Cover Story

Minding Africa's business

"Minding Africa's business" Continued...

Issue: "Africa, Inc.," Oct. 10, 2009

Moyo remains notably hard on people like Bono: "I think they are wrong in their fundamental approach to ask for more aid to Africa," she said in New York in March, "and they actually have taken over the space of becoming the face of Africa, and spokespeople on behalf of the African continent." Many Africans may appreciate the attention, she said, but they also wonder, "What's the point of having a democratic society, albeit in a nascent form, if at the end of the day someone else outside of the continent is designing the future?"

In 2006 Bono upbraided the church in America for its slow response to global poverty and the AIDS epidemic. But at the Willow Creek's Leadership Summit two months ago he said, "The church has done incredible things. . . . I think we referred to it as the sleeping giant but I didn't know the giant could run that fast."

Beyond celebrities, evangelical leaders like Willow Creek's Bill Hybels and Rick Warren have "sharpened Christians' awareness," according to Brian Fikkert, director of the Chalmers Center at Covenant College and author of this year's When Helping Hurts: "We have seen in the past 30 years an enormous increase in the willingness of evangelicals to combine words and deeds." But Fikkert said he worries that some of these efforts keep the poor in a state of inferiority and shame while elevating the giver. Fikkert's book is headed to a fourth printing since its July 1 release, representing sales Fikkert said "are well exceeding our expectations" and show the "tidal wave of energy and interest." by the church. "We are trying to say to that tidal wave, there may be some better way of doing things than what you're trying to do right now."

One better way, according to George Ayittey: smart aid, or "aid that empowers the African people." The United States should give aid not based on the promises of governments to reform, he said, but based on the formation of independent, critical institutions, like central banks, judicial systems, media, electoral commissions, and neutral and professional armed forces.

He and other experts say that the United States could do more to bring down trade barriers, too. In 2000 Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act, giving tangible incentives for African governments to open up their economies and create free markets. But the bill largely has freed up petroleum exports from Africa while other trade barriers remain, most notably in agriculture (most U.S. food assistance must be U.S. grown) and textiles (African textile exports to the United States must contain U.S. fiber).

African governments also must get serious about reform, according to Ayittey: "They don't want to give up power."

And that's where Africa's entrepreneurs come in. "One has to remember that it is Africans who have to come up with their own solutions for their problems," said Ayittey.

Ghana BSL, the communications firm that Arunga co-founded, has chipped away at opposition to its venture and is now months into the launch of its mobile phone banking venture. It's too early to measure success, but Arunga's business partner, Herman Chinery-Hesse, is being called the Bill Gates of Ghana.

Web watch

By The Editors

• Kiva (kiva.org) is a global clearinghouse that profiles business ventures in less-developed countries and links potential lenders with aspiring entrepreneurs.

• Aid Watch (blogs.nyu.edu/fas/dri/aidwatch/) is the provocative and informative blog of Prof. William Easterly, author of the 2006 bestseller The White Man's Burden. When Easterly speaks, the World Bank listens (sometimes).

• Africa Unchained (africaunchained.blogspot.com/) features daily blogging by "venture catalyst" Emeka Okafor that touches on culture as well as economic transformation in Africa.

• Bottom Billion (bottombillion.com) is news and opinion on Africa's and the world's poorest, headlined by author Paul Collier.

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