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The West Can't Save Africa

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The West Can't Save Africa Locals Must Take the Lead
By William Easterly
Monday, February 13, 2006; Page A21

It was the year that the West tried harder than ever to save Africa -- 2005. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last January, British Prime Minister Tony Blair called for "a big, big push forward" to end poverty -- to be financed by an increase in traditional foreign aid. He put that cause at the top of the agenda of the Group of Eight summit in Scotland in July. The G-8 agreed to double foreign aid to Africa, from $25 billion a year to $50 billion, and to forgive the African aid debt incurred in previous years to fund previous (unsuccessful) "big pushes." Rock celebrity Bob Geldof assembled well-known bands -- virtually none from Africa -- for "Live 8" concerts in nine countries around the world to urge G-8 leaders to "Make Poverty History."

Jeffrey Sachs and Angelina Jolie toured the continent on behalf of MTV, with Jolie asking how we can stand by and let it be destroyed. The world's leaders gathered at the United Nations in September to further discuss ending poverty in Africa, apparently unfazed by yet another voluminous U.N. report highlighting the failure of the grand plans (the "Millennium Development Goals") to make any progress. They repeated a familiar refrain: If aid efforts aren't producing the desired results, then redouble those efforts. The year closed with the rock star Bono being named Time magazine's person of the year (along with the rather more constructive Bill and Melinda Gates) for his efforts to save Africa.


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Meanwhile, for a Ghanaian man named Patrick Awuah, 2005 was the fourth year of running a successful private university that he started with his own money: Ashesi University, the "Swarthmore of Ghana." The university reserves half the spaces in its entering class for poor students on scholarship. "We want to train people as critical thinkers," Awuah says. One of his most satisfying moments came when a student sent him an e-mail: "Mr. Awuah, I am thinking now."

Awuah says that he could do more, but like some other enterprising individuals in Africa I know of, he has been turned away by official aid agencies. Everyone, it seems, was invited to the "Save Africa" campaign of 2005 except for Africans. They starred only as victims: genocide casualties, child soldiers, AIDS patients and famine deaths on our 43-inch plasma screens.

Yes, these tragedies deserve attention, but the obsessive and almost exclusive Western focus on them is less relevant to the vast majority of Africans -- the hundreds of millions not fleeing from homicidal minors, not HIV-positive, not starving to death, and not helpless wards waiting for actors and rock stars to rescue them. Angelina, the continent has problems but it is not being destroyed


http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/12/AR2006021201150.html
 

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