Monday, July 11, 2005

Who is James Shikwati?

I stumbled upon this bright Kenyan economist by accident...I just read his interview ("For God's Sake, Please Stop the Aid!") with Spiegel Magazine. While I'm not in agreement with him on some issues, I think he has a message and he should be heard(not that he needs me to propagate his message). It is unfortunate that there are few folks like him running the affairs of African nations. So who is James Shikwati? He is an anti-aid proponent! Take a look:

Shikwati on debt relief for Africa:
“Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.”
He believes that huge bureaucracies are financed with the aid money. His advice:
“If they really want to fight poverty, they should completely halt development aid and give Africa the opportunity to ensure its own survival. Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong. Africa should stand on its own two feet...”
Shikwati is known for his often frank, conservative, controversial, but insightful stance, particularly on the economics of western aid to African nations. His comments in Times Online on the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, titled"I do not need white NGOs to speak for me":
“The First World might also rethink its development aid strategy. During the 1980s and 1990s, well- meaning donor countries funnelled billions of dollars in aid to Africa. Unfortunately, much of it fell directly into the hands of corrupt governments, who used it to support their dictatorships or pass the riches on to a select group of cronies. Rather, developed countries should target such funding for genuine problems, such as the purchase of medicines to fight HIV/Aids.”
Recently, while speaking at a meeting organised by TechCentral Station, a U.S. online journal on global public affairs, he made a strong appeal for the introduction of genetically modified crops to feed the hungry in Africa...Shikwati argued that Africa needs these crops:
”Biotechnology would give African farmers the freedom to produce their own goods instead of begging donor countries,...Africa needs this investment and wants to make use of the technology.”
Shikwati is also founder and Executive Director of the Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN), a non-profit independent public policy research and educational organization that promotes market-based responses to contemporary socioeconomic and environmental issues. He stated that:
"The main reason for poverty and unsustainable development in Africa, Asia and South America is oppression by incompetent, violent, and corrupt governments – and an attendant lack of property rights and the rule of law..."
In his article on titled "African debt not a sexy affair", he wrote:
"Foreign aid was meant to fill the gap between domestic savings and investment. It was based on misconceived theory of ‘cycle of poverty’ which was believed to rely on external injections in order to break the cycle...Modern international banking regulations are keen to watch out money transfers that could be linked either to terrorists or drug traffickers. Developed nations will do a great service to the poor by reviewing accounts of the African leadership they very well know embezzle money from their subjects. In 2004, an African Union report indicated that Africa looses US$ 148 billion in corrupt practices alone...How much aid do we African need to obey our own laws, to shun corruption and to simply put our priorities right?"
He concluded with this statement:
"We must open up Africa to African business people and other innovators, we must ask our friends from developed nations to allow us to travel and learn, we must learn to do business with the developed nations and steer clear-off the manna from heaven relationship. I am optimistic that an emerging new generation of Africans will save this continent from the perpetual fixation on life support machine in the name of aid. The African leadership is facing the toughest challenge, they have either to offer leadership or simply act as supervisors for wealthy nations’ interests."
While James Shikwati has taken African economics to slight different level, his ideas on aid are more or less in line with Grandiose Parlor's (and many on the Blogoshere). However, I believe aid, particularly debt relief- which I see as a form of reparations for the many years of looting orchestrated by the colonists- is needed and appropriate; as long as it will not end up in private pockets, and the stipulated conditions will not drown the beneficiaries in more debt. There is no doubt that African nations will only get out of the economic and social quaqmire by institutionalizing an enabling environment that encourages genuine democracy and promotes a vibrant base for small/mid businesses.

Read some of his publications.