Help Africa Help Itself

02.13.2006

Is “doubling aid and forgiving debt” a good strategy for eliminating poverty in Africa?  Bill Easterly certainly doesn’t think so.  He argues that such a strategy is not enough for getting the continent on the path of economic growth and prosperity in his op-ed in the Washington Post.  The title of the op-ed captures well his recommendations for action: “The West Can’t Save Africa: Locals Must Take the Lead.”  Aid efforts, he argues, should focus on the positives, such as supporting entrepreneurial potential of people in Africa, of which [entrepreneurial potential] there is more than people think there is.

Kenyan Robert Keter, a former world-class runner, is busy investing the proceeds of the telecom venture CDR, which he co-founded in 2000 and ran profitably until the Kenyan government abruptly shut him down for no apparent reason. Keter was recruited into business by Monique Maddy, a Liberian entrepreneur with a Harvard MBA (who is now offering advice to Google on global anti-poverty programs). CDR was offering customers voice over Internet protocol long before the service was made mainstream by Skype and Vonage. The company did so well during its brief operation that Keter and his U.S.-based partners decided to raise money to help rebuild a school in his home village of Kericho, located in the tea-growing region of the Kenyan highlands. Keter also used part of his earnings to purchase a tea farm, where he employs more than 400 workers.

Supporting efforts that create a better environment for doing business and raise the next generation of educated entrepreneurs and business leaders sounds like a good strategy to me.  Easterly also calls for holding donors accountable for the results of their programs.  Will Western governments and the development community follow his lead? 

Dare one hope that in 2006, it will finally be understood that Africa’s true saviors are the people of Africa, and that those who would help them in their task must also be accountable to them?

The Mercatus Center at George Mason University is one of the few groups focusing on the private sector development in Africa.  Check out their exciting “Enterprise Africa!” program.  [In the interest of full disclosure – I am also a student at George Mason’s Economics Department.]  CIPE, of course, also supports private sector reforms in Africa.  For more, see an overview of Africa programs in our 2004 Annual Report.