Perspectives

Is Africa throwing off the yoke of dependency?

By Jehron Muhammad
-Guest Columnist- | Last updated: Jun 30, 2009 - 12:49:38 PM

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(FinalCall.com) - A growing debate—maybe even a paradigm swing—has been initiated by Africans challenging Western-backed organizations like Human Rights Watch, the International Criminal Court, and Bob Geldolf's Live Aid campaigns. Africans are speaking for themselves and raising questions about those acting in the name of doing good on the continent.

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From providing aid, to settling differences, and giving advice to Africa, the do gooders reflect and feed the Western media's insatiable lust for negative depictions of Africa that speak to problems and problem solving by those outside of the Motherland.

A media case in point: The nine Sunday, May 24 stories on Africa delivered to Apple's iPhone via a newsfinder application were all negative. In most cases, the stories focused on military conflicts in different African countries. By the way, these stories were all provided by Western media organizations as though Africa doesn't have a working press worthy of consideration.

The West has created a picture of Africans as inept, corrupt, unwilling and unable to do for themselves giving legitimacy and justification for Western intervention.

Into this picture stepped Dambisa Moya, a Zambian economist trained at Harvard and Oxford, and the author of a controversial new book, "Dead Aid."

According to Rwandan President Paul Kagame, "Dead Aid, has given us an accurate evaluation of the aid culture today. The cycle of aid and poverty is durable: as long as poor nations are focused on receiving aid they will not work to improve their economies. Some of Ms. Moyo's prescriptions, such as ending all aid within five years, are aggressive. But I always thought this was the discussion we should be having: when to end aid and how best to end it."

After learning about the former Goldman Sachs employee and World Bank consultant, President Kagame flew Ms. Moyo to Rwanda to address his government, and the chair of the African Union and president of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi, invited her to Tripoli.

Western aid organizations were furious.

In the May 22 edition of the Financial Times aid activists were paraded out revealing panic "at the prospect that (Ms. Moyo's) ideas are gaining traction, Jeffrey Sachs, the U.S. academic and aid advocate, accused her of endangering lives. Her ideas he said are ‘absolutely pernicious, and could lead to the deaths of millions of people.' "

Rock star Bob Geldolf and One, his aid advocacy organization, started "mobilizing opposition to her message. However an e-mail campaign by One activists encouraging African NGOs to stand up to her arguments at least has partially backfired," the Times reported.

It is not that Africans agree totally with Moya's position—many don't, including Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

What Africans do disagree with is Western arrogance, and moves by aid organizations to stifle what is viewed as much needed criticism—especially from persons of African descent.

In the May 29 edition of the Financial Times, Ms. Moyosaid aid could "never be the catalyst for long-term economic development." Because of aid "many African governments have nearly abdicated wholesale their responsibility to provide public goods to their citizens," she said.

Then there is Human Rights Watch.

In an April 11 Los Angeles Times piece, the head of the human rights organization accused the Rwandan government of using its need to overcome the effects of genocide that killed nearly one million people to serve a selfish interest. "Now that tragedy is providing the government with a cover for repression," wrote HRW director Kenneth Roth.

Grace Kwinjeh, a Zimbabwean journalist living in South Africa and former deputy secretary in her country's Movement of Democratic Change, took Mr. Roth to task.

In the May 8 edition of the Rwandan daily the New Times she wrote: "At the height of the 15th Genocide Commemorations, the director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, published a rather mocking if not provocative article given the timing of the publication and the title, ‘The Power of Horror in Rwanda.' "

"Roth in his article penned at a deeply emotional time for Rwandans deliberately seeks to change the subject from their history, their plight and suffering to laying credence to revisionism.

"And so while he acknowledges the great economic progress and development by the Rwandan government, he suffers selective amnesia as to how good governance is the main ingredient for economic growth," she argued.

The African writer noted Mr. Roth's piece was "devoid of the years of struggle against repression in Rwanda before the Genocide ... many in the current leadership suffered the most horrendous human rights abuses in the politics of exclusion practiced by the government then."

Human Rights Watch was livid—as though above criticism. It backhanded the Kwinjeh piece, mockingly saying it was carried in a "state owned newspaper." Instead of opening up a dialogue, the non-profit accused the Rwandan government of the "new crime of ‘genocide ideology.' " "Human Rights Watch did more than most though, in attempting both to prevent genocide and to stop it once the slaughter began," the group declared.

The mother of all criticism is reserved for the International Criminal Court and its indictment of President Omar Bashir of Sudan and the human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, that supported the indictment. The indictment meant more instability for the Sudanese Government, fracturing a frail peace accord between Northern and Southern Sudan, and causing some Southern Sudanese members of the National Unity government complain "about a possible return to war because of the ICC intervention."

The Sudanese president was charged with genocide and is subject to arrest, if he leaves his country. The indictment came as Sudan was negotiating peace talks in Doha.

The African Union, the Arab League and United Nations Secretary-General objected to the indictment, which effectively blocked Secretary-General Ban from interacting with the Sudanese president and thwarted efforts to end the conflict in Sudan's Darfur region.

Next came a research report that indicted 90 percent of carriers involved in flying aid to African conflict zones, including Darfur, were also involved in arms-trafficking for rebels. The author of the report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said the worst case was in Sudan.

While conflict in Darfur continued and an indictment hung over President Bashir, U.S. investment banker Philippe Heilberg "closed a deal with Paulino Matip, a warlord in South Sudan, to lease 4,000 square kilometers," the BBC reported. So as instability hits Sudan and other African countries, vulture-like forces are in place to reap the benefit.

Acclaimed Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala expressed his appreciation and outrage in the Washington Post.

"There is no African, myself included, who does not appreciate the help of the wider world, but we do question whether aid is genuine or given in the spirit of affirming one's cultural superiority …with the West ignoring its prominent role in creating many of the unfortunate situations on the continent, they also ignore the incredible work Africans have done and continue to do to fix those problems."

(Jehron Muhammad is a Final Call contributor based in Philadelphia.)

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