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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bill Gates: Africa Needs Aid, Not Flawed Theories

After reading Bill Gates’ Notes in response to science writer Matt Ridley’s ‘The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves’, I felt compelled to share my personal thoughts on the subject of giving aid to African countries.

Matt Ridley’s theory, if I can synthesize, is that we worry too much about the need to develop African countries (and Global Warming… but I’ll leave that discussion to the experts) and that if we leave things as is, it will eventually fix itself. As Bill Gates writes, Matt Ridley solution to the current development crises in Africa is “Don’t worry, be happy.” Matt Ridley’s conclusions are based on critics who claim that “Aid doesn’t work, hasn’t worked and won’t work.” I will let you read Bill Gates’ response to Matt Ridley’s commentary, but here are my thoughts on this issue.

I agree with Bill Gates that Africa does need aid, and a lot of good has come from the donations of like-minded people with the resources to help, such as Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Ben Affleck and Cindy McCain, and the list goes on. Some problems just don’t go away and turning a blind eye doesn’t make it cease to exist. Poverty in African countries is a big issue and the quality of life in most of these countries is deplorable. What I tend to find unfortunate is that Africans have to depend on the well-meaning efforts of people such as Bill Gates to bring in aid, ideas and innovation when most of these countries have people capable of at least attempting to address these issues in a more meaningful way.

The critics Matt Ridley cites also have a point to an extent. From an objective outside observer, the efforts of all these philanthropists seem like small pebbles in a large body of water with the ripples dying out before any effects are felt. If perception is reality, then African cities look like slums overrun with poverty and a very low quality of life. It would therefore seem to critics that money is being “thrown away” in an attempt to resolve what we deem to be problems in African countries. Also when looking at the vast disparity between the wealthy and poverty stricken citizens of these countries, one cannot help but wonder about the corruption that exists in most developing countries. It essentially becomes like everything else, a vicious cycle of endless giving by philanthropists without any real evidence of positive change.

As someone who was born and raised in an African country and currently living in the United States working in academia, I believe I bring another perspective to helping the perception of African countries. What most African countries need is political transparency and what philanthropists need to do is collaborate in their efforts and hold local governments accountable and require involvement from the citizens, thus creating a much larger splash with a wider ripple effect in the large African pool of development issues.

To conclude, I strongly disagree with Matt Ridley’s assertions that problems tend to take care of themselves including poverty and the low quality of life in African countries. In that case why pour money into cancer research? Smoke long enough and your body will learn to adjust to all the pollutants being inhaled… it just takes time. On the other hand, how many people have to die of cancer before the body learns to adjust? I guess according to Matt Ridley, if everyone suffering from cancer dies from cancer, then that inevitably solves the problem of cancer? Then what do we do about all the known causes of cancer? Do those disappear along with all the dead people? Probably not. Using my cancer analogy I'm quite sure Mr. Ridley will point to all the advantages that cancer research has made. To that point I would direct Mr. Riddley and his critics to all the positive data (provided by Gapminder) indicating that positive change has been happening in most African countries due in large part to aid. My point is, African countries are faced with complicated issues and we need serious people to solve them. Giving aid is a large part of that solution and the flawed theories that these problems will simply go away over time is a very dangerous thought pattern that needs to be stopped before it gains any real momentum.


N3 said...

It took europeans destroying afrika with their involvement. Out of respect they should leave us be and if they seek to help donate industrial equipment for free so that we can build our agricultural and industrial economy and stop throwing money at us.

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