Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bono and foreign aid...charity is not the solution

Bono made a fantastic speech at the National Prayer Breakfast. Click here to read, watch or listen to it.

Click here for coverage of the event.

Contributer JCR says:
In light of Bono’s indefatigable and laudable commitment to raise awareness and financial resources to relieve poverty and AIDS in Africa, this book offers a sobering critique of why similar efforts have failed. I’m not saying we as a nation should not try, even redouble our efforts to seriously address poverty among the poorest nations of the world. The real question is “how?”

Throwing money at the problem is clearly not the answer. Look at the welfare state. Unless we are willing to commit not only our money but our muscle to address political corruption and promote regime change, spending more money may salve our conscience but will do little to direct the flow of the billions we spend to the people who need it the most.

The White Man's Burden by William Easterly:
reviewed by Peter Lorenzi...
"Give a man a fish and he won't go hungry for a day." The western world has sent a lot of 'fish' to Africa, well-intentioned charity, food, foreign aid, clothing, supplies. But too much of those 'fish' have ended up rotting in warehouses, in the hands of government officials and not people who need the fish, or putting local fisherman out of business, when they can't compete with free fish distribution.

"Teach a man to fish, but he won't go hungry again." Nice idea, but sometimes there aren't any fish in the sea, or the people don't live near water, or they end up overfishing the waters. Some western practices don't fit the climate or culture of Africa, so all the fishing instruction in the world won't solve the systemic problem.

"Teach a village to raise fish." Now we have something. A skill. A chance at economic development. Not for one person, for lots of persons. Something enduring. Africa needs help in learning to help itself. That doesn't mean that starving people should be ignored. It means that feeding them for a day, a month or a year does not solve the long-term problems of Africa. Worse, this charity leaves some people satisfied that they have done their share of social responsibility and leaves some people -- westerners and Africans --mad that fish are being given away.

Easterly shows that the first form of fish relief, however well-intentioned and executed, perhaps does more harm than good. And he knows that teaching fishing is sometimes not that helpful. But long-term, sustainable, wealth-creating, economic development works. Microenterprise, microfinance, granting people title to land that they can leverage into loans -- these are some of the tools that we can teach and that Africans can use. Yes, the west has done many, many things in Africa about which we can feel guilty, but charity is not the solution or the ablution.

Don't just give a person this book. Make sure he reads it.


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