The Magazine

We Aren't the World

On March 3, the BBC reported that the millions raised by Bob Geldof's BandAid campaign and LiveAid concerts to relieve victims of famine in Ethiopia in 1984-1985 went straight to paramilitary rebels, who then used the money to buy weapons and overthrow the government of the time. The corporation informed us that '[f]ormer rebel leaders told the BBC that they posed as merchants in meetings with charity workers to get aid money.'

Here is how it worked:

Max Peberdy, an aid worker from Christian Aid, carried nearly $500,000 in Ethiopian currency across the border in 1984.

He used it to buy grain from merchants and believes that none of the aid was diverted. ...He insists that to the best of his knowledge, the food went to feed the starving.

The only problem was that

... the merchant Mr Peberdy dealt with in that transaction claims he was, in fact, a senior member of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

"I was given clothes to make me look like a Muslim merchant. This was a trick for the NGOs," says Gebremedhin Araya.

Underneath the sacks of grain he sold, he says, were sacks filled with sand. He says he handed over the money he received to TPLF leaders, including Meles Zenawi --the man who went on to become Ethiopia's prime minister in 1991.

Mr Meles, who is still in office, has declined to comment on the allegations. But Mr Gebremedhin's version of events is supported by the TPLF's former commander, Aregawi Berhe.

Now living in exile in the Netherlands, he says the rebels put on what he describes as a "drama" to get the money.

"The aid workers were fooled," he says.

It seems "$95m (£63m) -- from Western governments and charities including Band Aid -- was channeled into the rebel fight." And "(s)ome 95 percent of it was allocated to buying weapons and building up a hard-line Marxist political party within the rebel movement."

Much of the money that ended up in the TPLF's hands was channeled through affiliated groups such as the Relief Society of Tigray.

Band Aid's accounts show that it gave almost $11m to the society and other groups close to the rebels, but the charity has declined to comment.

Well, well, well. What a surprise.

Right from the start, I sensed that not only was there something profoundly dishonest about the high-flown rhetoric and odious guilt-mongering surrounding the Bob Geldof's aid campaigns, but also that it would fail to meet its objectives. After all, Sub-Saharan African states had proven spectacularly dysfunctional and its political leaders bewilderingly incompetent and corrupt, so to me it seemed highly improbable that a handful of self-indulgent celebrities and superannuated rock stars would transform the continent into a space age utopia with just a concert and a charity shakedown.

What was obvious to me even as a teenager, however, evidently eluded Geldof and the coterie of largely White, fashion-conscious, guilt-ridden glitterati that like having their names linked to his crusades. In 1985 he, in collaboration with Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson, added insult to injury by inflicting upon us the insufferable single, "We are the World" -- a vile intrusion into my psyche for which I would still like to sue Ritchie and Michael Jackson's estate, as I believe I am owed compensation for the intense annoyance the repetitive playing of that ridiculous song caused me at the time.

In 1989 Geldof reprised with a new version of the original guilt fest, Do They Know It's Christmas?

And in 2004 Geldof went on the offensive yet again, this time putting his Live Aid campaign on steroids and spearheading a new crusade to end poverty in Africa and elsewhere. This crusade culminated with the Live8 concerts in July 2005, whose broadcasting around the world is recorded as the biggest media event in human history. Geldof enjoyed political backing from Gordon Brown, then the United Kingdom's Chancellor of the Exchequer and now the unelected Prime Minister, who promised to send our billions to Africa, even while war pensioners here starved or freezed to death, hospitals had waiting lists running into years, public services were in crisis due to underinvestment, and the national debt -- already considerable back then -- that was costing billions in interest.

Thankfully -- at least for my own sanity -- I was in a position to do something about it in 2005. Even though I knew it was but a symbolic gesture, I put together an "Anti-Geldof Compilation" double CD, if only to leave it on record that there were some who actively opposed Geldof's campaigns, and were indeed repelled by the very ideas underpinning it. In a 7,000-word statement, which I included in the booklet, I presented the case against Live8, and, for that matter, any such effort.One of my arguments was that the premise behind aid campaigns like Live8 was economically illiterate. I pointed out that since 1950 nearly one trillion dollars have been sent to Africa in the form of aid, 46 percent of all aid to the Third World; and that, despite increasing rates of aid, particularly since 1975, the proportion of people living in extreme poverty in the continent had increased. I also pointed out that Fredrik Erixon, then former Chielf Economist at Timbro (a Swedish think tank) and presently a director of the European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), had stated on 11 September 2005 on the BBC News website that

GDP per capita growth in Africa decreased and was for many years even measured in negative figures. The unfortunate fact is that most African countries are poorer today then they were at the time of their independence from colonial powers.

If the idea of aid had been true - in particular the alleged link between aid, investment, and growth -- many of those countries would today have eradicated extreme poverty and have a GDP per capita similar to that of New Zealand, Spain or Portugal.

If nothing else, aid to Africa seems to have lowered rather than increased economic growth.

I drew attention to the fact that, according to Erixon, aid recipients have channeled aid money towards "current spending and public consumption," boosting the public sector in the economy. And that, also according to Erixon, the consequent strengthening of socialist tendencies made of investment a government activity, fuelling fiscal budgets and the growth of "parastatals and state-owned enterprise."

Largely supported by the donor community at the time, these soon became arenas of corruption and this corruption spread like wildfire to other parts of the society.

The tragedy of aid, as been shown in numerous evaluations and by World Bank research, is that donors are part of the problem of corruption; aid often underpins corruption, and higher aid levels tend to erode the governance structure of poor countries.

Erixon's conclusion, which I share, was that the persistence of poverty in Africa was not the result of a lack of aid, but rather Africa's failure to make good use of it. I highlighted Erixon's argument that "[i]nstead of focusing on the quality of aid and how to raise the output through a more productive use of aid, donor countries and others are solely occupied by increasing the quantity of aid." I further highlighted the fact that it did not seem that world leaders, "not to mention Bob Geldof and other campaigners, have any real idea how the aid given can be made more effective."

Of course not.

And neither do they have any real idea of what kind of people exactly they are trying help. This includes Erixon, of course, since, for all his laudable criticism of the aid mentality, he still assumes that by shifting away from aid and towards development, Africa can be brought into economic convergence with Europe. My view is that this will never happen, no matter what approach is taken, short of re-colonizing the continent. Furthermore, my view is that it is wrong to even attempt it: Africa does not need development; what it needs is complete de-industrialization and non-interference from outside powers. If it has gone to hell since the dismantlement of the European empires, it is because it must - it is because Africa is, in fact, overdeveloped, and needs to be brought into economic convergence with Africa as it was in pre-colonial times.

If aid and development money is stolen to buy weapons in order to replace one chief with another, or is pilfered by a corrupt chief and his private army, it is because development -- the result of progress -- was never important in Africa. The ideology of progress is a European invention, and one that is associated with a specific subset of Europeans, whom we call liberals. Liberals think of progress the way they think of equality: it is good and right in its own right, and needs no justification. If progress is good and all humans are equal, then all humans will benefit from progress equally, given a level playing field. The problem is that humans are not equal and, because they are not equal, because they are diverse physically, mentally, and spiritually, progress is a philosophical construct that is alien to large swathes of humanity. Nowhere is this more the case, probably, than in Sub-Saharan Africa, the part of the world we consider the most dysfunction.

J. R. Baker, summarizing in 1974 the impressions of early explorers of Sub-Saharan Africa, chosen for their accuracy and reliability, describes a pre-Colonial situation that was tens of thousands of years removed from the European reality: the aborigines were naked or semi-naked; they practiced self-mutilation; they resided in small settlements, in simple, single-story dwellings; they sailed in crude canoes carved out of tree trunks; they had not invented the wheel; they rarely domesticated animals or used them for labor or transportation; they had no written script or recorded history; they had no use of money, no numbering system, no calendar; they had no roads; and they had no administration or code of law. Chiefs were despotic, capricious, and cruel; slaughter was frequent; cannibalism was sometimes practiced. Dialects were simple, with limited vocabularies to express abstract thought. The average tribesman lived for the moment and lacked foresight. Said early explorers were shocked by their discoveries, obviously because they also thought in terms of progress.

Is it a surprise, given this background, that sending aid money to Sub-Saharan nations is as good as sowing seeds on stones? Consider that much of Europe lay in ruins following the end of World War II. Some of its cities, at least parts of them, had been bombed back to the Stone Age; industrial production had been devastated, the economic structure ruined, millions made homeless, foreign reserves and treasuries exhausted. Like in Africa today, millions starved - many died or froze to death in the brutal Winter of 1946. And while much of the countryside was spared, the destruction of transport and infrastructure had left rural communities isolated. Between 1948 and 1952, parts of Europe received aid from the United States through The Marshall Plan: the money was transferred to European governments, who were assisted by the Economic Cooperation Administration, an American agency that was later succeeded by the United States Agency for International Development. Three years into the program, output in the participating European nations was 35 percent above pre-war levels. Why was the 4-year, $13 billion Marshall Plan successful in Europe and the 30-, 40-, 50-year, $1 trillion aid program unsuccessful in Africa? I posit that it is because Europeans believe in building things -- because there is, in other words, a fundamental and deeply rooted difference in temperament, outlook, and capability -- at least in the areas that are important for maintaining a modern technological civilization -- that makes all the difference.

When the European powers colonized Africa, they reconfigured the continent in conformity with European values. They divided the continent into nation states, built infrastructure, and developed industrial economies, which were then put in the service of the industrial economies of Europe. The natives, whom for a while anthropologists thought to be less than human, were used as cheap labour and otherwise marginalized. When the European empires were dismantled, they did not leave Africa as they found it. Rather than dismantle the legacy of empire, European political leaders handed it over to the natives. The latter were left, therefore, with a legacy that was - socially, culturally, economically, politically, and technologically - tens of thousands of years ahead of anything their ancestors had ever seen or even conceived. Even though many had by then been taught to read and write and drive cars and even build highways and skyscrapers, from a sociobiological point of view, the cities and the stock exchanges and the universities constituted for them a highly artificial environment, product of a sensibility, a way of thinking, a way of seeing, even a biology, that was entirely alien. This was the fatal mistake that European leaders made.

Had Earth been conquered by an alien race capable of telepathy and time-travel, abilities evolved by the aliens over tens of thousands of years, it would have no doubt been impossible for us humans to continue to maintain the legacy of the alien civilization once its creators had left the planet: on the one hand, we would have been reluctant to return to our boring old ways, having experienced immensity of alien power; on the other, we would rapidly find ourselves in a terribly dysfunctional society, unable reliably and consistently to match - even come close in certain areas to - the aliens' performative minima. If Hesketh Pritchard's observations about Haiti in 1900, found in Where Black Rules White, provide any indication of what we could expect, we would, at best, be able to emulate the outer form of the aliens' habits, institutions, and social relations, but we would never be able to truly internalize their substance -- not without being them. Were the aliens still in contact with us, there is no doubt humans would be clamoring for aid, both needy and resentful of their former rulers. Some would want them to return, even at the cost of political power. Absent the political will among the aliens to come and take it all away, this would go on for centuries, until human civilization converged with the old human baselines.

Of course, liberals will never accept this view, because admitting to human biodiversity would necessitate renouncing one of the fundamental tenets of what among them amounts to a secular religion: equality. Therefore, as long as they are in power, in the guise of Democrat or Republican, Labour or Tory, we will continue to see our billions, and eventually our trillions, sent to Africa to fight a battle that will never be won and should have never been fought. The irony is that for all the liberals' denunciation of empire, for all their installing of White-bashing postcolonial studies departments in Western universities, development is nothing but a sublimated form of European imperialism.

Should we just let Africa starve, then? This is a valid question, and probably the main obstacle to a meaningful change in policy. Whatever the mistakes of earlier and current European political leaders, the situation in Sub-Saharan Africa needs to be resolved: if we do nothing, the horror in the continent will multiply and the demographic pressure emanating from Africa and into Europe will continue to increase; the cost of containing it will be prohibitive, while the cost of not containing it will be extinction.

Since empire seems no longer possible, since aid does not work, since development is inappropriate, and since doing nothing is fatal, the only remaining option is to accept that Africa will never be Europe and to help Sub-Saharan African societies return to their indigenous cultural baselines. Rather than encouraging the natives to emulate Europe, we ought to dismantle and remove from the region any vestige of European civilization: nothing that is not indigenous to the region ought to remain. Rather than encouraging natives to maintain large populations, we ought to assist them in reducing them to levels they can themselves sustain, unaided by European influence or intervention. The argument must be made that Black Africans had their own model of social organization, which, because it developed over millennia in harmony with their own specific suite of traits and in response to their environment, was comparatively stable. Also, the argument must be made that scaling the ecological footprint down to manageable levels does not necessarily preclude the evolution of these societies: it only clears the way for an evolutionary path that is established organically from within, rather than artificially imposed from without, the Sub-Saharan landscape.

The liberals would call us monsters, but what is more monstrous than preventing millions from having a culture that reflects them, rather than their conquerors? What is more monstrous than the imposition on millions of a system that measures them precisely along the dimensions in which they are most likely to register failure? It would be like us living under Black hegemony and being evaluated, not on the basis of traits where we are likely to excel, such as abstract reasoning, capacity to delay gratification, and morality, but on those where we are likely to under-perform in relation to our Black masters, such as athleticism, aggression, and self-concept. Only the ignorant could be so arrogant. If Africa has gone to hell, it is because liberals sent it there.

Evidently, having experienced the conveniences of Western technological civilization, Sub-Saharan peoples will be reluctant to return to traditional tribal life. The transition, therefore, must be gradual. Similarly, aware of the natural and, especially, mineral resources in the continent, outsiders will be reluctant to leave them to the natives. The region, therefore, must be declared a nature preserve, or an anthropological preserve, outside the jurisdiction of any given government. Perhaps Western and Asian nations could be persuaded to sign up to something analogous to the Antarctic Treaty of 1959: a treaty that declares Sub-Saharan Africa off limits for exploitation, development, and trade; the ancestral patrimony of all humanity; and merely a field of world scientific research - there is, after all, much we do not know about the origins and pre-history of man, and much we can learn from observing traditional tribal societies.

The deprecation of the present political consensus with regard to Sub-Saharan Africa will probably take many additional decades of failure, and perhaps a succession of catastrophes. Billions, if not trillions, will need to be wasted on futile aid and imperialistic development programs before these are finally given up. It is not unlikely that economics, rather than a change in philosophy, will force their abrogation first: after all, most Western nations are already technically bankrupt, and the productive sections of Western populations are either being taxed into oblivion or physically replaced through low fertility and immigration, so the money will eventually run out. I am glad, therefore, that the Band Aid campaign has now proven a complete fiasco. Geldof will never change, of course, and he will continue to throw away well-meaning folks' money on his ill-conceived campaigns, irrespective of whether this money ends up in the hands of hardcore Marxist propagandists and guerilla men. But at least the need to re-examine aid has been brought back into the agenda, and we can make a fresh call for a less ideological, and more effective long-term solution to the problems that former and present political leaders have caused through their appeasement to the Left and their craven refusal to finish the job of dismantling the old empires.

ERRATUM: A primitive version of this article was posted here on 8 April; the present version superceded the early one.