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First, Do No Harm

 

By Rosemary Ekoso

 

I love this blogger’s satire:

 

Tony Blair is to launch a range of cosmetics upon leaving office, DeadBrain can reveal. The first of those, Blair Foundation, has already been developed and was discovered by our intrepid reporter during a bored afternoon searching the internet.

 

It’s alright to send Mr. Blair up, I suppose. If you cannot get rid of a leader you do not like, you might as well laugh at him.

  

The Sunday Times (London) of 7 January 2006 had an article entitled “Blair starts work on building fortune”.  The Sunday Times says that Blair intends to “tour the world fostering the values of democracy, slowing climate change and developing Africa.”

 

Develop Africa? You mean, he is prime minister of a powerful country for ten years, cannot develop Africa, and now wants to do it as a private citizen?

 

Congratulations, Mr. Blair! Such nobility of purpose, such self-sacrifice!

 

But, as the article notes, “it has become fashionable for former heads of State to create foundations. Setting up foundations in the names of prime ministers and presidents has become the modern way for politicians to secure their legacies.”

 

Mr. Blair won’t fool me. His legacy, in my view, is the war in Iraq, the BAE scandal, the cash for honours scandal, and his holiday homes, among other things. Furthermore, as the article states, he could get up to $250, 000 in fees for speaking at events. A man is securing a cushy retirement for himself, and he wants to use Africa as an excuse?

 

I do not know whether this business of democracy, climate change and Africa is a direct quote from something Mr. Blair himself issued, or this is merely surmised by the reporter in the Sunday Times. Perhaps, in the now habitual New Labour fashion, his cronies quietly leaked it, just to test the waters. But if Mr. Blair has shown such ignorance and lack of sensitivity, we should set up a rotten tomatoes and eggs parade for him should he dare to show his hypocritical mug anywhere on our continent.

 

Is Africa that easy to develop anyway? With the kind of development some people have been visiting upon us, I personally would not mind sinking gently back into the post-Independence, pre-globalisation era, before the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO got their hands on us.

 

I do not get this thing about “developing Africa”. I really do not. What is now known as the Western World is called developed today because of a combination of hard work, unbridled exploitation of colonies, and ruthless pursuit of the very policies they now use the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO to stop anyone else from following.

 

There is very little of Western Europe today that does not owe its own development at least partly to the blood, toil, tears and sweat of our ancestors. So we can work. What we do not have is the ability, or perhaps the willingness, to exploit other peoples as we have been exploited.

 

Exploitation has worked very well for some.  Here is some literature you might like to try. Wikipedia says of Ha Joon Chang: [i]n "Kicking Away the Ladder" Chang argued that all major developed countries used interventionist economic policies in order to get rich and then tried to forbid other countries from doing similarly. The WTO, World Bank and IMF come in for strong criticism for this kind of ladder-kicking which is, according to Chang, the fundamental obstacle to poverty-alleviation in the developing world. This and other work led to the his being awarded the 2005 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought (previous prize-winners also include Amartya Sen).

 

 

Not that I am advocating exploitation, mind you.

We cannot “develop” on the basis of charity. In many instances, the much-touted charity is only a bridgehead through which resources can be channelled out.

 

Much of the charity – or at least the official “charity” of government aid – goes into the pockets of leaders we hate and want to be rid of, but which we cannot throw out because the charitable ones prefer to have them in power, the more easily to extract the political favours, policy changes and lucrative contracts they get in exchange for “aid”.

 

Our continent has problems. And these problems are every bit as dire as they are made out to be. But they are not as insoluble as is often made out. It’s just that they cannot be solved from outside.

 

Ultimately, Africa’s problems – like those of any other region – can only be solved by Africans themselves. But we’re not going to have a chance of solving our problems, unless and until the outsiders get out and stay out, and let us solve our problems ourselves.

 

We should start by electing our own leaders, and controlling our own resources and the incomes they generate. Only then we can be masters and mistresses of our fate. Outsiders cannot come, dressed in Lord Bountiful sheep’s clothing, to ram down our throats a noxious stew of the deceitful and the blindingly obvious, and then expect us to reward them with big African grins of gratitude.

 

We often hear Westerners saying that instead of giving us fish, they would like us to learn how to fish for ourselves. But we know how to fish – and it’s insulting and paternalistic to suggest that we can neither fish nor learn for ourselves.

 

The problem is that Western governments are busy draining the river and erecting electric fences on either side – then coming along and eating anything we do still manage to catch.

 

Recently, in my piece, “Are we failed states?”, I wrote generously about the contribution of Great Britain to ending the slave trade.

 

But not everyone believes in this altruism. The Black Commentator says in this article:

 

England built its Industrial Revolution on an exclusive mercantilist trading relationship with its Caribbean colonies. This ensured that West Indian planters had a guaranteed market for their agricultural products, and “Mother England” had a guaranteed market for its manufactured goods. But when it became clear that greater profits could be obtained by negotiating for cheaper raw materials from other suppliers, and by placing manufactured goods on the open market, England sought with a vengeance to crush the Caribbean planters by cutting off their supply of the slaves who were indispensable to the islands’ agricultural operations.

 

Though that does not discount the work of noted Abolitionists like Lord Shaftesbury and William Wilberforce, it does afford a new vantage point from which to consider the history of abolitionism. Perhaps I have been too generous.

 

The lesson here is that international action, either by an individual or a country, however noble the sentiment advanced to justify it, may nonetheless have an altogether more questionable intent.

 

The same applies to Mr. Blair’s threats of impending altruism.

 

The Black Commentator article, a masterpiece of controlled ire, further states:

 

If Blair really wants to do something for Africa, he should receive with grace a bill for reparations and restitution for all that England took from its African colonies and the enslaved individuals forced into the Diaspora. After England pays that bill, Blair should just back away from Africa and shut up.

 

Couldn’t put it better myself. 

 

Rosemary Ekosso is with the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Netherlands. She blogs frequently at Ekosso.com

 

 

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