TOPICS > World

Help for Africa

July 10, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: Mass hunger and starvation have hit Africa again, this time in southern countries like Zimbabwe, Angola, and Malawi. The casualties include this 18- month-old in Malawi.

SPOKESPERSON: When a child reaches this level of malnutrition where you have a lot of fluid in the body, it’s just a matter of hours before he dies.

RAY SUAREZ: The food crisis is most acute in seven nations, where at least 13 million people are at risk of starvation by year’s end. The causes are complex, ranging from drought to government mismanagement to the worsening HIV pandemic.

JUDITH LEWIS, World Food Program: The time is running out. As I mentioned, the lean season is starting much earlier in these countries than normally. People are switching from what we normally call coping mechanisms– looking for nontraditional foods and trying to manage to feed their families– to survival mechanisms.

RAY SUAREZ: Survival mechanisms like eating rats and roots. Aid workers say mothers are running out of breast milk for the children, and many fathers are lying to their children about the food shortage. In Zambia, farmers are enduring the worst drought in two decades, one that’s left the corn fields barren. Esther Mwenda, a mother of ten, runs a grain store that’s now entirely empty.

ESTHER MWENDA (Translated): I don’t know how I am going to survive. If there’s nothing, no food that is going to be given to me tomorrow, then I will just sit and wait to die.

RAY SUAREZ: The situation is as dire, if not worse, in neighboring Malawi. But weather patterns aren’t the only culprit there. Normally, the government releases emergency grain reserves during droughts. But last year it sold off the entire reserve, 167,000 tons of food, and now its people are suspicious about what happened.

Stephen Morrison heads the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

STEPHEN MORRISON: The government claims that this was a precondition in its dealings with the international financial institutions. Others have suggested in some of the accounts that this is a cover for a sell-off that benefited members of the inner circle, governing inner circle. I don’t know definitively one way or another who’s right, but it certainly casts a shadow over the Malawean government.

RAY SUAREZ: In order to get food, some mothers walk 70 miles to aid centers. Others resort to even more desperate measures.

SPOKESMAN: Yeah, this lady was trying to sell one of her children at $3.50 so that that way she can buy food to feed the other children.

RAY SUAREZ: To the west is Angola, a country rich in diamonds and oil. But there’s a food emergency there almost entirely because of a manmade problem: Three decades of civil war. The fighting ended this spring, just months after rebel leader Jonas Savimbi was killed. The peace deal allowed groups like Doctors Without Borders to visit remote villages for the first time in years. They were overwhelmed by what they saw.

WOMAN (Translated): My kids have not eaten for three days. We were living in the bush running from the war, and now he needs a medical treatment to stay alive.

RAY SUAREZ: This town loses five people a day to starvation. Making things worse are the 100,000 rebels and their families converging on what are called demobilization camps, meant to move the fighters to civilian life. One aid worker from the Vatican said some people so weak they can’t raise their arms to shoo away the flies.

In the past, Angola, Zambia, and Malawi turned to the region’s breadbasket, Zimbabwe, to buy needed food. Not this time. Zimbabwe’s grain silos sit empty. The crisis there is the worst in the region. Half of the population of 12 million are at risk of starvation by the end of the year. Many blame President Robert Mugabe’s program of taking the land from white farmers, large- scale commercial farmers, and transferring it to the black majority, often to people with little experience or equipment. Designed to address historic injustice, the land program has become mired in violence and confusion.

In the past two years, mobs of black citizens have attacked and killed at least seven white farmers. So far, more than 1,000 white farmers have fled their land. Farms considered the most productive in the country produce no food. As a result, this year’s corn production in Zimbabwe will be one-eighth of what it was last year. Many residents turn to food distributions centers close to home, while others head outside the country’s borders. And that, says Steve Morrison, will hurt the entire region.

STEPHEN MORRISON: As the drought worsens in the fall– and it will worsen dramatically starting in September and October and November– we are going to start seeing significant movements of people out of Zimbabwe. We already see 6,000 a week crossing into South Africa. We also see comparable numbers crossing into Botswana.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, AIDS prevalence continues to grow. One in five adults in Zambia has HIV; One in three in Zimbabwe. Morrison explains how it affects the family farm.

STEPHEN MORRISON: As the… a person gets sick, it immediately removes that person’s input into the farm, so your production begins to decline. It also immediately draws very dramatically resources as the family mobilizes to try and care for this person, and try to correct this disease, so that you have assets sold off, you have savings depleted.

RAY SUAREZ: Morrison and aid experts say the crisis will become widespread famine by fall unless the West provides a massive infusion of cash and food. While that kind of emergency aid was not on the agenda at last month’s G-8 summit in Canada, industrial leaders did commit money for Africa’s long-term future, seeking to reform some of the very governments that have been blamed for this food crisis.

The plan, drawn up by African leaders like Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, is called the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, or NEPAD. It provides up to $6 billion a year to the continent. In return, African governments have to implement free-market reforms, hold free elections, and eliminate corruption.

RAY SUAREZ: For more on aid to Africa and the role wealthy nations should play, we’re joined by George Ayittey, economist at American University. He’s a native of Ghana and a president of the Free Africa Foundation, a Washington think tank. And Bill Fletcher, president of the Trans-Africa Forum, an organization promoting research and commentary on African issues.

Well, George Ayittey, should we see this commitment from the G-8 as an important development?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Oh, yes, certainly. It is an important development. And the African continent is one which has been ravaged by many crises– AIDS and poverty, and right now in southern Africa there’s mass starvation. About 30 million people face imminent farming crisis. So certainly the G-8 countries can help Africa. However, I think from my perspective I think the new hope of Africa needs to take a completely different approach. And the… the old approach simply didn’t work. I mean, lots of money was pumped into Africa, as we all know. You know, the general consensus is that the aid to Africa has not been effective, so we ought to try a different approach.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Fletcher, same question– an important development for Africa?

BILL FLETCHER: I think the G-8 summit was a sham. I think that there was very little that came out of the G-8 summit of much value or use for Africa outside of an immense amount of rhetoric. I mean, I think that anyone with a drop… I think that the G-8 summit in practice offered very little in terms of the dire needs of the continent. And this is… I think it was insulting to people of African descent. I mean, if you look at what happened, the African leaders went to the summit looking for roughly $55 billion. They get $6 billion of no new money. I mean, these are… these are old commitments. There was a search for debt relief– not even debt cancellation, debt relief– very little. Yet, Russia– and the last time I checked, it’s not part of the African continent — ends up getting $20 billion — $20 billion to deal with a very serious question, a very serious problem. Yet in the continent of Africa, 15,000 people a month are dying of HIV/AIDS. And what does the G-8 do? Nothing.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what about George Ayittey’s point that a lot of previous aid has not been well spent and has not generated results?

BILL FLETCHER: Well, I think that there’s truth to that, but I think that a lot of this discussion is absent history. Much of the aid that came from the West was part of the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union. I mean, look at the aid that went to Mobutu. The aid that went to Mobutu, they knew quite well that Mobutu wasn’t going to use that aid for the benefit of the people of Zaire and now the Congo. Mobutu used that aid in direct… to line his own pockets, and in the fight in the Cold War. That’s the problem with the aid. The West is culpable in this situation, so to blame Africa, and to blame African leaders as if they are the source of the problem is disingenuous at best and completely ahistorical.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the G-8 did say to Africa that aid would come once there was institutional reform. Is that the right approach?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, yes, certainly. And I don’t think anybody wants to say that the western countries are not culpable. I think what I’ve been saying is that we need a completely different approach in the sense that, you know, aid to Africa in the past simply hasn’t been effective. And you just don’t hand money over. Look, we need debt cancellation in Africa.

For example, debt overhang– it’s one which is dragging a lot of African economies down. But I think in all of this discussion we need to make a distinction, clear distinction between the African leaders and the African people. We have 54 African countries and only 15 of them are democratic. For a long, long time, these leaders claimed to be speaking on the behalf of the people when they are not. They are not held accountable to their people. Now we have… in the past, a lot of money was taken in terms of loans, and nobody knows what the money was used for. And this is one of the reasons why Africans, many of us are saying that now, look, there has to be a completely new approach. We want to know who took what loans and for what purposes.

And also, we also want to make sure that when aid is given, it’s given only to those countries, which are democratic, because their leaders can be held accountable. That’s why we want completely new rules for the game, or new approach to Africa’s problems. And also, if the west is going to forgive Africa’s debt, also we want our leaders to return, to repatriate much of the wealth that he has stashed abroad. So it’s not that we’re blaming African leaders for the problems in the world, but they have to get serious about economic reform and tackling the problems on the continent.

RAY SUAREZ: But if the problems are as serious as Bill Fletcher just suggested…


RAY SUAREZ: …is it right to demand that countries have functioning judiciaries, a legal code that protect property rights, elected legislatures, as a precondition to starting the aid flowing again?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, okay, those are reasonable demands, but we Africans also want to place our own conditionalities down, and we also want to make our own demands. Like Bill said, in the case of Mobutu, for example, during the Cold War a lot of money was handed over to Mobutu, and he squandered the money. All right? Now the people of… the Congolese have been told that they owe so much, $9 billion in foreign loans. I think it is not so much the West which has to place the conditions, it is the Congolese people themselves which have to fight their governments. “Okay, you took this money on our behalf. What did you do with the money?” These are the sort of questions that need to be asked in Africa.

RAY SUAREZ: Bill Fletcher?

BILL FLETCHER: No, I agree with much of what was just said. My difference, in part, is this: When one talks about economic reforms, it’s very self interested from the standpoint of the G-8. When they say, “economic reforms,” what do they mean? They mean African countries open up their markets to the West, but not that the west opens up its markets to Africa. I mean, we have this rhetoric coming out of the White House of “Free trade, free trade, free trade- as long as we can get into your markets,” but not in reverse. So what’s happening in Africa and as well in the Caribbean, is that agriculture is being devastated because of agricultural subsidies here in the United States. I mean, either there’s a level playing field, or we should call this whole game off.

RAY SUAREZ: So the commodities… very well-known commodities that come out of Africa– tea, coffee, cashews, the ingredients for chocolate– they have to jump over a hurdle to get into the United States?

BILL FLETCHER: That’s right. And they have to jump over a hurdle, and what has happened is that it then becomes… there’s less of an incentive for the development of the agricultural sector. In addition, I would suggest this, that Africans need… again, I would agree with this question of democracy, but I’d actually go further. Not just democracy in the sense of multiparty elections, but that the people need to decide themselves what sorts of economies they want — not for the West, not for the G-8 to say, “this is the way that you do your economy, and if you don’t do it this way, forget the aid.”

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, I don’t disagree with him, in the sense that you see, much of the discussions in Africa is placed on the western- eastern parting. And that’s sort of… when you do that, it sort of blows away what the African people themselves want. Look, we want political reform not because the West dictates it. We want political reform.

In our own traditional sense, we hold our chiefs accountable, so we want to hold our leaders accountable. Now, I don’t care what mechanism you institute, whether it’s democratic or whether the west will call it democracy or what, but we want to hold leaders accountable in Africa. And 54 African countries, only 15 of them are democratic.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, let’s take just that point, because as part of the assurances that African leaders gave the G-8, they said there would be peer review inside the region. Are African leaders ready to tell their neighbors, “you know, you really ought to straighten up”?

GEORGE AYITTEY: Well, you see, this is where the skepticism is. I mean, how can dictators, you know, review themselves? So, you know, call each other into account. Look at what happened in Zimbabwe. I mean, the elections there recently were stolen by Mugabe, who has been in power for 22 years. The leaders in the Southern African development region said nothing.

This is why the African… Africans themselves are saying that “we want to hold our leaders accountable and we also want economic reform, but in our own traditional systems.” We had free markets there. We have free enterprise there. We had village markets even before the colonialists came to Africa, and we want to return to those kind of institutions that we have.

It’s not the World Bank, which has to dictate to Africa what type of economic reforms that are needed. This is why it is important to listen to the African people. But it seems for a long time… in all of these debates, it’s always between African leaders and the west. Let’s hear the people.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, Bill Fletcher, the president of Nigeria came away from Canada saying, “well, at least we have a start. It’s something to bid on.” Do you share his optimism at all?

BILL FLETCHER: Not at all. I mean, I was dismayed in hearing that remark. I’m trying to figure out where the start. I missed the race or something. Something was missing here. I don’t see where the start was. What we saw, however, was a repetition of the same garbage from the G-8 that we’ve heard time and again: Promises, rhetoric, “get yourself together, do better.” The onus is put on the Africans, but the West does not take any responsibility for the situation that Africa’s in.

I agree that there needs to be this democratization. I would argue– in fact, I’d go even further, though– that when there’s a discussion about economic development, when there’s a discussion about the new partnership for African development, before the African leaders came and approached the G-8, there should have been much more of a discussion within their own countries.

GEORGE AYITTEY: Yes, yes. And this is one of the criticisms against NEPAD, that African leaders didn’t even consult civil society.


GEORGE AYITTEY: I personally believe that African leaders shouldn’t even have gone to the G-8 because the resources that they need to development the continent is there in Africa itself.

RAY SUAREZ: George Ayittey, Bill Fletcher, thank you both, gentlemen.

BILL FLETCHER: Thank you very much.

GEORGE AYITTEY: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: In Durban, South Africa, today, 39 African nations ended a summit meeting that created a new African union. Its main goals are promoting economic development and political reform.