Sunday, February 05, 2012

The Shackled Continent by Robert Guest

This is a supposed to be a heavy book with very serious contents. To be sure, a lot of us who are not bothered with Africa probably will not pick up tis book. 

However, it is actually a very smooth read and provides an excellent overview of the issues that Africa faces.

It is able to be an enjoyable read despite the serious contents because the author Robert Guest is able to blend dialogue around his experiences while covering Africa and his personal advice to the leaders of the Western world on what is wrong with Subsaharan politics and why it is crippling the continent.

He always starts with a personal encounter and story. And I like the fact that as and when possible, he always try use successful examples of other African countries. Thereby proving if this African country can do it, other African country  can do it.  The lack of success is in no fault due to Africans themselves.

As Robert Guest  quotes:

The great African Novelist, Chinua Achebe: “ The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. Ther is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, of the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership. “

Substitute “Africa” for “Nigeria”  and you get a pretty good idea of what is happening to Africa.

“Digging diamond, digging graves”  Chapter:

Again reinforce Thomas Friedman’s Oil vs democratic chart. 
Friedman’s chart basically shows that countries that are more well endowed with oil tend to have less democratic governments.
Congo has diamond, Angola has oil while Mozambique has nothing much to fight over for.  Mozambique is the most democratic of the 3 countries.

“Sex and death” Chapter: 

 You take things one day at a time and seize passing pleasures when you can.
Sex is fun. And many people feel that condoms make it less so. Zimbabweans ask: “Would you eat a sweet with the wrapper on?”

“The Son of a snake is a snake”:

It is not tribal feelings themselves that cause trouble; it is their politicization.
In the words of a survivor, “ the people whose children had to walk barefoot to school killed the people who could afford shoes for theirs”

“Fair Aid, Free Trade” Chapter:

Foreign Aid at its most heroic.  WHO works with local warlords in Somalia who sets up roadblocks with man touting machine guns.  Children under five are then herded to aid workers who then dispense the polio vaccine.

Foreign aid is a transfer of wealth from the poor of the rich countries to the rich in poor countries.

Robert’s Advice on how to really help African Countries:

1. For the foolish - advice

According to the World Bank, reforms rarely succeed unless the government is geniunely convinced that the reforms have to be implemented and considers the reform program its own.”

You always have to find willing partners, knowing what to fight and what not to fight is important.

Guest’s suggestion: Architects of successful reforms in Indonesia in 1970s and Latin American countries in the 1980s were largely educated abroad, at donor’s expense.

When organisations like World Bank provides loan to an African Country while keeping the original rulers, it is like:
Structural Adjustment amounted to reorganizing a bankrupt company, infusing it with lots of cash, and rehiring the same incompetent managers who ruin in the first place to run it.

2. Right to trade

Subsidies make farmers in rich countries produce more than what rich country consumers can consume and this surplus is often dumped on African markets, which lowers the price of that African farmers can obtain.

Why did developed countries embrace protectionism then?
Food security! But Farm subsidies in rich countries cost about a billion dollars a day. The main reason why farm subsidies persist is the same eason why all subsidies persist. 

The benefits are concentrated, but the costs dispersed - Just like most environmental issues.

A typical African framworker’s wage of a few dollars a day sounds horribly exploitive to most Americans or Swedes.  This is the reason behind moves to block imports from countries that do not adhere to rich countries labour standards.

For most Africans, the alternative to long hours at low wages is long hours at no wages.

If there’s one thing worse than being exploited, it’s not being exploited.
Virtually any firm doing business in the Third World is vulnerable to ethical criticism.

“Beyond the Rainbow Nation” Chapter

Reading this chapter makes you feel Singapore tripartite arrangement is the correct policy. The ANC tried to grant First world legal privileges to a workforce with largely third-world skills. Benefits such as Maternity leave, increase overtime pay, etc. The trouble is that workers with few skills do not produce enough to enable their employers to pay them generously - Which is why the South African government has found its own laws impossible to obey. In 2000, the Minister in charge of civil service sought exemption from some of the rules.

If workers are hard to fire, employers have a strong incentive not to hire in the first place. Such laws benefit those who already have jobs, but they also make it harder for the jobless, who are often poorer to find jobs.

“ Affirmative procurement” - Firms deemed blacker are allowed to charge 10% higher and can still win the contract. But since the government is paying more than it needs, the poor receive lesser houses, roads etc than they should. Only black contractor benefits. So it is a transfer of wealth from the poor to the well-off.

The rest of the world will not buy an inferior South African Product to assist with “Transformation”. Neither will the world. The same applies to my green products.

“One step at a time” Chapter:

Tanzania Essential Health Interventions Project (TEHIP)

Research-based to find out which disease imposed the largest burden on the population. It showed that the budget spent may have no relation to the harm that the disease was causing.

Malaria for example, accounted for 30% of years of life lost but only had  5 % of the 1996 budget.

Doing background research before you start on any projects.

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