Africa is not in flames

(November 17, 2003) While Bono’s oratory may be splendid, his analysis sells Africa short . . . As Africans know too well, the more that their governments have received foreign aid, the more poverty has grown.

Rock star Bono brought down the house Friday at the Liberal leadership convention when he implored our next Prime Minister, Paul Martin, to “lie down across the tracks” for Africa. He described Africa as a continent “in flames” and said Canada’s duty was to lead the world by nearly tripling our foreign aid.

While Bono’s oratory may be splendid, his analysis sells Africa short.

More aid will only feed the problem and undermine Africa’s recovery.

As Africans know too well, the more that their governments have received foreign aid, the more poverty has grown. Why? Because the foreign money gave African governments independence from their own people, letting them rule without accountability to their citizens.

Here is a recent example.

In the tiny mountain kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa, a dozen of the world’s largest engineering multinational companies have been indicted for bribing a corrupt official to win contracts on a multi-billion dam scheme. The Lesotho government did something no Third World country has ever done before. It not only prosecuted the corrupt official, it prosecuted the companies that paid the bribes, starting with a Canadian multinational called Acres International. Acres was convicted. It lost its final appeal in August.

Where did the money come from for Acres ill-begotten contract? From Canadian taxpayers. We not only funded Acres with foreign aid dollars, a Canadian government official knowingly transferred the actual bribe money into secret Swiss bank accounts on Acres behalf.

How did the Liberal government respond? By scheming with Acres to bolster its case and, just three weeks ago, rewarding Acres by promising more contracts.

The Canadian government is also lobbying the World Bank to ignore its own zero tolerance policy for corruption, so that the World Bank doesn’t bar this convicted Canadian multinational from future contracts.

What Africa needs, Bono and Mr. Martin, is respect. Respect for their efforts to take back their countries by curing the cancer of corruption, corruption fed overwhelmingly by foreign aid.

But Africa needs more than that. It needs us to be honest. As the Lesotho prosecuting authorities have so precisely said, “it takes two to tango.” It is time for Canada and other Northern governments to clean up our act and stop awarding government contracts to bribe-paying multinationals.

The effect throughout the Third World would be profound. Good governance there would make a comeback. Their citizens would regain trust in their countries, and their economies would thrive. These essentials of development, our money can’t buy.

Africa is not in flames. Yes, we should respond to today’s life-threatening emergencies with relief through trusted organizations like the Red Cross and Oxfam. But, to prevent a repetition of these emergencies, our governments must stop providing the financing that inevitably undermines accountable government.

This is Patricia Adams with Probe International in Toronto. CBC Commentary.

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