Apr 03 2009

Global fiscal stimulus and the plight of Africa: what’s really needed, more aid or more trade?

Published by at 3:38 pm under Development,Fair trade,Free Trade,IMF

allAfrica.com: Africa: G20 Leaders Promise Billions for Low-Income Nations

While the G20 leaders meet in England to formulate their plan for increasing aid to Africa, the message from the continent seems to be that not aid, bur more trade, foreign direct investment and the establishment of free markets is the key to achieving meaningful economic growth and development. Dambisa Moyo explains the problem with aid on Colbert Nation on April 1:

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What, exactly do the G20 leaders have planned for the less economically developed nations of Africa in the $1.1 trillion global stimulus package?

The leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies, recognizing that the global financial crisis has “a disproportionate impact” on vulnerable people in poor countries, have promised to make hundreds of billions of United States dollars available to these countries as part of a $1.1 trillion plan to rescue the world economy.

In a communiqué released by the Group of 20’s London Summit on Thursday, the leaders announced what they called “a global plan for recovery on an unprecedented scale.”

They said the rescue package would include resources totalling $850 billion, to be channelled through global financial institutions, “to support growth in emerging market and developing countries by helping to finance counter-cyclical spending, bank recapitalisation, infrastructure, trade finance, balance of payments support, debt rollover, and social support.”

Outlining allocations for materially poor nations, they promised:

  • An increase in lending of at least $100 billion by multilateral development banks, including loans to low-income countries;
  • An amount of $50 billion for social protection, to promote trade and to safeguard development in low-income countries; and
  • The selling of gold reserves to help the International Monetary Fund (IMF) provide $6 billion for the world’s poorest countries over the next two to three years.

The increase in aid from the rich world to sub-Saharan Africa comes mostly in the form of loans from the IMF and the World Bank. Development aid such as this is meant to help poor countries improve their human capital through investments in education, health and infrastructure. Historically, loans from the “multilateral development banks” have been made on the condition that the recipient nations adopt certain “structural adjustment policies”:

Some of the conditions for structural adjustment can include:

Critics of such SAPs, which developing countries are forced to adopt as conditions of receiving loans from the IMF and World Bank, say that they limit the extent to which the poor country can direct the loan money towards combating poverty, reducing inequality, and thereby achieving meaningful economic development for the poor.

Recently TIME magazine had an article in which the efficacy of such financial aid from the rich world to the poor world is challenged.

Africa is hopeless, a place of war and famine seemingly populated almost entirely by tyrants and children with flies in their eyes. According to this view, if Africa generates any kind of growth, it is in suffering — and in the overseas aid sent to address that, now a $40-billion-a-year industry. Naturally, with a new appeal every year and a new disaster every other, some people have begun to wonder if all that money is doing any good. They argue that aid creates dependence, fuels corruption, undermines democracy and stifles development.

Aid in any form, at a fundamental level, positions Africa as a dependent child, and the “rich world” as the paternalistic benefactor. Aid, despite the good intentions of the west, does little to do promote meaningful economic development in poor countries:

Though it rarely occurs to Westerners who’ve been instructed that Africa needs their help, charity is humiliating. Not emergency charity, of course: when disaster strikes, emergency aid is always welcome, whether in New Orleans or Papua New Guinea. But long-term charity, living life as a beggar, is degrading. Andrew Rugasira, 40, runs Good African Coffee, a Ugandan company he set up in 2004 to supply British supermarkets under the motto “Trade, not aid.” He is emblematic of a new generation of African antiaid, antistate entrepreneurs. For Rugasira, aid not only “undermines the creativity to lift yourself out of poverty” but also “undermines the integrity and dignity of the people. It says, These are people who cannot figure out how to develop.” Aid even manages to silence those it is meant to help. “African governments become accountable to Western donors,” says Rugasira, “and Africa finds itself represented not by Africans but by Bono and Bob Geldof. I mean, how would America react if Amy Winehouse dropped in to advise them on the credit crisis?”

The G20 nations should keep this view of aid in mind as they further develop their plans to help the poor nations of the world achieve economic growth and development. Trade, not aid, is what Africa needs to achieve meaningful progress towards economic development, defined as an improvement in the quality of life, health, education, and incomes of the people of a nation. Despite over $40 billion a year of aid that has flowed into Africa over the last decade, it is foreign investment and trade that has only recently led to sustained economic growth for the continent.

In 2006, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, foreign investment in Africa reached $48 billion, overtaking foreign aid for the first time. That gap has only widened, reflecting a quadrupling of foreign investment since 2000. As the senior adviser in Africa for the International Monetary Fund (IMF), David Nellor, noted in a report last September, sub-Saharan Africa today resembles Asia in the 1980s. “The private sector is the key driver,” wrote Nellor, “and financial markets are opening up.” War is down. Democracy is up. Inflation and interest rates are in single digits. Terms of trade have improved. Crucially, said Nellor, “growth is taking off.” The IMF puts Africa’s average annual growth for 2004 to ’08 at more than 6% — better than any developed economy — and predicts the continent will buck the global recessionary trend to grow nearly 3.3% this year.

Despite the platitudes from Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Ban Ki Moon about the “disproportionate impact” of the financial crisis on the poor nations of the world, it is Africa that is likely to achieve economic growth this year, even while the rich nations of the world enter recession. It is little thanks to aid that the people of Africa are finally experiencing meaningful growth; rather, the economic ties between the continent and, not the West, but China, have fueled this movement towards higher incomes and quality of life. Perhaps it’s more and fairer trade, not aid, that Africa needs now. And maybe that’s what we in the West need too in this time of economic chaos.

About the author:  Jason Welker teaches International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement Economics at Zurich International School in Switzerland. In addition to publishing various online resources for economics students and teachers, Jason developed the online version of the Economics course for the IB and is has authored two Economics textbooks: Pearson Baccalaureate’s Economics for the IB Diploma and REA’s AP Macroeconomics Crash Course. Jason is a native of the Pacific Northwest of the United States, and is a passionate adventurer, who considers himself a skier / mountain biker who teaches Economics in his free time. He and his wife keep a ski chalet in the mountains of Northern Idaho, which now that they live in the Swiss Alps gets far too little use. Read more posts by this author

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Global fiscal stimulus and the plight of Africa: what’s really needed, more aid or more trade?”

  1. Andrew McCarthyon 09 Apr 2009 at 1:12 pm

    Hey great blog and research.

    I used the article from Time Magazine as well. A nice new perceptive on Development in Africa. I loved the quote about aid creating dependency and fueling corrution.

    This is a worksheet related to the article which I created. It encourages some deeper thinking.

    Scan of article – http://attachments.wetpaintserv.us/OXqktD47PEYNNO
    Worksheet – http://attachments.wetpaintserv.us/Bbrt6biBdvOBkr

  2. Jason Welkeron 10 Apr 2009 at 11:02 am


    Great worksheet, thanks for sharing, I'll use this next time I teach development! – Jason