our own house, with our leaders and systems of government, mindset and attitudes among the many areas of life we need to improve on. When we do that, then we would have earned the right to dress Africa up the way we want. However, dressing Africa up for the ball is not my focus right now. Today, I am talking to and about Africa, and its aid mentality.

According to Raphael Tenthani, the BBC’s reporter in Blantyre, “The impoverished southern African nation has come under pressure from Western donor nations and agencies. They have cautioned Malawi to tread carefully over rights of minority groups, such as homosexuals, or risk being black-listed on governance issues, which may have aid implications.” I know African societies are deeply rooted in culture and tradition, in addition to the different faiths  and while homosexuality is not new in the continent, people have never been this bold in the past to be open about it. Hence, for the western donors to start threatening the country with aid in my opinion is one of the highest levels of disrespect. On one hand, I say take your aid and stick up your backside. On the other hand, we need to grow up and get out of aid dependency and start making things happen for ourselves and our people. However, bad leadership in addition to the layers of factors which hinder us means that is only a dream and will remain a dream for a long time.

I am yet to fully grasp the politics of the world but this I know for sure, that there are many facets to power and this in turn gives us a demented measure of power and its varying complexities. The oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico best explains this – Shell has been raping the people of the Niger delta in Nigeria for years but the Nigerian government has not taken a stand to fight for its people. Instead, they collaborate because a minority in government stands to profit from the pain of others. However, Obama has made BP take responsibility and ensure they do what is needed to clean up the mess. Talk about power taking a stand. I also say, it is wrong to interfere with the government of any nation, its laws and other areas of life when you undermine their judicial process especially when that nation is lesser than you in political and socio-economic standing and so, dares not interfere with yours. I also think, the west needs to wake up to its own hypocrisy, it was only this year Obama gave the go-ahead to allow gay men and women serve in the US army, Africa is only now waking up to this way of life that has been done in secret for year, so, why force them to move with you overnight when it has taken over 60 years for the west to get up to the stage it is at with its own attitude to homosexuality.

This was the subject of an email correspondence between an author and I, last week and his reasoning was, ‘it has taken years of advocating for personal liberties and the right to choose and to expression of self-identity, people still don’t tolerate some personal liberties. In the Republican Party in the US, known gays are ridiculed by their fellow party members. Up to the time she retired from active lawn tennis Martina Navratilova was angry with the American public because even though she was one of the best tennis players of her generation, sponsors did not fund her, because of her sexuality. The ridiculous public outcry against the wearing of the hijab, the short Muslim veil, by women and even minarets on mosques, don’t reflect respect for individual liberties in Europe.’

He goes on to say, ‘women have been stoned or punished in a manner that is inhumane under sharia law in many countries and the so-called international police states of human rights have not uttered more than a murmur. So, double standards by the West. There is evidence that North Korea was on the verge of abandoning its nuclear development programme under Clinton. Not because he used force but because he respected the country and engaged in dialogue with it. We have enough experience globally to make dialogue, and trying to understand each other, the most preferred means of resolving differences. But how can the strong and weak engage in dialogue? Otherwise what is the advantage in being powerful?’

The same western countries crying foul play about the outcome of the case in Malawi will not dare go to China or Iran or a few other nations they play ‘pussy-footing’ with due to trade and the economic power or in the case of Iran, ‘nuclear empowerment in the making,’ to dictate aid games and politics or law with them like they do with African countries. It is sad and that is why I agree with Dabisa Moyo that aid is a disease and is dead, and this is an example of how it kills.

dead aid bookI know many accused her of playing the double card when her book, Dead Aid, was first released, saying, how can someone who made her name with Goldman Sachs, come out and tell them about aid? Well, here is the 411; she knows first hand how the money changes the game and the playing field for growth, making the lender (giver) richer and the borrower (receiver) poorer. Hence, the reason she was telling you to stop depending on handout. You may not like her stance but you have to admit, she has a point and a very valid one.

Aid in Africa, has always been one of the ways the west has rescued us over and over. When are we going to rescue ourselves before we kill us off? Yes, we are responsible for ourselves and need to start holding ourselves accountable.  For one, there are stipulations/conditions to the aid we are given. Let’s look at the issue of fair-trade between the west and Africa. My world, I have lost count of the number of tariffs on African countries, which makes it impossible to trade fairly on the world stage. These tariffs keep Africa locked off from the rest of the world where trade is concerned, hence, we revert back to what we know best, aid. I am not saying trade alone will solve the dependency but it is one area where we can gain huge leverage to get out of our ‘aid sickness.’ Hence, Africa and its children need to start thinking strategically and come up with exit plans because this aid mentality must stop or we will forever remain indebted to our western uncle and big brother.  We also need to do what it takes in order to be able to trade fairly and transparently on the world stage though I do not believe for a second that the west trades fairly. They know the small lines we all miss and so, will have the upper hand.

‘Aid is killing the growth of Africa,’ were the words of one of the panel members during the Tutu Talks series and I could not agree more. It is killing Africa and holding her to ransom. It is tying her hands where making her own laws and rules are concerned, and I do not mean in the area of homosexuality alone. Hence, it is rather ironic that Peter Tatchell now remembers the same laws used by Malawi to sentence both men were laws made by the British when Malawi was still under her master’s gaze. How so convenient that he now remembers and mentions how using British laws is un-African. I must say, he has a point. We must make our own laws and rules for our own societies but do not pick and chose as to when it works for you and the cause that you are fighting.  When a  nation loses its own right and ability to make its own laws, good or bad, then that country may as well call itself a slave of the master dictating what it can and cannot do because of the ‘Aid candy.’

I do not think the two men should be jailed for 14 years that is harsh as previously stated.  But we have to face up to the reality that where aid is concerned, African countries are being forced to follow their western headmasters, so they can keep getting aid and that is wrong and unbalanced and means we are still being enslaved not by the outsider but by our own doing because we refuse to get out of a cultural mindset of leadership and emulate principled leadership methods that will generate wealth and a descent standard of living for all. Let’s get out of the ‘African factor’ (AF) which says this is how we have always done it, to how can we do it better and change things. The power balance and relationship between Africa and the west needs to change and for that change to happen, we as Africans must first change our mindset and attitude to aid as the ‘almighty saviour’ of Africans. We need to start thinking about creating and producing, and stop being mere consumers. In case you did not know, producers are powerful.


One Response to “Is Aid Holding Africa To Ransom?”

  1. Hans Schippers says:

    This is very interesting!
    I think the Western capitalist system can only survive by grace of Africa: a continent from which cheap resources can be acquired. That was obvious during the days of slave trade and colonialism, but it’s still going on at least the same scale.
    Consider how much more expensive a modern mobile phone would be if all the resources would have to be acquired through fair trade.

    Hence I think aid can be seen basically as a means to keep the situation as is, for the benefit of the existing global economic system, at the expense of the African people.

    Change can only be instilled bottom up, starting out with peoples movements; As history proves, governments can be controlled or replaced by the reigning world powers, but the people can not!

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