Friday, July 01, 2005

No more business as usual 

Nigeria is getting its debt forgiven to the tune of $18 billion and is planning to buy back the other $18 billion it owes to the rest of the world, which as the UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, said "mean[s] there is 100% debt relief for Nigeria possible over the next six months".

The BBC report reminds us that "Nigeria is the world's seventh-largest oil exporter and Africa's most populous nation, but also one of its poorest."

It shouldn't be - not just with all its natural resources bounty, but also the entrepreneurial spirit of its people - as evident in the Nigerian internet scam (according to some, its largest source of foreign revenue). All these energies need to be liberated and channeled into legal avenues.

The problem is the abysmal standards of political and economic governance in Nigeria and abysmal levels of corruption (the worst in Africa and in the world top three). Both factors have held the country and its people back for too long.

As Mark Steyn reminds us, it takes 21 steps and 9 months to transfer a piece of land in Lagos. No wonder poverty and under-development are the norm, and no amount of aid is having impact on the living standards of African people (for example, despite all the aid - estimated at $1 trillion since the colonial period - between 1981 and 2001, the region's GDP fell by 13 per cent).

Which is why President Bush's requirement that the doubled aid over the next five years be tied to achieving reformist outcomes is the only way forward. As Bush said, African leaders must become the "agents of reform" rather than "passive recipients of money".

That's not quite right - the problem is that it's been the West who has been a largely passive giver of aid, while the post-colonial leaders have been its very active recipients.

It's time for a paradigm shift. Africa certainly cannot afford more business as usual.


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