Who? The ones some commentators dub as neo-colonialists? When I heard of Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid with its message that foreign aid is one of the barriers to Africa’s economic development, I thought I was hearing the voice of an eccentric, I was not yet aware of Article 14 in Developing World 10/11 entitled The New Colonialists.
The authors of the article Michael Cohen et el dub Oxfam, humanitarian non-government organisations such as Doctor without Borders (Medicines sans Frontiers), faith-based organisations such as Mercy Corps and mega philanthropies such as Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as new colonialists who encourage dependency in the weak and failed State.
We are told that “none of the new colonialists is anxious to perform so well that it works itself out of a job. They need weak States as much as weak States need them.”
This is an observation one cannot just dismiss casually. There is truth in it. Many Africans have lamented the negative influence of donor aid on the spirit of self-help.
Some world-wise men have suggested we should just tell the NGOs and the donors to pack up and go and then get on with the business of developing our countries with our own resources both human and material.
Imagine you, your family and a lot of baggage are in somebody’s boat in the mid of the lake. The water is rough and you cannot see the shore.
You suddenly feel confident you can reach the shore in your canoe which is right there in the boat. Will you successfully reach the shore? The chances are that you will lose a lot if at all you make it to the shore.
Some of these so-called neo-colonialists are delivering food to starving families. Others deliver drugs to hospitals that have doctors and nurses, but no medicine. Yet others educate the people when their own government is failing to put them in school.
Does it make sense to build hostility against people who are doing what we are failing to do for ourselves?
Yet the idea that we should get out of this overdependence on others is a noble one. It is neither safe nor prudent to set up a State on the basis that wealthier States will prop it up, why then, did we fight for independence if we do not mind having neo-colonialism around?
The over dependency on largesse can be attributed both to the leaders and the elite of our countries.
If we really want to be self-reliant, why have we not made a microscopic study of super-successful States such as Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan?
We welcome the aid that reaches us from whatever corner of the world and yet we do not try to find out what the donors did to pull themselves out of quagmires in which we find ourselves.
It is said that developing countries such as Malawi need first and foremost engineers. I would put entrepreneurs and managers or administrators on top of the priority list.
There is a lot of talent in Malawi and there are abundant resources to support a revolution. But we are not organised for success. This industrial is the crux of the matter.
That the organisational structure is too weak and incompetent is testified by a number of things. When Dr Bakili Muluzi took office in 1994 as our first multiparty president, he made it clear he would not tolerate corruption of any form.
Bingu wa Mutharika also said as much and recently, President Joyce Banda has pulled no punches against avarice and corrupt practices.
But what do we get? The problem of abuse in the medical stores remains. The problem of government contracts and procurements come no nearer solution.
Today, the public service consists of better educated people than those who were there during the colonial days and the Kamuzu MCP era, yet we cannot boast that the country is now better served by its civil service.
What stands in the road to better performance? We must find out.
If we run our affairs, private and public by merely repeating the routine that was adopted five or 10 years ago, we will never wean our country of the dependency syndrome.
Every new financial year budget has, on one side, amounts to be raised by our own bootstraps and on the other, by donations from abroad and the percentage from largesse remains the same.
Mutharika’s zero-deficit budget was a step in the right direction, but he fell short in international relations. Complete economic independence is a mirage. Even large economies such as the US, China, Japan and Britain find it necessary to work with small countries that have the resources big economies need.
We should work towards loosening the leading strings which bind us to donors. But this must be a step by step exercise. People can tolerate austerity measures up to a point; beyond that they scream and swear.