Intended for healthcare professionals


Africa does not need aid, but the opportunity for fair trade

BMJ 2005; 331 doi: (Published 29 September 2005) Cite this as: BMJ 2005;331:784
  1. Inwani Malweyi, emergency medical coordinator (kenya.emergency.medco{at}
  1. Merlin Kenya

    Africa has been in the international news mostly for the wrong reasons and notably in the recent past for famine, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, civil wars, and increasing poverty. It is common knowledge that the continent is rich in natural resources, but its people continue to languish in absolute poverty. Some factors that could explain this are corruption, unequal distribution of wealth, poor planning, lack of respect for the rule of law, manipulation by developed countries, civil wars, illiteracy, and the current HIV/AIDS pandemic. All these factors have worked in synergy to reverse the little gain the continent had made in the early 1970s.

    Most African countries have welcomed recent debate (such as that at the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, in July of this year) on increased aid and debt relief to impoverished nations by the world's leading industrialised countries. It is important to note, however, that such pledges have been made before, and yet poverty levels have increased. Rich nations, and G8 nations in particular, are notorious for giving impoverished countries postdated cheques of increased ODA (official development assistance) and better terms of trade and debt relief that are shamelessly dishonoured.

    The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been pushing poor African governments with aid conditions that are of no particular benefit to the people of Africa. A case in point is privatisation of organisations that provide essential services to a country's citizens—for example, telecommunications, power, water, roads, railways, banks, and ports. All these lucrative business are now in the control of powerful multinationals reaping huge profits and sending all the funds to their home countries, leaving Africa worse off than before. If the profits made by these multinationals are not ploughed back into the local economy, then this will be the worst trick that the World Bank and IMF have played on Africa and impoverished countries in general.

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    Most farmers are forced to sell at a loss


    On one hand there is pressure on a government to reduce its workforce, rendering millions of family breadwinners jobless; on the other hand we see a continuous increase of expatriates purporting to give technical support even where there are highly qualified locals for the job. High unemployment and low pay have led masses of qualified staff to leave Africa and move to the developed countries in search for work, sparking the current debate about the “brain drain.” Unless unemployment is addressed, the “brain drain” will continue.

    In the current climate, Africa is not expected to meet the poverty reduction goal by 2015. If there is to be any achievement we urgently need to shift policies, with deliberate focus on capacity building, improved quality of aid, and full and unconditional cancellation of debt owed by all impoverished countries. We need to reform the World Trade Organization to give poor nations full and effective representation at policy level and ownership of development policies that fully protect human rights.

    An early end to agricultural export and farm subsidies in developed countries is a necessary and essential part of anti-poverty efforts. The import of cheap food to poor countries during the peak of the harvest season has a negative impact on the economy and promptly kills local agriculture, as peasant farmers do not get a market for their produce. Most farmers do not have the capacity to preserve and store the produce safely, forcing them to sell at a loss. Where farmers have attempted to store the produce, there have been disastrous results, as evidenced by a case in Kenya earlier this year when many lives were lost to aflatoxin poisoning resulting from poorly stored grains.

    Last month about 200 heads of state gathered at the United Nations headquarters in New York to review achievements made, if any, since the millennium summit of 2000 that gave us the much celebrated millennium development goals. Concerns raised during the meeting are closely linked to those expressed in the recent past by the Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), the worldwide coalition that seeks to prick the conscience of the global citizenry to address socioeconomic injustices with a view to making poverty history. As the debates go on, millions continue to die from hunger, poverty, and disease.

    All these meetings and slogans will never achieve the desired goal as long as the most impoverished countries have no major input into the process. As the saying goes, beggars can't be choosers. But what African leaders should realise is that poverty in Africa needs to be addressed from within the continent—no single country has ever developed by depending on aid from its former masters. Africa can develop with the resources in its possession, so long as there is no external interference and there is fair trade and democracy. The continent needs to take charge of its destiny or it will never liberate itself from this unfortunate situation.


    • The views expressed are the writer's own, and do not represent those of Merlin.

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