On air: Trading places

If you live outside Africa, and you give money to causes there, can you ever imagine a day when you won’t do it? Whether the answer is yes or no, you’d also probably say, “but I’d like to”.

Well, Africans would like to get to that point too, but so far, no-one seems to have cracked just how to get the continent off the aid drip. But Rwanda has some ideas.
President Paul Kagame has been the most outspoken of all African leaders in his desire to wean his country off foreign assistance. He explains why in this comment piece for the Financial Times.

His big idea for how to go about it seems to be rooted in wooing foreign investors through a combination of ferocious networking, personal charm and creating a stable, anti-corruption, pro-business environment for investors. (If you have time to read a fantastic, but long, article on the Rwandan model, do check out this piece from Fast Company magazine)

So far, Rwanda seems to be making a good attempt at it. We’ve met a number of investors since we’ve been here who say they’ve come to set up shop in Rwanda not out of charity, but because they think they can make a buck.

A little bit of altruism and a lot of eyeing the potential profits.

But, despite all its advances, half the government’s budget still comes from foreign sources. And that’s not including all the private charity projects that assist everything from health, to farming, to education.

Theories on how best to cut the aid cord abound. On the most extreme side, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo suggests simply :

“I have long believed that far from being a catalyst, foreign aid has been the biggest single inhibitor of Africa’s growth…….. For Africa to grow in a sustained way, foreign aid will have to be dramatically reduced over time, forcing countries to adopt more transparent strategies to finance development. “

The picture below is of the street outside the Traveler’s cafe in Rubangura. Venue

It’s where we’ll be discussing ths issue later today in a place that teems with trade and activity for most of the day and evening.

Will Rwanda’s “can do” attitude and the leadership of Paul Kagame set an example for the rest of the continent ?

Or will the dream of an aid-free Africa stay just that- a dream ?

25 Responses to “On air: Trading places”

  1. 1 osuagwu
    September 17, 2009 at 10:39

    Africa would remain a black hole for resources as long as there is no good goverance. A case in point is Nigeria where most of the nations resources end up in private hands creating a dearth of resources for the populace. Africa would have to continue reqiuring external help for her causes for quite some time .

  2. 2 Uzondu Esionye
    September 17, 2009 at 11:56

    I am of the oppinion that Aid will not stop rightnow, because people give out of what they have.The tendency, especially by governments here in Africa, has been to request for aid that are not directed properly. I think that aid is still coming, and will continue to, once people of good will are still out there. we do need the assistance in other to get ourselves out of the current situation of masive poverty.I am of the conviction, that President Kagame is looking in the horizone, and envisaging a point in time, when we will be able to give aid out to others, or even trade fairly across boders.We have got a lot to offer here on the continient.
    Thanks to those stiling giving us aid. I am grateful for that.

  3. 3 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
    September 17, 2009 at 12:49

    Those counties that donate aid to Africa are not helping Africa at all,why? they`re the ones keeping our continent behind.In particular when U gives more aid then expect more problems & a new dictators arising.

    • 4 osuagwu
      September 17, 2009 at 18:49

      I disagee vehemently with Dinka Aliap of Uganda. Donors are wonderful and kind people.They have a mission to aliviate extreme suffering and pooverty in the world. Even the wealthiest donors could have alternative goods and services to splash their resources on for example more luxury goods such as latest private jets ,limosines or real estates. We the reciepients of aid are eternally grateful to these ‘angels’ – the Donors. Heavens also has a place for generous donors.

      Maybe the peoblem Aliap has with aids is that most of the resources are stolen by corrupt government and therefore do not reach their intended taggets and therefore may fail to make desired imparts.

      • 5 Dinka Aliap Chawul-Kampala,Uganda
        September 18, 2009 at 14:13

        @Osuawu 5decades of self-rules in Africa is enough;

        As u know brother i guest u`re from Nigeria,that when u continue feeding somebody continueosly,then u either may have an intention of not giving that individual a previlledge to be independent or feed itself or wants to dominate them in anyway .

        I imagine if aid could had been good for Africa,there`d been no ruralism,am saying every village could have turn into town & then the nourbanisation could indeed took place.

        Africa have got what it take to provides aids needy people if they could have invest much on conflict resolutions,democracy,decoruptionise themselve and avoid the title called “Hero/heroine in justifying dictatorship & dynasty”.I personally oppose that kind of ever begging.

  4. 6 Dennis Junior
    September 17, 2009 at 13:01


    …Will Rwanda’s “can do” attitude and the leadership of Paul Kagame set an example for the rest of the continent ?…

    Yes, I hope that the “CAN DO” Attitude can set the example across Africa….

    =Dennis Junior=

  5. 7 Dave in Florida
    September 17, 2009 at 14:02

    President Kagame is absolutely correct.

  6. 8 scmehta
    September 17, 2009 at 14:27

    What president Kagame is visualizing and contemplating/proposing to do is great and examplary; I’ve no doubt in my mind that his initiatives will definitely inspire whole Africa. But what matters the most right now is that how much cooperation and coordination is there between the African countries, for them to be affected favourably by the initiatives and progress of the better or the fortunate ones.

  7. 9 Lydia
    September 17, 2009 at 14:29

    Why either/or? Why not both/and? After generations of cripplling Africa, undermining governments there, exploiting natural and human resources and decimating many nations in Africa, the beneficiaries of Africa’s unwilling largess should take a couple of generations to help repair, while at the same time African leaders should continue to seek to get out from under the burdens of aid, the yoke of bad governance. And investors who took from Africa can surely find a way to give while getting.

  8. 10 Gary Paudler
    September 17, 2009 at 15:07

    Another respondent to another WHYS blog about Africa recommended George Ayittey’s excellent “Africa Unchained” which I am reading now and should be the primer for all these “poor Africa” discussions. To call most of what has been given to Africa “aid” is absurd and misleading. Dambisa Moyo understands that yet she persists in allowing a dangerously simplistic version of her philosophy to be presented. Some vanishingly tiny amount, probably a fraction of one percent, of what has been called aid has actually reached the people who need it while despots, unchallenged by governments in the developed world, have amassed many billions of dollars of personal wealth stored and spent on other continents. Africa doesn’t need less aid, aid – the very word – needs to be redefined and the definition enforced. When the word has real meaning, it won’t add to the ledger the money paid to foreign firms to impose badly-built infrastructure where it does not meet an urgent need. It will not include money donated to NGOs whose budgets are biased toward administrative salaries and white Land Cruisers. It will not include money spent by governments to support resource extraction by multinational conglomerates.
    It is the nature of aid to Africa that must change, not some cooked-books amount.
    Really, read Ayittey’s book before you do another show on Africa.

  9. September 17, 2009 at 15:11

    Aid for Africa?
    Why, after all these years, are so many countries in Africa still dependent upon Western aid? Has such aid truly helped the situation or encouraged them to let others do for them what they won’t do for themselves?

  10. 12 Tom K in Mpls
    September 17, 2009 at 15:37

    It’s my three point plan all over again.

    1 A stable and accountable government to set up:
    2 An infrastructure ( roads, schools, power, communications) to support:
    3 A broad based economy.

    With out this, success is not possible. Any future based on a single resource will be vulnerable to global economic fluctuations and end when the resource runs out or technologies change. Even oil is vulnerable.

  11. September 17, 2009 at 16:13


    Hope you are not talking like this out of self-censorship?! My reaction yesterday seemed to have been taken for anger. No, you and Mr Sandel should get genuine answers to these genuine questions.

    My take is that aid creates dependency, yes, but suddenly closing the taps can kill an economy and its people. As long as it is not squandered it can be used to strengthen investment and trade and help an economy to slowly wean itself off aid.

    In the 1990s, the economy of Rwanda depended wholly on aid, but today aid funds half the budget, with emergency assistance, no doubt, but assistance which is decremental rather than incremental. That is not bad for a country that was on its deathbed barely 15 years ago.

    Aid ploughed into the country’s economy, rather than stuffed in the bureaucratic tummies, as a Marshal plan, can create a Japan.

  12. 14 Julia in Portland
    September 17, 2009 at 16:58

    I have no qualms about sending support when it truly gets where it belongs and if it can aid in creating more self-sustaining countries. We don’t usually succeed at this, but there is always hope for the future.

    It is more important to aid for humanitarian reasons than it is to aid based on the oil assets a country has (which is what I think has been a barometer for aid in the past)

    A combination of self reliance and support could, if done correctly, have exponential benefits. Let’s hope that we can be successful.

  13. 15 Shannon in Ohio
    September 17, 2009 at 18:12

    I am middle-aged and have been giving money for good causes to help the African continent since I was literally five years old and trick-or-treated for UNICEF. I strongly suspect that some or all of those pennies ended up in the pockets of various high-ranking thieves, while good and honest Africans in need–and their babies–suffered and died.

    I have never had the money to visit any part of Africa, although it remains a dream of mine. I still give regularly to various organizations with good reputations, and I still hope for the best for Africa, but time and experience have taught me that the millions of honest people all over that beautiful continent must unite and clean house by themselves. If they don’t, nothing will change.

  14. 16 steven from Malawi in Tampa FL USA
    September 17, 2009 at 18:25

    African politics is all about fighting on who can get control of foreign aid as it is a main source of revenue to several African Govt. Our govts cannot be accountable to Africans if their pockets are lined with aid from the west. Aid is taking money from poor people in rich countries and passing it to rich people in poor countries.Aid has made africa more poor as it has prevented the sawing of entrepreneur seeds.

    We still need emergency aid that can be effectively implemented by NGOs.

  15. 17 steve
    September 17, 2009 at 18:36

    As an American taxpayer, I’m happy my taxes got to help people in Africa, but I fear that people become dependent upon the aid, and don’t want people to rely on handouts. There’s a saying, give a man a fish, and feed him for a day, teach him to fish, and feed him for a lifetime.

  16. 18 patti in cape coral
    September 17, 2009 at 18:36

    I believe that increased and opening up of business/private enterprise will be more effective than aid in helping various countries in Africa than aid. I’m not against aid to Africa per se, but it seems the aid doesn’t really go where it is needed, and the average person’s situation gets worse instead of better. I think businesses will be more likely to put money in people’s hands.

  17. 19 Tom D Ford
    September 17, 2009 at 18:41

    “…creating a stable, anti-corruption, pro-business environment for investors….”

    Boy that sure is a contradiction in terms, isn’t it?

  18. 20 Tom D Ford
    September 17, 2009 at 18:49

    It is global businessmen who have corrupted the African countries and reduced them to poverty, and dependent on aid.

    You have to stomp down on corrupt businesses, strongly regulate them, and end their corrupting influence on your national leaders.

    Foreign businesses want to take money out of Africa, you need to keep your money in your own country by developing your own businesses.

  19. September 17, 2009 at 19:14

    It all depends on the leadership attitude. The problem with the aid is that when it is brought it is spent on unproductive things. So if attitude is good then aid is worth it.
    Donor countries need to see that there is accountability. If it isnt there it should stop.

  20. 22 Kindi Jallow
    September 17, 2009 at 23:12

    Well I thank those who made this information superhighway (internet) technology a reality with the press of a butten it will be noticed by a millions of people arround the world. It has created a forum for the cross fartilisation of ideas between people in different places, regions or countries. Human beings are superior to animals because of one of this foundemental issue of communication in the most effective way.
    In the same way we can examine Aid in African Countries for so long a time sommetimes with strings attached, claimed to have benifected Africa in what way? How many billions of $ were given as Aids to Africa countries which includes expartriates packages. At the end of the assessment of the project 60% of the aid money is paid towards the hiring of expatriates services and 40% directed towards development programmes. They called it a benevolent and a humanitarian move, and so many countries have beneficted this kind of so called humanitarian aid? If on the other hand the project fails to meet its objectives, it is blammed on the countries leadership as corrupt. Africa does not need this type of aid ‘you cannot teach old fools new tricks’ If you give a fish to a person you feed him for the day but if you teach him how to catch fish, you feed him for live.
    Africa should move away from that dependance syndrom towards a more viable, productive and sustainable ways of development.

  21. 23 T
    September 17, 2009 at 23:15

    With the massive borrowing happening outside of Africa, the IMF will have to shift priorities. No longer will various govts. use IMF leverage to try and take over African countries’ infrastructure. Because now THEY might need IMF bailouts (or “aid”) as well. You heard it here first.

  22. 24 vijay pillai
    September 18, 2009 at 14:31

    Some of the finest minds from africa now live in west should form a technical assistance council and help the continent to stand up on its feet and show the world what it can achieve on its own.It is never too late.I remember when i was working more than 3 decades ago in an asian country to develop its meagre water resoruces, this country was receiving aid from Asian Development Bank as a part of fund for this project. With a space of 2 decades it became a developed nation not only in a position to give fund for other countries but also use its expertise to develop water projects elsewhere.Good luck to africa it can do it like wise.

  23. September 19, 2009 at 13:11

    Governments are elected to make donations. If they do not meet internationally recognised levels of donor commitment then the gap cannot be plugged by individual donations however generous they may be. Passing the buck always leads to a degradation of decision-making.

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