Thursday, July 16, 2009

Obama in Ghana

Amid the hosannas, a critique:
At every opportunity, the President emphasized internal African causes for the continent's woes, highlighting especially the need for good governance and ending corruption. So he argued, for example, that "you're not going to get investment without good governance." That's just wrong. For decades most foreign investment in Africa has gone to South Africa first, even under apartheid, and then to such oil-rich nations as Angola and Nigeria. First and foremost, western companies, backed energetically by their embassies, are after Africa's resources--oil, gas and to a lesser extent minerals. These are the very sectors where we find vast corruption, environmental degradation, the vicious exploitation of African labor, and, often enough, Africa's wars....

Of course Obama's obsession about appalling governance is not wrong; I share it completely. Africans have for decades been betrayed by a veritable pageant of monstrous leaders, one more egregious than the other. But another truth is that the United States actively backed almost all of them, and if the US didn't, France did; that's part of the neocolonial record. The west also supplied many of the arms that were used in the appalling internal conflicts that have roiled Africa for so long. Even today, the US, Britain and France continue to remain close to many African leaders whose democratic credentials leave much to be desired....

"Development depends on good governance," Obama lectured Ghana's Parliament. "That is the change that can unlock Africa's potential." With all due respect to the President, this is malarkey. The reality, which surely Obama grasps, is that for centuries, year in and year out, far more of Africa's wealth and resources pour out of the continent to the rich world than the west provides Africa through all sources, from aid to investment to trade. Good governance will not end this perverse truth.

Beyond that, even if every African country was led by a saint, they could do nothing about the severe environmental and economic damage that global warming--for which Africa has no responsibility whatever--is inflicting across the continent. Obama actually mentioned this in his speech, yet ignores it with his obsessive fixation on Africa's sole responsibility for its problems.

Even the most exemplary African leaders could do nothing about the destructive impact on African development of the present worldwide economic crisis, for which Africa has no responsibility whatever.

No African leader has the slightest influence on the drastic increase in food prices that is causing such suffering, including outright starvation, to millions of Africans.

Even a continent of Mandelas couldn't change the massive subsidies that western governments provide to their agribusinesses. When they're in Ghana, the Obamas should do some comparison shopping. They may be taken aback to find that it costs more to buy a locally-bred chicken than a subsidized one that's been shipped frozen all the way from Europe. To this, Obama reassured his Ghanaian hosts, "America can do more to promote trade and investment."

On the other hand, Bill Easterly, the apostle for the view that the best way to help Africa is to do doing nothing at all, loved the speech.

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