At the beginning of post colonial Africa, many developed countries poured their funds into Africa. Former colonial powers wanted to maintain their influence in their former colonies.
Those that never owned colonies in Africa wanted a place and influence of their own in the new Africa which at first showed a good deal of promise both economically and politically.
At that time, the international community was divided into two blocs; the capitalist which believed in free market enterprise and the communist or socialist which believed in State ownership of capital.
The capitalist bloc consisting mostly of western European and North American countries was led by the United States; the communist bloc was led by the then Soviet Union. Most of its members were in Eastern Europe.
The third group of countries consisted developing countries most of which had just emerged out of colonial status and were underdeveloped economically.
It is this group, known as the Third World, that was seeking development aid from either the West (capitalist) or the East (communist).
In granting aid to a developing country, countries of the western bloc either openly or covertly informed the recipient country not to fraternise with communist countries.
Members of the Third World insisted on aid with no strings attached. They said they wanted to be left free to befriend any country in the world.
Economically, developing countries which benefitted most were those which obtained aid from the developed market economies. That is North America and Europe. These were the wealthiest countries. They had markets which seemed capable of absorbing unlimited imports from their aid beneficiary countries. Countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore made no pretence of being neutral between East and West.
They stuck to the western camp which bought their exports, first primary products and later manufactures and they developed fast.
What we have been talking about are political strings. With economic strings, a country that received financial assistance from a developed country had to spend the money in the country that gave that assistance.
If a developing country A wanted money to buy railway trucks, developed country B in providing the money would insist that A should buy the railway trucks from its people and companies.
In providing aid, country B wanted to expand its exports to the developing country and avoid balance of payments problems.
The aid receiving countries resented this condition because they were compelled to buy expensive goods from the benefactor than they could buy on the open market. The aid giving country was seen as overcharging for its goods.
With the end of the Cold War from 1989 onwards, developed countries started imposing conditions for offering aid which were more beneficial to people of the aid receiving country.
The aid giving country now began to talk of human rights, good governance and accountability. The donors wanted their aid to alleviate the poverty of the masses of the people. Hitherto, to some rulers of the aid receiving countries had been pocketing the money and banking it abroad.
The world heard of Sani Abacha of Nigeria and Mobutu Sese Seko of the Democratic Republic of Congo, but these were just the colossuses among the multitudes.
Some African members of ruling elites resent these new conditionalities as a form of neo-colonialism. But most of the common people have welcomed them for they have been instrumental in getting rid of one party dictatorships and the amassing of the wealth by a few.
In Malawi, diplomats have insisted that the Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) director should be appointed at once because they feel a good deal of corruption is going on undetected or just ignored while on the other hand, we hear of people facing starvation because they lack food or money to buy it.
Again, we hear of junior officials in some cities erecting mansions worth millions of kwacha and we wonder how they are able to do this with a modest salary.
Those who are supposed to protect public property seem to be turning their eyes away. Why?