The corridors of power…

The corridors of power...

All this talk about Africa and poverty made me stop and think. How many UK leaders, whether in politics or business, have actually been to Africa?

And of those who have, how many have gotten away from their minders to see
the ‘real’ Africa? Very few on both counts, I suspect. Yet they are happy to
preach from afar about eradicating poverty in the Dark Continent.

Nicky Oppenheimer, chairman of De Beers, the South African-based diamond
group, advocates a different approach to tackling Africa’s woes. He notes that
many African countries are poorer than ever, despite having $1 trillion in aid
in the last half-century.

Throwing money at the problem is clearly not the solution. Oppenheimer draws
a comparison with a doctor who keeps increasing the dose of a medicine in the
hope it might eventually work.

Blanket cancellation of debt rewards corrupt leaders and acts as a
disincentive to those who have worked to bring in transparent and robust
structures of government.

What Africa needs, argues Oppenheimer, is a hand up, not handouts. The West
should differentiate between African countries, rewarding those who make
progress and withholding perks to those who ‘must try harder’.

The economy of Botswana, a country with one of the world’s highest GDPs, has
little in common with that of Sierra Leone.

Oppenheimer notes that it is more politically expedient to pour aid into
Africa than for Europe and the US to cut farm subsidies, which enable their
farmers to dump their produce in Africa and impoverish African producers.

While those subsidies and tariffs remain in place, the campaign to lift
Africa out of poverty will remain mired in hypocrisy. He has a point. But will
anyone pay any attention?

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times

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