Letter: Answers for Africa

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The Independent Culture
Sir: As one who spent many years in African countries, I agree with Suzanne Moore ("Clare Short is Right", 5 June) that these places are far from being all doom and gloom, but also that humanitarian aid, while totally laudable, provides no long-term solution to the problems that exist. The problem is really the one that the Government has recognised at home: welfare or work. For "welfare" read "charity", for "work" read "sustainable development".

But neither is developmental aid necessarily the answer. Billions upon billions have been poured into Africa during the last thirty-odd years and the continent is in a worse state now than it was at the start. Neither is the answer to be found in a blanket moratorium on debts which, in places such as Sudan, would merely enable the ruling factions to spend more money on arms. People in the West are frequently asked to use their generosity to save people from the incompetence or brutality of their own governments, while our governments do little to bring rogue governments to heel or to assist in their removal.

Such aid as is given should be channelled into sustainable development. This means anything other than large-scale, prestigious, technology-dependent projects in places where neither the infrastructure nor the manpower exists to sustain them and which are ripe for exploitation by the ruthless parasites who prey on the misery of the poor. Developmental aid has all too often been a means of guaranteeing markets for the donor country while swelling the bank accounts of the ruling classes.

If Robin Cook's ethical foreign policy is to mean anything, Britain must take the lead in getting the world to adopt the following agenda:

1. "Name and shame" countries who abuse civil rights or conduct civil wars.

2. Ban the sale of arms to all listed countries with ruinous penalties (such as withdrawal of trading licences) on companies who violate the ban.

3. Declare debts interest-free or nonrepayable only for those Third World countries who satisfy the Geneva Convention on Human Rights, retaining the option of renewing the interest and repayments on all countries who backslide.

4. In countries which conform to the accepted standards, begin local, small-scale projects, administered by aid agencies, on a low-interest loan basis providing infrastructure (roads, vehicles, irrigation, medical care, literacy programmes), technology and vocational training. To begin with these projects will be little more than an extension of subsistence agriculture. The initial aim should be to grow more food and to plan in such a way that the questions of starvation and malnutrition never again arise for the small number of people dependent on each project.

Only if we use the power of the developed world to ensure that all the world's citizens live in an environment guaranteeing basic human rights can we ensure that minimum standards of material prosperity exist everywhere. While charity provides the only solution situations such as the one in southern Sudan will be recurring nightmares.


Poulton, Gloucestershire