Sunday, July 08, 2007

Africa's problem: Repressive rulers

"....the guru of U.N. development strategy, economist Jeffrey Sachs, goes too far. In a guest column about how the post-Paul Wolfowitz World Bank should tackle Africa - poster-continent of poverty - he dismisses as irrelevant the vast problem of corruption, and doesn't even mention its cause: repressive and rapacious government.

According to Sachs, "The core problem in Africa is not corruption, but the basic lack of infrastructure and services." For the scarcity of roads, sewers and electricity, he blames not the governments of Africa, but simply a lack of money. "The African governments do not have the fiscal means to invest in what's needed, and that would be true even if Mother Teresa were running the local treasury," he writes.

Really? As it happens, Africa's poorest nations are run not by Mother Teresas, but by and large by dictators, as in Zimbabwe, or by embedded crony bureaucracies bestriding only semifunctional democracies, as in Tanzania.

In healthy democracies, politicians stay in power by hashing out rules that allow people to prosper. If they fail, they tend to get voted out of office. But dictators, as a rule, hold on to power by monopolizing resources and favoring themselves and their cronies, and choking off opportunities for their fellow citizens.

The truth is that Africa is rolling in resources, including that most important resource of all - people. What's missing is genuine democracy and fair rule of law.

How to get there is a tough problem, but it won't come by way of the U.N. funneling in yet more billions for aid projects while downplaying gross misrule. The answer starts with acknowledging the real problem - repressive government.

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