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Monday, January 31, 2005


Righting wrongs begins at home

I have written before [here] on the harmful, corrupting effect the actions that Western nations can have on the possibility of progress towards a prosperous, peaceful, democratic Africa. This argument centred on the regressive impact of government support for the arms trade, in particular, but not limited to, the accepted manner in which companies pursue contracts. In short, bribery, which cannot help but play a role in the levels of corruption and kelptocracy in developing nations. If we add in the effect of increased arms levels on internal security situations and external regional relations, we can quickly see how the Western arms trade is a blight on developing nations.

I have been unfortunate enough to be exposed to people who argue that the ‘democratic revolution’* of Afghanistan and Iraq must now sweep through Africa. But this, frankly sickening, and dangerous, piece of neo-imperialist thinking reminded me of an edition of The Daily Politics I watched a few weeks ago. On this, Andrew Neil and his guests were discussing the problem of Africa, and the consensus seemed to be that Africa’s corrupt leaders were the obstacle to development, peace and freedom. What was to be done about this was not agreed, though none seemed to go so far as to suggest violent, bloody, regime change from without. Some commentators did appear to use this situation as a justification for decreasing the amount Western nations give in foreign aid, a hopelessy ahumanitarian non-solution.

However, one guest on the show, the only African guest on the show, pointed out that for every kleptocratic ruler, there were banks, bankers, traders, dealers and the like who enabled his kleptomania. Many of these will be located in the City of London. If we, in the West, are seriously concerned about the effect that Africa’s corrupt leaders have on the welfare of their people, we should start with their ‘fences’, the people who are within what is our democratic remit to regulate.

This suggestion was met with scoffing laughs from Andrew Neil and his guests. ‘As if!’ was the tone of their comments. In other words, capital is not to be questioned, certainly not when it has been accumulated by men with white skin in the City from the robbery of the poor people with black skin in Africa. Rather, we shall pass the blame that our nation bears onto a handful of individuals, and if these too have black skin, then all the better. We must personalise the problem, because if we see it as a product of a system or structures we will be forced to change what has served us so well. At the expense of others.

How do we reform regimes in Africa? Do we invade and enforce democracy and responsible government from without? That is a costly, destructive solution, and is morally and theoretically dubious. Do we cancel foreign aid in some primitive and ahumane expectation that forces of social Darwinism will bring about change through hardship? Or do we at least begin with restricting and reforming the aspects of our societies, upon which it is undeniably legitimate to act, which enable the regimes that are so criticised by Western governments to exists and prosper?

Only the last option is off the table, it seems.

*The idea that these invasions have been part of a ‘democratic revolution’ is laughable. Democracy must be the action of the people themselves. Other actions can enable this, it is true, but if these actions were not intended to enable democracy then they can claim the title ‘democratic revolution’ little more than the Black Death of the 14th Century can claim to be the ‘illness of emancipation’.

international aid is a great system in which poor people in rich countries give money to rich people in poor countries. we need to decrease the overall power of government in foregn countries over the lives of their citizens. stuffing their pockets with cash hardly seems the way to do that, but it is easy. sadly the west seems to think that a little guilt, a lot of money, and a blind eye are sufficient.

let's get behind something that will actually work. let's commit to making everyone in the "3rd World" if not rich, then at least prosperous. first step? property rights. with no clear title to land it is impossible to raise cash in order to finance business operations. clear title to land would allow debt financing against personal assets like a home, which is still the most popular method of business financing in the undeniably prosperous USA. we also need to embrace a streamlined business licensing system. business not recognized as legitimate in the eyes of government cannot operate openly, cannot grow, and are subject to corrupt local leaders. business that run openly pay taxes, which finance the necessary operation of government, while businesses that run in the shadow economy end up paying bribes, which fund altogether different activity.

Hernando DeSoto wrote a great book on the subject, based on his extensive research into the actual difficulties involved in transitioning from shadow economy to legal economy. it is, in English translation, called "The Mystery of Capital." he is sort of an Economics rock star in Latin America.
International aid is a touchy subject, but you do have one thing right. For every despot of a ruler, there are people in the west that have enabled his regime. For us to go in and force a 'democratic' solution upon his regime through a bloody drawn out war is ludicrous at best, yet we did this with Saddam Hussein and in Arghanistan with the Taliban. Now as I wrote the last sentence I could almost see eyebrows going up: What? We shouldn't have done this? is the question that echoes.

Well perhaps we went about it the wrong way. But even the road to hell is paved with good intentions is what I'm trying to say. These terrorists that attack our troops are funded somehow. And I have a feeling that we know how. So what do we do about it? NOTHING.

Enough of a rant for now.
"Property rights" says Sean. Very well: whose? If you're talking about meaningful property rights, spread out amongst the broad mass of the population - fine. Let's have land redistribution, let's establish agricultural co-operatives to manage capital investment, let's ensure that a government's tax base is secure and well-supported.

If, on the other hand, you're talking about the so-called "Washington consensus", of applying property rights without redistributing property - no. Perhaps the single most obnoxious outcome in recent years of this policy was the attempt by pharmaceutical companies to generate monopoly profits by attempting to ban cheap generic drug manufacture in the South.

As for your other commenter: no, "we" shouldn't have done either thing. "They" - the people who live there - should have been allowed to, with whatever support we can give.
"*The idea that these invasions have been part of a ‘democratic revolution’ is laughable. Democracy must be the action of the people themselves. Other actions can enable this, it is true, but if these actions were not intended to enable democracy then they can claim the title ‘democratic revolution’ little more than the Black Death of the 14th Century can claim to be the ‘illness of emancipation’."


Democracy is an Anglo-French idea based in Western culture and its arrogant of us to keep hyping it as something more when it isn't. For a culture to learn and develop democracy it has to be TAUGHT it. Just look at the world today, where are the homegrown new democracies? India had a period of Home Rule under British occupation which established democracy, Germany and Japan were taught it by the WW2 allies, South Africa's emancipation of the black population was an extension of a pre-existing parliamentary system founded under British rule, Latin America's democractization has been heavily backed by the US whilst Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Eastern European countries have all had the guidance of the EU on their road to democracy. Nowhere in the world has a democracy risen without either the historical guidance or contemporary support of one of the existing Western Powers.
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