The following is an extract from “Epidemic On The Run“, by Alex Perry, published in Time, 26 September 2011. It’s a long article (1) by Time’s Africa bureau chief discussing perpetual aid programs in Africa:
“And there are striking similarities in how aid and business work. Aid contracts are awarded by competitive bid. Aid agencies are run like corporations, headed by chief executives whose subordinates run departments such as marketing and human resources.
“And aid workers, like their corporate counterparts, plot long careers stretching from the regions – in this case African villages – to the top of the ladder at headquarters, perhaps a U.N. agency office in New York City. For this they are generously rewarded. Add up the tax-free (except for US citizens) salary of $139,074 to $204,391 earned by a mid-ranking U.N. manager in, say, eastern Congo. Toss in his $75,000 car, his routine business-class flights home and to development conferences around the world, his children’s education, and tens of thousands of dollars a year in other expenses, including housing, and the total comes to about half a million dollars a year.”
That’s just for ONE mid-level employee. It’s ten times the average income in the US, and a thousand times the average income in Africa. Tax free!! And it’s not just U.N. or U.S. agencies, but also big charities like Oxfam, Save The Children, CARE, World Vision, etc., that actually compete with government and quasi-government programs for financial resources, people, “regional footprint”, etc., wherever the money is.
“Big aid agencies are especially like big business. In theory, the goal of every aid agency should be to close up shop, its job done. In practice, that’s often still true of smaller, volunteer projects. But larger agencies focus not on folding but expanding. … As agencies become ever more established (in the region of their initial entry), what was originally intended as small-scale, temporary assistance becomes big and permanent. Instead of helping governments, aid agencies replace them. Instead of solving problems, they may unwittingly institutionalize them.”
Foreign aid is big business. And, just like special interest lobbies, it’s big business designed to perpetuate its raison d’être. The object is not to achieve success, to overcome the adversity; the object is to keep the money and influence flowing to a problem that never goes away, to keep those profiting from the adversity employed, in business and wielding power and influence. As such, aid agencies are a lot like, for example, the many powerful women’s lobbies, still making the same complaints, the same case with the same “statistics”, they used a half century ago – as if to confirm the total futility of their efforts after all these years. It’s a recipe to keep the money and the power flowing to those championing the causes of perpetual “victim” groups. You examine this business model long enough and you can’t escape the question of whether they are perpetual victims of others or of their own lobbies, perpetual victims of their deplorable situation or of their many aid agencies. Dependency is inherently crippling.
One volunteer aid program that does work in Africa, however, is supported by a few non-aid companies like Exxon-Mobile, the TV show “American Idol” and grass-roots charity donations mostly from young Americans. It involves acquiring and distributing cheap mosquito bed nets throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It’s an effort to defeat malaria, which is often made worse by aid agencies and “environmental” programs that actually expand marshes where mosquitoes thrive. In the last three years 382,500,000 nets have been delivered directly to 765,000,000 people who can use them. That’s it. “Here are some nets. Pass them out. Use them. Bye bye.”
So far, thirteen Sub-Saharan countries have cut their incidence of malaria by at least 50% (Zanzibar by nearly 100%) just since 2008 – which has led directly to a dramatic increase in childhood education, worker productivity, overall population health, and local government re-direction of meager resources to long-range programs that are steadily raising the economic level of citizens. And no one is paid a half million bucks a year ad infinitum doing it. Dramatically less time and effort suffering with malaria, or caring for those with the disease, means that much time and effort can be directed toward more productive endeavors.
Didn’t President Johnson’s “Great Society” prove that Big Brother dependency programs only benefit Big Brother and its bureaucrats? Wasn’t it Native Americans who taught the European Pilgrims how to survive in America – after greeting them in their own language and teaching them what they knew, not only about fishing and hunting, but also about growing new crops in fertilized soil? Isn’t a fishing pole a better hand-out than a fish? In stark contrast to their parents, kids today seem to know such things intuitively, while their parents and grandparents always seem to be asking, “What’s in it for me?” A big tax deduction? A half mil a year? A cushy career to Manhattan and the global jet set after a few years in the boonies? All paid for by the altruistic intentions of “someone else” kept alive by astute marketing?
U.N. blue-helmeted “Peacekeepers” are paid similarly over-inflated tax-free salaries, which is pretty much why American soldiers regard them as useless, over-paid, nine-to-five “blue mice” interested mainly in keeping the money coming to them as long as possible. Rather than solve problems, they perpetuate them – but only after the hard stuff is over.
One of the few advantages these days of suffering through excruciating commercial air travel to leave the US, and worse to return, is being able to read and discuss foreign news publications, including foreign editions of Time, such as the European, Asian or South Pacific versions. They are full of much more useful and worthwhile information than the lowest-common-denominator US version, much of which anymore is actually more appropriate for any of fifty different women’s magazines. Good news publications, especially weeklies, carefully put together outside the US offer perspectives of the world very different from those usually appearing in myopic and self-centered American publications, where almost everything is shaped not by objective fact and sound reasoning, but by domestic politics. The 11 July 2011 issue of the European edition of Time, for example, had a major article on Nokia cell phones in Africa (2), also written by England-born Alex Perry (who wrote the article on aid agencies in Africa). (The 11 July US edition substituted an article about how great American farmers are doing these days.)
Because the basic version of the phone is so cheap and easy to use, Nokia has sold countless millions of them throughout that infrastructure-deficient continent. They are now as ubiquitous as mosquitoes. Even better, Africans are making lots of very useful apps for those Nokia phones, which help them plan their crops, get the best price for their produce, consult the internet, communicate with and organize interest groups, create businesses, generate commerce, get better health advice faster, report quickly on problems like drought, famine, disease, poaching, war, genocide, etc., and, perhaps most importantly, keep a very close eye on what their governments are doing with their money. Nokia phones are changing the way Africa operates, and the apps are so good that a new industry of talented African programmers is growing rapidly. The thinking is that if the app will work on a super-basic Nokia, it will work on anything, so don’t be surprised to discover that the next “great app” has an African’s name on it. Not Finland’s “Angry Birds”, but Kenya’s “Galloping Giraffes”?
Mosquito nets and cell phones. Unknown to most Americans, who are more interested in playing with their souped-up toys, these simple devices are leading a seismic economic revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa. Give people critical tools and let them help themselves, with pride. And then move on to the next worthwhile cause. It’s not rocket science. And it doesn’t take forever or institutionalize aid programs and lucrative careers for those forever handing out other peoples’ money to perpetual victims.
Now, if we could just give Africans a fair market for their crops, a wealthy Western market where domestic crops are not subsidized by taxpayers and highly advanced technology. China knows. China has been buying vast expanses of farmland around the world, especially in Africa. China knows that expanding populations rapidly climbing the economic ladder will inevitably demand ever better nutrition, which is leading to a steady rise in the global price of food. China has a considerably longer world view than does the West, and it is making enormous strategic investments throughout the Third World. The last thing China is interested in is creating huge perpetually dependent populations that will draw significant resources away from needed productive endeavors.
(See also “America’s Greatest Social Shame – Boys”, posted separately.)
- (1) The article about aid agencies in Africa is on Time’s web site at
- (2) The article about cell phones in Africa is on Time’s website at:
- New York Times Magazine carried a similar piece by Sara Corbett on 13 April 2008.
- (See: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13anthropology-t.html?pagewanted=all )
- and Businessweek also carried a similar article on 24 September 2007.
- (See: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/07_39/b4051054.htm )