Monday, July 04, 2005

Long walk to freedom 

There is one person who doesn't think Tony Blair and Bob Geldof have the answer for Africa - his name is George Galloway and his answer is - more Marxism!
"It's no accident that Blair has chosen Africa, where there is no ideological opposition... He is not talking about poverty in the Muslim world, not talking about Latin America because people are rising in revolution. The people of Bolivia have given their answer to the G8."
Whatever, George. Viva la revolucion! It worked a treat the first time.

Over the weekend, two hundred thousand marched in Scotland under the "Make poverty history" banner. Poverty is a symptom -– that much, at least, everyone agrees on. To those on the left, it's a symptom of neo-colonial exploitation of the developing world by the Western governments and multi-national corporations - in other words, they're poor because we're rich. For those on the right, it's a symptom of dysfunctional domestic political and economic, and international trade systems - in other words, they're poor because their own rulers steal from them and because the West subsidizes own agricultural producers.

As Niall Ferguson writes:
It may come as a surprise to Live 8 fans, but the top three reasons why most African countries are economic basket cases are not lack of aid, excessive debt service payments and protectionism by developed countries. They are in fact chronic misgovernment, recurrent civil war and the high incidence of diseases such as malaria and Aids. It is just possible that more aid, debt relief and freer trade could mitigate these problems. But experience is not encouraging.
Even instituting sensible "right-wing" reforms (democracy, transparency, free market and free trade) will only be a start. As the reform experience everywhere else has shown, changing institution is one thing, changing culture is another, and in many ways much more difficult task that can easily take decades to achieve. Sometimes, it's a case of dealing with the Post-Totalitarian Stress Disorder, the spiritual consequences of life under the infantilizing jackboot of totalitarianism. But even countries which have not experienced communist or fascist oppression are not necessarily culturally prepared to instantly adopt alien political and economic systems.

This is not a relativist cop-out argument along the lines of "Arabs can't take democracy" or "capitalism is a Western thing" - Arabs can have democracy and Rwandans can have free market, but what is required is a change in mentality - from tribalism and familism to individualism, from apathy to initiative, from collectivism to entrepreneurship, from strongman mentality to openness. And that takes time, so whatever we do, let's not expect quick fixes or easy journeys in Africa.


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