So sometime towards the end of last month, the “devblosphere” (my coinage for international development web 2.0 crazies) was abuzz with reactions to the publication of this open letter to the British People by six African opinion leaders.
As expected, the reactions largely drifted towards the traditional aid vs trade battle lines. At AidWatchers, where the reaction centered around a somewhat pointless discussion of who speaks for Africa (or who should), the white elephant aid vs trade debate still remained with most people tailoring their ideas of what “Africa thinks” to whatever token African stamp of approval would generously mark their side of the debate. The free trade enthusiasts believe Mwenda and Co’s word is the gospel. The aid industry say this crew don’t speak for 44% of all Africans according to the “Afrobarometer survey”.
Now, I’m not necessarily going to tack off the stale aid vs trade debate. On both sides, many of the arguments are too easy; too simplistic; too annoying for me to engage. So, I won’t even bother.
However, I don’t agree with Mwenda and his colleagues on the issue of the CAP and what the “British people” should be doing to help us, Africans. And it is not because I believe aid is a potent vehicle for development.
In fact, it is because I believe in the power of trade to create opportunities and fuel the kind of economic growth that makes development possible.
Here is my problem with Mwenda et al ; They are barking up the wrong tree.
There they are, telling the British to abandon the Common Agriculture Policy because they believe the policy is harmful to Africa’s “deserving poor”. Why? This is a policy that led the entire continent of Europe to food security. But for political correctness, the British should really be saying to Mwenda and his friends, “who cares?”. The policy was never designed with the “deserving poor” of Africa in mind and there is no good argument for suggesting it should.
In truth, when one looks closely at the CAP, the objectives are very Euro-centric – and rightly so. The entire point of the subsidies are to enable Europe be self sufficient in the production of its food. For food import loving Africans, this might seem like a strange idea, but in a world of genetic modification, bio terrorism and Monsanto, food is becoming a national security issue and there are several good reason for keeping its production domestic. In fact, a lot of the developed countries we aspire to (including the United States) have subsidies in the spirit and style of the CAP. In a perfect world, much of Africa’s chronic food shortage problems could be solved by adopting a CAP style arrangement for Agricultural production. There is no sense is trying to open a European market for African agricultural products when even with huge volumes of food imports, we can barely satiate the starving people on our own continent.
Instead of looking for ways to grow to the level where we can imitate Europe’s common sense policy, there we are trying to be the beggars that choose.
I am also wondering, why I haven’t seen a single open letter from Mwenda et al, to our own people talking about the high tariff barriers, African countries are placing on trade especially in Agricultural produce between each other.
At present, Africa has the lowest rates of regional trade and investment. We have some of the highest tariff barriers in the world! Why haven’t these “CAP warriors” directly addressed this issue? Why are they pointing to the speck in Britain’s eye, when this huge plank in our eye still exists? Why are Africans so fond of pegging our problems to other nations and peoples when low hanging home grown solutions exist in our countries?
I find it even more interesting when you read the names and countries these men are representing in the letter to the British. Two of the gentlemen listed as having signed the letter are from Ghana. Ghana? Really? Ghana where protectionism is their “ecomini’s” watchword , from acting to prostitution? How about Nigeria, where in 2003, tariffs on agriculture were as high as 41.4% and bans on a long list of Agricultural products are still in place? South Africa’s general reputation with xenophobia is enough to nail them farther along in the same corner so I won’t even bother.
So it begs the question, assuming this is even Africa’s opinion, are Africans even qualified to point fingers to anyone on free trade?
Heartless as it may sound, maybe Africa’s poor are not as “deserving” as Mwenda and his friends, want to believe.
I rest my case.
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