Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Do they care it's Christmas time? 

Africa has been much in the news recently, and for good reasons, as the world - once again led by the two Anglospheric cousins, the United States and the United Kingdom - is preparing to make the next stop on the global march of democracy and free market. This is good news - the hundreds of millions of its residents, mired in oppression, corruption, violence and stagnation, deserve much better.

Not all the media mentions, however, are positive. Vladimir Putin, for example, has yesterday defended the human rights record of Russia against comparison with that of Africa:
"We all know that African countries used to have a tradition of eating their own adversaries. We don't have such a tradition or process or culture and I believe the comparison between Africa and Russia is not quite just."
Putin should tread very carefully here, not only because his seemingly beloved Soviet Union also, until quite recently, used to have a tradition of eating its own adversaries (there's hardly a more appropriate word than auto-cannibalism to describe the hecatomb of the millions devoured by the gulags and the secret police - Lenin was wrong; communism is not socialism plus electricity, it's electricity plus mountains of corpses), but also because in a literal sense, Stalin's terror famines that killed some eight million people in Ukraine and Kazakhstan in the early 1930s, have also seen frequent outbreaks of cannibalism.

But back to the present, and to a magical transformation - at least as far as the media is concerned - "Hawk turns peacenik on poverty":
When Paul Wolfowitz was named as the new president of the World Bank, staff at its headquarters fired off 1300 emails to a confidential internet site.

More than 1100 of the comments were about the appointment of the former Pentagon boss, seen by many as the architect of a disastrous war in Iraq.

Yet less than a fortnight after he took up the reins as the 10th president of the world's largest international aid institution, the criticism that greeted Wolfowitz's appointment is rapidly abating.

The initial scepticism that greeted the arrival of a notorious neoconservative hawk at the head of a global development agency has given way to increasing optimism in London and elsewhere that Wolfowitz might surprise the world with his commitment to the fight on poverty.
Because, of course, everyone expected that Wolfie, upon assuming his new position, would bomb every debtor nation, turn their men into oil, and sell women and children as slaves to Halliburton.

Which is fair enough, if you believe the self-serving leftie tripe dichotomy that the right hates the poor and the left loves them. In reality, both sides of politics want to reduce poverty; they differ on means of doing it - wealth transfer versus free market solutions). As far as the developing world is concerned, it's a difference between giving fish and teaching how to fish, or aid and institutional reform. Transparency, democracy, economic reform, free trade - why not give 'em a go. Hopefully Wolfowitz will be able to overcome the institutional inertia and biases, and actually score some real victories against politics-induced under-development. Although:
From the moment his appointment was announced, Wolfowitz began quietly calling specialists on African aid.

He made two long telephone calls to Bono, the rock star who has campaigned for debt relief.

"They were very enthusiastic, detailed and lengthy conversations," a Wolfowitz aide said. "They clicked."
As much as I like U2's music, I certainly hope that Bono was not the only specialist on African aid that Wolfowitz has called on for ideas. Speaking of Bono and his mate Bob Geldof, two Australian academics, Wayne Errington and Peter van Onselen, are not impressed with the latest Live 8 initiative:
As much as we all enjoy lectures on African poverty from musically gifted white multi-millionaires, we should at least consider, just for a moment, the possibility that rock musicians have a limited understanding of the global economy.
As Errington and van Onselen note, the international financial institutions have been doing some out-of-the-headlines work in Africa for quite some time now: "The Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative has for the past decade been quietly achieving what the pop stars say needs to be done. Debt service costs have been halved in many of the more than 20 African states that have qualified for this initiative, on condition of budget transparency on the part of the governments concerned. Debt cancellation has only been possible on the back of such forward steps."

If you want to read more about this topic, I recommend some of the recent work from the American Enterprise Institute scholars:

"Regime Change at the World Bank," by Allan H. Meltzer

"The Debt of the Poorest Nations," by Adam Lerrick

"NGO Threat to African Growth and World Bank Agenda" by Roger Bate

"Wolfowitz's Challenge," by Roger Bate and Richard Tren


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