Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Helping Africa

Africa is a mess. Everyone agrees. Worse for Africa, everyone wants to help. Tony Blair wants rich, Western nations to forgive the debts various African governments have racked up with Western banks; he also wants wealthy nations to pledge a certain percentage of the national incomes to bailing Africa out. Poor Tony could only convince his good friend George Bush to go half way on that, sort of. Blair's ideas are more popular in Europe. U2 frontman Bono generally agrees with Mr. Blair and has been crusading for Africa for years. Sir Bob Geldof has emerged from 80's obscurity to announce a new series of "Live Aid" concerts whose profits will lift Africans out of poverty. Unfortunately, despite all the good intentions, none of this will help Africa even a little bit. Surprisingly, one very useful bit of advice has come from a representative of a United Nations program, usually the repository of mostly bad advice.
Africa must develop a "culture of science" if it is to solve many of the challenges it faces and meet the UN Millennium Development Goals, a leading international scientist has said.

Hans Herren, the outgoing director of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Nairobi, Kenya, added that African countries must address their lack of investment in science if they are to develop.

In an interview with SciDev.Net, Herren said that Africa lacks a scientific culture because, although a growing number of Africans have practical research experience, few national policymakers do.

Herren believes that African governments have not given enough recognition to the value of science in guiding and supporting sustainable development.

"If you look around at national budgets, the amount spent on education from primary to tertiary institutions is far too small," he said.

Investing in education, scientific research and technological advances would help all sectors of the economy in African countries, he added.

Mr. Herren has it right, though fostering a "culture of science" will likely take longer than he expects. In the long run, the best way for Africa to climb out of its current decline is change the thinking of its people.

Herren said there are various projects that governments could invest in. But they need to identify long-term research priorities and adopt policies that will mean that in a decade's time the continent has a "critical mass" of scientists and an infrastructure able to make a significant contribution to development.

He added that scientists in African universities and research institutions need to move away from simply teaching about other people's research, and instead conduct and teach about their own studies.

"Africa needs more science wherever it comes from, but people have to do research and move away from just teaching about other people's work."

This, he explained, would help a scientific culture develop — it cannot simply be adopted.

Africa's massive economic and social problems stem, at least partially, from lousy ideas in which Africans - with plenty of help from European ideologues - have indulged since the end of European colonial rule. There has been no shortage of African Marxist and Communist regimes. They have all failed, as have all the quasi-socialist regimes. Those who have sought to blame the European colonial past for all Africa's problems have provided nothing but an excuse for Africans to continue failed policies, or indulge in racist nonsense (like Zimbabwe's siezure of white own farms) that only make the situation worse (those siezed Zimbabwe farms now lie fallow and the country requires international food donations to feed itself). Nor have they ever explained how former European colonies in Asia have managed to transform themselves into economic powerhouses in the same period.

The best thing the West could do for Africa would be to leave it alone. No more loans. No more IMF interference. No more glitzy rock concerts - whose proceeds never reach the people who need them, and really only serve as PR promotion for the rock stars who perform at them. And no more immigration to the West from Africa - that only drains the best minds and most motivated people from Africa. Without smart, motivated and achievement oriented people at home demanding change, Africa won't advance at all. If you want to help Africa, leave Africans to assess their own problems and figure out their own solutions. That's the only way the African people will develop the resolve and maturity to help themselves.


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