English-Video.net comment policy

The comment field is common to all languages

Let's write in your language and use "Google Translate" together

Please refer to informative community guidelines on TED.com

TEDGlobal 2007

Andrew Mwenda: Aid for Africa? No thanks.

Filmed
Views 750,886

In this provocative talk, journalist Andrew Mwenda asks us to reframe the "African question" -- to look beyond the media's stories of poverty, civil war and helplessness and see the opportunities for creating wealth and happiness throughout the continent.

- Journalist
Journalist Andrew Mwenda has spent his career fighting for free speech and economic empowerment throughout Africa. He argues that aid makes objects of the poor -- they become passive recipients of charity rather than active participants in their own economic betterment. Full bio

I am very, very happy to be amidst some of the most --
00:26
the lights are really disturbing my eyes
00:30
and they're reflecting on my glasses.
00:32
I am very happy and honored to be amidst
00:34
very, very innovative and intelligent people.
00:38
I have listened to the three previous speakers,
00:41
and guess what happened?
00:44
Every single thing I planned to say, they have said it here,
00:46
and it looks and sounds like I have nothing else to say.
00:49
(Laughter)
00:54
But there is a saying in my culture
00:55
that if a bud leaves a tree without saying something,
00:58
that bud is a young one.
01:03
So, I will -- since I am not young and am very old,
01:06
I still will say something.
01:11
We are hosting this conference at a very opportune moment,
01:13
because another conference is taking place in Berlin.
01:18
It is the G8 Summit.
01:20
The G8 Summit proposes that the solution to Africa's problems
01:23
should be a massive increase in aid,
01:30
something akin to the Marshall Plan.
01:33
Unfortunately, I personally do not believe in the Marshall Plan.
01:35
One, because the benefits of the Marshall Plan have been overstated.
01:39
Its largest recipients were Germany and France,
01:44
and it was only 2.5 percent of their GDP.
01:47
An average African country receives foreign aid
01:50
to the tune of 13, 15 percent of its GDP,
01:53
and that is an unprecedented transfer of financial resources
01:59
from rich countries to poor countries.
02:02
But I want to say that there are two things we need to connect.
02:05
How the media covers Africa in the West, and the consequences of that.
02:08
By displaying despair, helplessness and hopelessness,
02:14
the media is telling the truth about Africa, and nothing but the truth.
02:17
However, the media is not telling us the whole truth.
02:23
Because despair, civil war, hunger and famine,
02:27
although they're part and parcel of our African reality,
02:31
they are not the only reality.
02:35
And secondly, they are the smallest reality.
02:37
Africa has 53 nations.
02:39
We have civil wars only in six countries,
02:41
which means that the media are covering only six countries.
02:44
Africa has immense opportunities that never navigate
02:48
through the web of despair and helplessness
02:52
that the Western media largely presents to its audience.
02:54
But the effect of that presentation is, it appeals to sympathy.
02:59
It appeals to pity. It appeals to something called charity.
03:03
And, as a consequence, the Western view
03:08
of Africa's economic dilemma is framed wrongly.
03:11
The wrong framing is a product of thinking
03:16
that Africa is a place of despair.
03:20
What should we do with it? We should give food to the hungry.
03:23
We should deliver medicines to those who are ill.
03:26
We should send peacekeeping troops
03:29
to serve those who are facing a civil war.
03:31
And in the process, Africa has been stripped of self-initiative.
03:33
I want to say that it is important to recognize
03:38
that Africa has fundamental weaknesses.
03:41
But equally, it has opportunities and a lot of potential.
03:44
We need to reframe the challenge that is facing Africa,
03:48
from a challenge of despair,
03:52
which is called poverty reduction,
03:54
to a challenge of hope.
03:58
We frame it as a challenge of hope, and that is worth creation.
04:00
The challenge facing all those who are interested in Africa
04:04
is not the challenge of reducing poverty.
04:07
It should be a challenge of creating wealth.
04:09
Once we change those two things --
04:12
if you say the Africans are poor and they need poverty reduction,
04:15
you have the international cartel of good intentions
04:20
moving onto the continent, with what?
04:24
Medicines for the poor, food relief for those who are hungry,
04:27
and peacekeepers for those who are facing civil war.
04:30
And in the process, none of these things really are productive
04:35
because you are treating the symptoms, not the causes
04:39
of Africa's fundamental problems.
04:41
Sending somebody to school and giving them medicines,
04:44
ladies and gentlemen, does not create wealth for them.
04:47
Wealth is a function of income, and income comes from you finding
04:52
a profitable trading opportunity or a well-paying job.
04:56
Now, once we begin to talk about wealth creation in Africa,
05:00
our second challenge will be,
05:03
who are the wealth-creating agents in any society?
05:05
They are entrepreneurs. [Unclear] told us they are always
05:08
about four percent of the population, but 16 percent are imitators.
05:12
But they also succeed at the job of entrepreneurship.
05:16
So, where should we be putting the money?
05:21
We need to put money where it can productively grow.
05:24
Support private investment in Africa, both domestic and foreign.
05:29
Support research institutions,
05:33
because knowledge is an important part of wealth creation.
05:36
But what is the international aid community doing with Africa today?
05:40
They are throwing large sums of money for primary health,
05:44
for primary education, for food relief.
05:47
The entire continent has been turned into
05:50
a place of despair, in need of charity.
05:52
Ladies and gentlemen, can any one of you tell me
05:55
a neighbor, a friend, a relative that you know,
05:57
who became rich by receiving charity?
06:00
By holding the begging bowl and receiving alms?
06:04
Does any one of you in the audience have that person?
06:07
Does any one of you know a country that developed because of
06:10
the generosity and kindness of another?
06:15
Well, since I'm not seeing the hand,
06:18
it appears that what I'm stating is true.
06:20
(Bono: Yes!)
06:23
Andrew Mwenda: I can see Bono says he knows the country.
06:25
Which country is that?
06:27
(Bono: It's an Irish land.)
06:28
(Laughter)
06:29
(Bono: [unclear])
06:31
AM: Thank you very much. But let me tell you this.
06:33
External actors can only present to you an opportunity.
06:37
The ability to utilize that opportunity and turn it into an advantage
06:41
depends on your internal capacity.
06:46
Africa has received many opportunities.
06:48
Many of them we haven't benefited much.
06:50
Why? Because we lack the internal, institutional framework
06:53
and policy framework that can make it possible for us
06:58
to benefit from our external relations. I'll give you an example.
07:01
Under the Cotonou Agreement,
07:04
formerly known as the Lome Convention,
07:06
African countries have been given an opportunity by Europe
07:09
to export goods, duty-free, to the European Union market.
07:12
My own country, Uganda, has a quota to export 50,000 metric tons
07:17
of sugar to the European Union market.
07:23
We haven't exported one kilogram yet.
07:26
We import 50,000 metric tons of sugar from Brazil and Cuba.
07:28
Secondly, under the beef protocol of that agreement,
07:37
African countries that produce beef
07:40
have quotas to export beef duty-free to the European Union market.
07:42
None of those countries, including Africa's most successful nation, Botswana,
07:47
has ever met its quota.
07:51
So, I want to argue today that the fundamental source of Africa's
07:54
inability to engage the rest of the world
07:59
in a more productive relationship
08:01
is because it has a poor institutional and policy framework.
08:04
And all forms of intervention need support,
08:08
the evolution of the kinds of institutions that create wealth,
08:11
the kinds of institutions that increase productivity.
08:15
How do we begin to do that, and why is aid the bad instrument?
08:18
Aid is the bad instrument, and do you know why?
08:22
Because all governments across the world need money to survive.
08:24
Money is needed for a simple thing like keeping law and order.
08:28
You have to pay the army and the police to show law and order.
08:32
And because many of our governments are quite dictatorial,
08:34
they need really to have the army clobber the opposition.
08:38
The second thing you need to do is pay your political hangers-on.
08:42
Why should people support their government?
08:47
Well, because it gives them good, paying jobs,
08:48
or, in many African countries, unofficial opportunities
08:50
to profit from corruption.
08:54
The fact is no government in the world,
08:56
with the exception of a few, like that of Idi Amin,
08:59
can seek to depend entirely on force as an instrument of rule.
09:01
Many countries in the [unclear], they need legitimacy.
09:06
To get legitimacy, governments often need to deliver things like primary education,
09:09
primary health, roads, build hospitals and clinics.
09:15
If the government's fiscal survival
09:20
depends on it having to raise money from its own people,
09:22
such a government is driven by self-interest
09:26
to govern in a more enlightened fashion.
09:28
It will sit with those who create wealth.
09:30
Talk to them about the kind of policies and institutions
09:33
that are necessary for them to expand a scale and scope of business
09:36
so that it can collect more tax revenues from them.
09:40
The problem with the African continent
09:43
and the problem with the aid industry
09:45
is that it has distorted the structure of incentives
09:46
facing the governments in Africa.
09:49
The productive margin in our governments' search for revenue
09:52
does not lie in the domestic economy,
09:55
it lies with international donors.
09:58
Rather than sit with Ugandan --
10:00
(Applause) --
10:02
rather than sit with Ugandan entrepreneurs,
10:06
Ghanaian businessmen, South African enterprising leaders,
10:09
our governments find it more productive
10:15
to talk to the IMF and the World Bank.
10:18
I can tell you, even if you have ten Ph.Ds.,
10:21
you can never beat Bill Gates in understanding the computer industry.
10:25
Why? Because the knowledge that is required for you to understand
10:30
the incentives necessary to expand a business --
10:34
it requires that you listen to the people, the private sector actors in that industry.
10:36
Governments in Africa have therefore been given an opportunity,
10:42
by the international community, to avoid building
10:45
productive arrangements with your own citizens,
10:48
and therefore allowed to begin endless negotiations with the IMF
10:50
and the World Bank, and then it is the IMF and the World Bank
10:56
that tell them what its citizens need.
10:59
In the process, we, the African people, have been sidelined
11:01
from the policy-making, policy-orientation, and policy-
11:05
implementation process in our countries.
11:09
We have limited input, because he who pays the piper calls the tune.
11:11
The IMF, the World Bank, and the cartel of good intentions in the world
11:15
has taken over our rights as citizens,
11:19
and therefore what our governments are doing, because they depend on aid,
11:22
is to listen to international creditors rather than their own citizens.
11:25
But I want to put a caveat on my argument,
11:29
and that caveat is that it is not true that aid is always destructive.
11:31
Some aid may have built a hospital, fed a hungry village.
11:39
It may have built a road, and that road
11:46
may have served a very good role.
11:48
The mistake of the international aid industry
11:50
is to pick these isolated incidents of success,
11:52
generalize them, pour billions and trillions of dollars into them,
11:56
and then spread them across the whole world,
12:01
ignoring the specific and unique circumstances in a given village,
12:03
the skills, the practices, the norms and habits
12:08
that allowed that small aid project to succeed --
12:11
like in Sauri village, in Kenya, where Jeffrey Sachs is working --
12:14
and therefore generalize this experience
12:17
as the experience of everybody.
12:20
Aid increases the resources available to governments,
12:23
and that makes working in a government the most profitable thing
12:28
you can have, as a person in Africa seeking a career.
12:32
By increasing the political attractiveness of the state,
12:35
especially in our ethnically fragmented societies in Africa,
12:39
aid tends to accentuate ethnic tensions
12:43
as every single ethnic group now begins struggling to enter the state
12:46
in order to get access to the foreign aid pie.
12:52
Ladies and gentlemen, the most enterprising people in Africa
12:55
cannot find opportunities to trade and to work in the private sector
13:00
because the institutional and policy environment is hostile to business.
13:05
Governments are not changing it. Why?
13:08
Because they don't need to talk to their own citizens.
13:10
They talk to international donors.
13:15
So, the most enterprising Africans end up going to work for government,
13:17
and that has increased the political tensions in our countries
13:22
precisely because we depend on aid.
13:25
I also want to say that it is important for us to
13:28
note that, over the last 50 years, Africa has been receiving increasing aid
13:32
from the international community,
13:36
in the form of technical assistance, and financial aid,
13:38
and all other forms of aid.
13:41
Between 1960 and 2003, our continent received 600 billion dollars of aid,
13:43
and we are still told that there is a lot of poverty in Africa.
13:53
Where has all the aid gone?
13:56
I want to use the example of my own country, called Uganda,
13:59
and the kind of structure of incentives that aid has brought there.
14:03
In the 2006-2007 budget, expected revenue: 2.5 trillion shillings.
14:08
The expected foreign aid: 1.9 trillion.
14:14
Uganda's recurrent expenditure -- by recurrent what do I mean?
14:17
Hand-to-mouth is 2.6 trillion.
14:21
Why does the government of Uganda budget spend 110 percent
14:25
of its own revenue?
14:30
It's because there's somebody there called foreign aid, who contributes for it.
14:31
But this shows you that the government of Uganda
14:36
is not committed to spending its own revenue
14:38
to invest in productive investments,
14:42
but rather it devotes this revenue
14:44
to paying structure of public expenditure.
14:46
Public administration, which is largely patronage, takes 690 billion.
14:50
The military, 380 billion.
14:55
Agriculture, which employs 18 percent of our poverty-stricken citizens,
14:57
takes only 18 billion.
15:02
Trade and industry takes 43 billion.
15:05
And let me show you, what does public expenditure --
15:09
rather, public administration expenditure -- in Uganda constitute?
15:13
There you go. 70 cabinet ministers, 114 presidential advisers,
15:17
by the way, who never see the president, except on television.
15:23
(Laughter)
15:26
(Applause)
15:29
And when they see him physically, it is at public functions like this,
15:34
and even there, it is him who advises them.
15:39
(Laughter)
15:43
We have 81 units of local government.
15:45
Each local government is organized like the central government --
15:48
a bureaucracy, a cabinet, a parliament,
15:50
and so many jobs for the political hangers-on.
15:52
There were 56, and when our president wanted to
15:55
amend the constitution and remove term limits,
15:58
he had to create 25 new districts, and now there are 81.
16:01
Three hundred thirty-three members of parliament.
16:05
You need Wembley Stadium to host our parliament.
16:07
One hundred thirty-four commissions
16:09
and semi-autonomous government bodies,
16:11
all of which have directors and the cars. And the final thing,
16:16
this is addressed to Mr. Bono. In his work, he may help us on this.
16:20
A recent government of Uganda study found
16:24
that there are 3,000 four-wheel drive motor vehicles
16:26
at the Minister of Health headquarters.
16:30
Uganda has 961 sub-counties, each of them with a dispensary,
16:32
none of which has an ambulance.
16:37
So, the four-wheel drive vehicles at the headquarters
16:39
drive the ministers, the permanent secretaries, the bureaucrats
16:42
and the international aid bureaucrats who work in aid projects,
16:45
while the poor die without ambulances and medicine.
16:48
Finally, I want to say that before I came to speak here,
16:54
I was told that the principle of TEDGlobal
16:58
is that the good speech should be like a miniskirt.
17:02
It should be short enough to arouse interest,
17:05
but long enough to cover the subject.
17:07
I hope I have achieved that.
17:09
(Laughter)
17:10
Thank you very much.
17:11
(Applause)
17:12

▲Back to top

About the speaker:

Andrew Mwenda - Journalist
Journalist Andrew Mwenda has spent his career fighting for free speech and economic empowerment throughout Africa. He argues that aid makes objects of the poor -- they become passive recipients of charity rather than active participants in their own economic betterment.

Why you should listen

Andrew Mwenda is a print, radio and television journalist, and an active critic of many forms of Western aid to Africa. Too much of the aid from rich nations, he says, goes to the worst African countries to fuel war and government abuse. Such money not only never gets to its intended recipients, Africa's truly needy -- it actively plays a part in making their lives worse.

Mwenda worked at the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala starting in the mid-1990s, and hosted a radio show, Andrew Mwenda Live, since 2001; in 2005, he was charged with sedition by the Ugandan government for criticizing the president of Uganda on his radio show, in the wake of the helicopter crash that killed the vice president of Sudan. He has produced documentaries and commentary for the BBC on the dangers of aid and debt relief to Africa, and consulted for the World Bank and Transparency international, and was a Knight Fellow at Stanford in 2007.

In December 2007, he launched a new newspaper in Kampala, The Independent, a leading source of uncensored news in the country. The following spring, he was arrested and accused of publishing inflammatory articles about the Ugandan government. Since being released, he has gone on to be recognized by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader and to win the CPJ International Press Freedom Award.    

More profile about the speaker
Andrew Mwenda | Speaker | TED.com