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Western Aid is Destroying Africa

I recently encountered a truly eye-opening interview in the German magazine Der Spiegel, which calls into question many of the humanitarian efforts the West has directed at Africa, from the work of Christian missionary groups to governmental organizations like USAID to the high profile fundraising efforts of events like Live8. According to Kenyan economist James Shikwati – the subject of the interview – most of these well intentioned programs do more harm than good and will never solve the problems of poverty, AIDS and war which plague Africa.

Shikwati is a graduate of the University of Nairobi who taught high school in Kenya for a number of years, until the administration of his school tried to have him fired and evicted from his apartment for teaching economic theory contrary to the quasi-socialist policies of the government. Shikwati left his job and decided to pursue a career as an activist for governmental reform in Africa, making contact with international free-trade organizations, and starting two think-tank like organizations, the African Resource Bank which seeks to promote trade and economic development throughout Africa and the Inter-Region Economic Network whose goals are similar, but focused more on Kenya. Shikwati’s goals with these organizations is to assist the reforming of corrupt governments, promote the development of economic opportunity for all Africans and establish a firm basis of individual liberty through property rights and the rule of law.

Shikwati’s take on the problems in Africa is pretty straightforward, makes a great deal of sense and seems to be borne out by plenty of evidence. Basically he believes that the flood of aid into Africa does very little to help the actual people and functions instead to promote and perpetuate oppressive governments, encourage violent opportunism and discourage self-sufficiency. He basically believes that rather than helping Africa, massive foreign AID is the source of most of the continent’s ongoing problems. Direct monetary payments end up funding corrupt regimes. Food ends up in the hands of profiteers who sell it below the price of locally grown food, thereby rendering agriculture unprofitable. Economic development aid ends up being misdirected and applied to the wrong sorts of projects or worthless make-work jobs which discourage real economic development. Even donated clothes are a problem, making clothing available so cheaply that Africa’s once-robust textile and clothing manufacturing industries are collapsing. And finallly, the AIDS crisis is basically a political tool, greatly exaggerated by African governments so that they can keep western money flowing into the pockets of corrupt leaders.

Shikwati is attending the G8 Summit in Scotland, trying to spread his message that what Africa needs is not more economic and social aid, but help reforming corrupt and repressive governments and establishing free trade, the rule of law and basic rights throughout the continent. Ultimately his message is that Africans can solve most of their own problems if given the opportunity, but that massive and indiscriminate international aid is more of a hindrance to self-determination than anything else. It helps perpetuate repressive regimes and discourages individual initiative and economic reform. More on Shikwati’s ideas can be found in his statement to the G8 Summit in Australia in 2002.

Shikwati’s message is not one which NGOs and do-gooder government agencies are going to want to take seriously, because they depend for their existence on the same flow of money which Shikwati believes feeds oppression in Africa. However the issues Shikwati raises are hard to ignore and the evidence he provides to support his theories is very convincing. He seems to have hit on essential truths about Africa which may be controversial and have certainly been overlooked, but deserve serious consideration.

I urge everyone to read the Der Spiegel article and look at some of his other writings on the IREN website. He’s really on to something and we can’t afford to ignore him. Our well intentioned efforts may really be doing a great deal more harm than good.


Edited: LI

About Dave Nalle

  • Tan The Man

    Good article. Africa’s situation is similar to most other nations, like the US – the difference is the stability of the societies and cultures. Ours is a lot more stable than most of the nations in Africa, which allows us (America) to just barely survive. I don’t think anyone in the world really thinks that America will continue as the world leader within the next 25 years. It’s a very simple observation, which would probably require more sleep in order for me to elaborate.

  • D L Ennis

    This has been a problem in Africa for a long time. Mishandled funds almost always plague relief efforts anywhere anytime. Corrupt governments are as old as politics. Good write!

  • Maurice

    Good article. I have never been to Africa but a co worker of mine just got back after spending 6 weeks in Nirobi. He said the AIDs thing is very bad there. It was rare to see someone older than 30. I only bring this up because of the one line, ‘And finallly, the AIDS crisis is basically a political tool, greatly exaggerated by African governments so that they can keep western money flowing into the pockets of corrupt leaders’.

    It may be true that the governments are exaggerating the extent of the problem but (based on my friends account) I have to believe that the problem is real.

    That said I don’t believe throwing money at the problem is the solution. I had never considered the idea that our ‘help’ was killing their industry. Very sad news no matter what your perspective.

  • parker

    For a fascinating read, go to, to find out about the polio vaccine/AIDS connection in Africa. The best source of info on this is the book, The River.

  • Dave Nalle

    I think there’s no question that AIDS is a serious problem in Africa – certainly a much larger problem than anywhere else in the world. But as Shikwati points out in his interview, once they go in and do actual statistical studies they’ve found that the actual number of cases of infection are substantially lower than the estimates governments were providing aid organizations. More AIDS basically equals more money, and it’s been some of the easiest money to get with no questions asked up until releatively recently.


  • jab

    i agree with what mr shikwat is saying on politicising aids. i have first hand experience and its deadly true that the level of aids estimate cultivates high aid to africa.there are many briefcase organisation only out to solicite fund in the name of aids a wareness its kind of a business venture!
    foreign aid is a problem, perhaps causing aids itself.

  • Nancy

    Good article; I missed it first time around. We have spent almost a century if not more throwing money down the various ratholes of Africa, to no avail. All it does is line the pockets of the invariably corrupt leaders of these places. I can’t figure if this is a cultural thing – a sort of acceptance universally of corruption, as in Asia where it’s part of standard business practice, or what. In any event, the only way to deal with it is to dry up the source, cut off the funds, and provide enough troops to distribute the goods directly ourselves to the people that actually need them. “Trusting” the native governments to do it is criminally stupid & a waste of resources on all sides.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    I wasn’t around a year ago to miss this article, Dave. Except for the part about AIDS being overexaggerated, I fully agree with everything this fellow has said.

    But I’ll add something he didn’t because it is extremely relevant to the issue. The vast majority of “countries” in Africa are not countries at all, they are the result of Europeans drawing lines in the sand. THEIR LINES. The real countries in Africa can be counted on the fingers of two hands. This is one of the basic reasons behind the endemic instability of the regimes there, which is why no “good government” program of getting rid of corruption will work. the lines of the nations themselves have to be re-drawn to account for the real national borders of the peoples of Africa.

    Under the current order of things that will not happen, so you might as well write off most of the continent. That is what AIDS is accomplishing.