A different view on development assistance and trade

The following was published in the Awareness Times, one of Sierra Leone’s daily newspapers, back in November 2006. I wrote it in response to an editorial entitled Thank God the Chinese have come to transform economies of disadvantaged Third World Economies.”

I read with great interest in one of your recent publications a commentary regarding improving Sino-African relations, written by Alhaji Morikeh Fofanah. Indeed, while not new, over the past decade Chinese interests on the continent have increased tremendously. His article points out several key issues that are of benefit to African countries, notably the development of infrastructure that will be key if the continent is to industrialize on a large scale, let alone provide sufficient services to its constituents.

That said I believe there are several points in his article that need further analysis. While I will not question the unfair trade subsidies that hinder the entry of African products, notably agricultural products, into the world market, nor the appropriation of natural resources in the colonial period, I do have to question several of his assumptions about both the past and present.

Chinese economic development must be looked at very carefully – the pre-1978 period was by no means a panacea of growth, one must simply look at the failed Great Leap Forward or the mass starvations under Mao. Growth has been a marked phenomenon since 1979 and the introduction of agricultural reforms. Also, China’s giant leap in terms of GDP has been tied in large part to its export-oriented growth strategy, one that today risks undermining long-term industrialization or manufacturing efforts in Africa.

While aid from China comes with no political strings attached, it is often tied to a policy of open markets whereby cheap Chinese consumer products flood African markets. If China, or any other country no matter their political or geographic circumstance, wanted to help Africa, they would Read the rest of this entry »

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Shout loudly but carry a small stick

While the world waits to see how the outcome of the Zimbabwean presidential election unfolds, one can’t help but wonder what the world’s action (as opposed to what will evidently be a vociferous reaction) will be if Robert Mugabe disregards the actual results and attempts to continue his now 28 year reign of Zimbabwe.

My thoughts begin with reference to the first-of-its kind intervention of African Union troops in the Comoros less than two weeks ago. While there are very large differences between this situation and what may unfold in Zim, I think the situation bears analysing.

The Comoros is a small three-island (Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli) archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Home to just over 700,000, the three islands have suffered through 20 coups or coup attempts since independence from France in 1975. In 2001 a new constitution was agreed upon that, in theory, saw central military power give way to a dispersed-democratic system that endowed each of the islands a significant amount of autonomy and control over local affairs. Oversight of the union of the three islands would rotate between the Presidents of each of the three islands. But things haven’t quite gone as planned.

Mohamed Bacar, who became President of the island of Anjouan in 2001, saw his re-election in June 2007 rejected by the Comorian central government, as well as the African Union, on the grounds that the elections weren’t held with the approval of the Central government and were fraught with voting irregularaties and initimidation. And so despite his supposed 90% approval rating, Bacar was told to exit forthwith.

Months of failed negotiations, threats and bravado led the Central Comorian government to forego sanctions on the Island in favour of a “military solution.” Read the rest of this entry »


Beyond the Safari

Award winning columnist cum author Stephanie Nolan has an interesting article at the Globe and Mail about  travel in Africa, and among other things, the impact of civil strife on the Kenyan tourist industry. Beyond Kenya, however, she notes that “there’s a wealth of other vacation options on this vast continent. You can take both wildly opulent and budget safaris in South Africa. You can trek in the ancient cliff villages of Mali. Or sail a dhow in Zanzibar. There is much more to Africa than Kenya, despite what Papa Hemingway may have led you to believe.”

No freaking kidding. Nolan does a great job at painting the popular tourist haunts on the Cape to Cairo trail through South Africa, Zambia, and into Tanzania, and deserves credit for highlighting the legendary music of Mali. But in highlighting the most frequented places on the Continent she misses an opportunity to spread the wealth around, and draw attention to equally tourist-dollar starved locations ever so slightly off the beaten path. Now I’ll admit that any mention of travel to Africa is usually met with blank stares and offers of life insurance but having travelled through 17 countries on the Continent, and having crossed 17 borders by land, I’d like to offer an alternative to Nolan’s list.

But before I get to the list, a few important points that may help convince would-be travellers believe that I’m not alone in pushing these far-off destinations. In December 2007, Delta Airlines officially opened three new routes from the U.S. to the Continent, with flights linking New York and Atlanta to Accra, Dakar and Lagos. Even more exotic was British Midland’s decision in February to take over operations of a London to Freetown, Sierra Leone route.

And so I’ll start with this last destination, a former outpost of mine, Sierra Leone. Read the rest of this entry »