Indonesia | Economics

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The Fate of Africa?

When I began reading Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa, I didn't expect to finish this 700-odd-page tome on the history of 50 years of African independence. Half-way through, I thought I'd soon finish this engaging book. Near the end, however, I wasn't sure if I really could (or was willing to) finish this constant stream of bad news from this "hopeless continent". I had wanted to just skip to "the good part" -- the mildly happy story of South Africa -- rather than having to plough through the consistently depressing fate of most African countries.

The book is excellent and depressing at the same time (I finally finished it last weekend). Those serious about trying to find a cure for Africa's plight need to read this book thoroughly. For most of Africa, aid (or debt relief) have been tried before and did not work. Meredith's prognosis of Africa's fate made clear of one major reason for this failure:

"After decades of mismanagement and corruption, most African states have become hollowed out. They are no longer instruments capable of serving the public good... [Far] from being able to provide aid and protection to their children, African governments and the vampire-like politians who run them are regarded by the populations they rule as yet another burden they have to bear in the struggle for survival."

This reminds me of the recent debate between Jeffrey Sachs and William Easterly on aid to Africa (the debate can be accessed in Easterly's homepage, click on "Media"). Meredith's masterpiece lends support to Easterly's cautious advice rather than Sach's overtly optimistic take on the potential efficacy of aid to Africa (speakers of Bahasa Indonesia can read my review of their books here). Prof. Sachs et. al. at the Millennium Institute should take heed!

As for the rest of the Western world, many of Africa's problems -- past and present -- are implications of the West's toleration of "friendly tyrants". The Economist's opinion piece on the problem of "better the devil we know" in the West's treatment of Milosevic applies equally to that of many African leaders -- past and present.

Lessons for Indonesia? More support for anti-graft efforts (viva le KPK!), and peaceful and democratic efforts to avoid ethnic and religious polarization that have created havoc in most of Africa.

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