- The Washington Times - Monday, June 20, 2005

President Bush has undertaken what will prove to be one of the most daunting tasks of his two administrations — bringing Africa, south of the Sahara, into the 21st century.

The G8 decision to write off the debts of 18 of the poorest countries will do little good. Will this debt writeoff create, or even help create, civil societies in Africa? It is a joke to call it debt relief since it brings no relief and it discourages private investment. In fact, the writeoff began the day the money was deposited into African treasuries.

The G8 decision highlights once again the bankruptcy of political prescriptions for Africa. The G8 decision will only help the African bandits who stole the money in the first place.

A decade ago one read headlines like these from Africa: “Drought and fighting imperil 2 million in Sudan”; “Thousands reported to flee ethnic strife in north Ghana”; “5,000 are driven from port city by fighting in southern Somalia.” Yesterday it was the genocidal Idi Amin, the Ethiopian Dergue or the kleptomaniacal “Emperor” Boukassa. Today it is the racist Robert Mugabe, 81, who has destroyed Zimbabwe’s flourishing agricultural economy. His population won’t all starve because the Western countries, for understandable humanitarian reasons, will feed the hungry and deal with the AIDS epidemic. Thus Mr. Mugabe will be bailed out.

So why haven’t the Spanish bleeding heart magistrates, plotting to arrest Donald Rumsfeld, calling for Mr. Mugabe to be brought before the International Court of “Justice”?

The daily headlines from Africa are uniformly depressing. Yesterday there was Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda, the Zambian leader, whose “socialist legacy turned into an economic and political disaster” after 27 years of one-man rule, the New York Times reported. Today Reuters reports “Zambia to reopen graft case,” and “Zambia seeks to redeem image.” Good luck.

More than a half-century after Africa’s mostly peaceful liberation from European colonialism and after billions of dollars, pounds, francs, deutsche marks and Soviet rubles were spent, the 400 million people of sub-Saharan Africa are still at the bottom. Of the world’s 20 poorest nations, 16 are in Africa. Some 100 million Africans face chronic food shortages.

Professor Niall Ferguson writes in “The Cash Nexus” that Britain’s debt rose “with only a few peacetime pauses to 215 percent of national income.” And it was not written off. Yet, writes commentator Ed Stoddard, “This huge debt failed to weigh down an economy which was giving birth to the Industrial Revolution which would mould Britain into the global economic giant of the 19th century.”

International borrowing and investment helped other once disadvantaged parts of the world, like the so-called tigers of Asia, to make sensational economic progress.

But apart from North Africa, the remaining African countries are space junk as far as the world economy is concerned. The harsh truth about post-colonial Africa is that it suffers from economic decline, unending political upheavals and civil wars.

Elite corruption, once camouflaged as “African socialism,” has been widespread and is largely responsible for Africa’s dismal failure. Tragically, Western colonialism was replaced by ideological colonialism — Marxism-Leninism, one-party rule and Swiss bank accounts.

One of the few hopeful signs about Africa’s future is that “African socialism,” which frauds like Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere, Guinea’s Sekou Toure and Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah foisted on their peoples to cheers from the European and American left, has been voted out of Africa. Mr. Nyerere’s “ujamaa” socialist experiment, borrowed from Stalinism, virtually ruined Tanzanian agriculture. (On a per capita basis, Tanzania received more Western aid than probably any other African country and a fat lot of good it did.)

The purpose of lending to the impoverished African peoples is the hope that in time and with proper resource allocation, the beneficiaries of writeoffs will become productive employees and future consumers. Will that purpose be realized? A vain hope?

We must keep trying, says President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair. There is no alternative. So be it.

Arnold Beichman, a Hoover Institution research fellow, is a columnist for The Washington Times.

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