Let’s first define poor because it is a complex word. We can rank countries by various economic and developmental factors, but should remember this does not define a person, a family, or a community. This post’s reference to poor is based on the economic factor of gross national income (GNI) which includes all the income earned by a country's residents, businesses, and earnings from foreign sources.
By ranking the top 25 poorest countries in the world, USA Today determined that several African countries have some of the lowest GNI per capita. There were only three countries on that list that were not located in Africa: Solomon Islands, Afghanistan, and Haiti. While billions of dollars are spent in foreign aid from the Europe Commision, USA, UK, Canada, and China, we have to wonder how the aid affects their economy. Some are even calling an end to African Aid.
Firoze Manji, a Kenyan activist, and Pablo Yanguas, a consultant on aid effectiveness, debate stopping the West from giving aid to Africa. Manji highlights the exploitation of African countries and claims “aid uses public funds to subsidize and encourage the implementation of neoliberal policies [privatization of public domains] that have resulted in growing impoverishment of the majority, and the obscene accumulation of wealth by national elites who are among its main beneficiaries.” Yanguas responds by arguing “the removal of foreign aid from the equation will do nothing to prevent future exploitation.” He also acknowledges that “foreign aid is a very flawed tool, but one that is suited to the grey areas of development challenges. It works incrementally: testing, searching, making plenty of mistakes along the way, but also building unexpected coalitions, and planting the seeds of change.” This debate was very interesting to read and brings us to another point: the unfair treatment of Africa and how that has affected their economy.
The exploitation of Africa began with the horrific idea to acquire enslaved people and the export them to a new country. It continued with colonisation in the 19th century when African colonies were placed under European control, and into the 20th century when the US, Russia, and China took a special interest in African countries in the 1960s for their natural resources. Africa is the richest continent in terms of natural resources. In the 21st century, the opression is coming in the form of foreign aid.
For example, billions of dollars were raised after the 2010 earthquake that destroyed Haiti. Isabeau Doucet, a freelance journalist working in Port-au Prince, Haiti, reporting to NPR, explains “[Haiti’s] reconstruction, like almost everything else in that country, has been privatized, outsourced, or taken over by foreign NGOs [Nongovernmental organizations]. On the tragedy's one-year anniversary, it's become clear that perhaps the only positive aspect of the past twelve months has been the exposure of the failures of the NGO aid system, and the international community's long-standing use of the country as a laboratory for cashing in on disaster -- both of which have been wrecking havoc on this country since long before the earthquake.”
So why is this all important? It is to emphasize why Africa has the poorest countries in the world. It is a direct result of centuries of exploitation through colonization and international politics. With less foreign aid and more tourism, we are putting money directly into the local businesses and supporting their economy. Aid dependency is counter effective by steering away from countries independently financing their economic development. As a solution, tourism is one of the main sources of economic growth and job creation. We are seeing this today as the travel industry continues to suffer as the pandemic continues.
Africa has a unique history to learn about, beautiful scenery, and there are several local tour companies that are waiting to show you around! Most tourists go on safari or climb Kilimanjaro, but there are several other reasons to visit. There are over 3000 tribes and cultures, vibrant cities, tropical beaches, and several types of African cuisine to try.
Leaving this post without acknowledging the benefits of foreign aid would seem misleading. Foreign aid for humanitarian reasons and to promote the conditions for peace and stability is the ultimate goal. However, it seems there are several NGOs taking advantage the poorer countries. Firoze Manji summarizes some NGOs as having a savior complex and thinks that the solution to help Africa is solidarity. Bringing the tools and resources countries need, while listening to local communities, is the only effective way to work together in order to make that positive change.