Monday, November 20, 2006

PReaching a free market to a skeptical Africa

Mr. Shikwati was a young teacher in western Kenya when he came across an article by Mr. Reed on the genius of capitalism. In this isolated village where Mr. Shikwati was raised, life revolved around mud huts and maize, not smokestacks. Still he dashed off a note to Midland, Mich., where Mr. Reed runs a think tank that promotes conservative economics and offers a program teaching others to do the same.

“Do you assist individuals who would like to know more about the free market and individual liberty?” Mr. Shikwati wrote.

Over the next four years, Mr. Reed sent books, reports, magazines, tracts — even occasional sums of money — as Mr. Shikwati embraced capitalist theory with a passion. Then he started a one-man think tank of his own.

On a continent where socialists have often held sway, Mr. Shikwati is now a conservative phenomenon. He has published scores of articles hailing business as Africa’s salvation; offered free-market lectures on five continents; and, defying the zeitgeist of the Bono age, issued scathing attacks on foreign assistance, which he blames for Africa’s poverty. When Western countries pledged to double African aid last year, an interview with an angry Mr. Shikwati filled two pages of Der Spiegel, the German magazine.

“For God’s sake, please stop the aid!” he told the magazine.

So modest was Mr. Shikwati’s start in the policy world, he walked nine miles on muddy roads just to get Mr. Reed’s e-mail messages. Yet nine months after he started his group, Western supporters flew him to the United States, where he joined a dinner of the conservative Heritage Foundation and toasted an A-list crowd that included Edwin Meese III, the former attorney general.

The unusual collaboration between a Midwestern mentor and his African protégé can be read in contrasting lights — as a crafty effort to export Western dominance or an idealistic joining of minds in the cause of freedom. While Mr. Reed salutes his protégé as a “passionate advocate for liberty in an unlikely place,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University professor who is a leading aid advocate, calls Mr. Shikwati’s criticisms of foreign assistance “shockingly misguided” and “amazingly wrong.”

“This happens to be a matter of life and death for millions of people, so getting it wrong has huge consequences,” Mr. Sachs said.

Mr. Shikwati’s group, the Inter Region Economic Network, or IREN, is part of a global span of policy groups that Western conservatives have helped build over the past quarter-century. Operating in as many as 70 countries, with varying degrees of outside support, these institutes push a wide array of free-market prescriptions, including lower taxes, less regulation and freer trade.

Since it's LA Times I hesitate to post more...they have been knwon t sue

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