Today, feeding starving Africans has become big business, complete with corporate sponsors, lobbyists, and lawyers.  Altruism has been murdered, gloriously.

When a famine situation developed in Turkana, western Kenya, the director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Kenya told Maren, "We have to take advantage of this famine to expand our regular program."

For her, "famine was a growth opportunity."

As Maren explains,

"Groups like the CRS are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers.  The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts."
 

[  "Joseph Kennedy, Africare's director of international development, told a Senate hearing, ..." ]
 
 
 

THE WORLD & I

May 1997

Pages 264-271

BOOKWORLD  REVIEW
 

Compassionate Vultures
 

A former aid worker in Africa and journalist indicts the entire aid industry as self-perpetuating opportunists exploiting that continent's misery.
 

Review of

THE ROAD TO HELL
The Ravaging Effects of
Foreign Aid and International Charity
Michael Maren  New York: Free Press, 1997   320 pp., $25.00

Reviewed by GEORGE AYITTEY

Vultures hover where marauding hyenas roam.

                                                                   —An African proverb

In recent years, Africa has become a tapestry of crises.  Economies have collapsed and whole states disintegrated: Burundi, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Somalia, and eastern Zaire. Millions of refugees—mostly women and children— have fled their homes as their societies descended into brutal civil war, arrant banditry, and savage anarchy. To save them, the Western media bombarded the international community with horrific pictures of rail-thin, starving victims in urgent appeals for humanitarian relief assistance.

Out of the 1994 Rwandan humanitarian crisis came an award-winning photograph by a Western journalist, which showed a severely emaciated child, crouching on a dirt road. His eyes were glazed and his mouth open, gasping for air. A swarm of flies hovered around his face and lower lips. In the background and maintaining their distance were vultures, patiently waiting for the child to die.  I couldn't bear it. Must it come to this, I kept asking myself. Whatever happened to Africa's freedom from colonial rule?

That image kept flashing through my mind as I read Michael Maren's book The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity.  Replace the crouching child with "African misery" and the "buzzards" with Western nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), U.S. grain-trading companies, charities, and arms merchants and one gets the gist of his book. It provides lurid insights into the food-aid industry, a jumble of predatory interests that collude to feed on and perpetuate African misery. "Humanitarian assistance," "Feed the Hungry," and "Save the Refugees" are just sanctimonious buzzwords that camouflage vile, profit-seeking motives. An African humanitarian crisis provides corporate "vultures" with an opportunity to profit from the misery, as purported by the book. The starving and the needy only come into play as an afterthought.

It takes intestinal fortitude to read this book, which would leave anyone genuinely concerned about Africa angry and disgusted.  The sickening hypocrisy and pretense at helping Africa's needy are a surreal rendition of the nineteenth-century evangelical zeal to "civilize" Africa. The "duty" of the missionaries was to convert the African pagans.  Remember?  Those self-righteous objectives drew this sarcastic comment from Herbert Macaulay in 1905:  "The dimensions of 'the true interests of the natives at heart' are algebraically equal to the length, breadth and depth of the whiteman's pocket." Little has changed, according to Maren.

Today, feeding starving Africans has become big business, complete with corporate sponsors, lobbyists, and lawyers.  Altruism has been murdered, gloriously. When a famine situation developed in Turkana, western Kenya, the director of Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in Kenya told Maren, "We have to take advantage of this famine to expand our regular program."  For her, "famine was a growth opportunity."  As Maren explains, "Groups like the CRS are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers.  The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts."

More harm than good

That foreign aid has largely been ineffective in arresting Africa's economic atrophy is no news to many Africans.  As David Karanja, a former Kenya MP, noted recently:

       Foreign aid has done more harm to Africa than we care to admit. It has led to a situation
       where Africa has failed to set its own pace and direction of development free of external
       interference.   Today, Africa's development plans are drawn thousands of miles away in
       the corridors of the IMF and World Bank.  What is sad is that the IMF and World Bank
      "experts" who draw these development plans are people completely out of touch with
       the local African reality.  (New African, June 1992, 20)

[----------- delete for brevity -----------]
 

George Ayittey, a native of Ghana, is associate professor of economics at American University and president of the Free Africa Foundation, both in Washington.  He is the author of Africa Betrayed, which won the 1992 H.L. Mencken Award for best book, and the forthcoming  Why Africa Is Disintegrating (St. Martin's Press, June 1997).

END QUOTE
 

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REUTER

July 31, 1997
 
 

''More trade, less aid'' wrong route for Africa aid
 
 

 By Charles Abbott

            WASHINGTON (Reuter) - A leader of the nonprofit Africare
Thursday urged the United States not to substitute trade for aid
to Africa, despite the allure of private-sector investment as a
catalyst for economic development.

            Joseph Kennedy,  Africare's director of international
development, told a Senate hearing, ``This must not become a
debate between trade and aid, between more trade and less aid.
We have to operate on two tracks at the same time.''

            Half of the region's 700 million people live in 14
countries, and countries with small populations or little to
trade and few resources must not be overlooked, Kennedy said.

            But the Clinton administration and lawmakers propose
combining expanded market access with coordinated efforts to
encourage business investment and development in the 48
countries of Subsaharan Africa.

            ``I think we stand at a moment of rare potential in
sub-Saharan Africa,'' Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers
said, arguing peace and reform policies had proven ``with the
right policies, growth in Africa can be very rapid.''

            Norman Borlaug, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work
in the ``Green Revolution,'' and Ernie Micek, chairman of
Cargill Inc., the world's largest grains trader, said
agriculture should be the foundation for African growth.

            Sixty percent or more of Africans live on the land, often on
small plots. ``We must make them more productive,'' Kennedy
said.

            Africare, a nonprofit group, works on water resource, food,
rural health and refugee assistance in Africa.

            Borlaug, who has worked on agricultural development in
Africa for 11 years, said food shortages remained critical in
sub-Saharan Africa because of low income levels.

            Ugandan Ambassador Edith Ssempala said her country was
pursuing economic liberalization that had resulted in an average
growth of 8 percent in the gross domestic product during the
past eight years while holding inflation in check.

            South African Agriculture Minister Derek Hanekom said his
nation had adopted policies that put ``new emphasis on
harnessing market forces to promote economic growth'' to
overcome high unemployment, widespread poverty and lack of
public utilities.

 END QUOTE