However much contested, financial and technical aid to Africa is inevitable. The important questions are over who supplies aid, who receives it, and what outcomes are achieved and for the benefit of whom in Africa. My critique of aid to Africa is not that aid isn't effective, because sometimes it is (I'm especially impressed with the Millennium Village program, the malaria initiatives by the Gates foundation and some small-farmer assistance programs in East and West Africa funded by the Agency for International Development and often implemented by Chemonix, a development contractor). Much foreign aid to Africa does reinforce pathologies, fails even in narrow technical terms and sustains corruption, sometimes directly as in the case of the new World Food Program scandal in Somalia and the primary education scandal in Kenya. But to admit aid failures in Africa isn't the same as concluding that aid fails Africa.
What can be done? Most importantly, donors can begin to taking into account the most important socio-economic trend in Africa: inequality and the growing division (one might even say "chasm") between the rich and poor within African societies. A recognition of this stubborn and deepening division, which distorts civil society in every African country, does not mean donors should only direct their aid at the poor. Rather donors should craft programs in Africa that account for the co-evolution of rich and poor, especially in African cities, where a vibrant private sector is both deepening inequality and yet fueling opportunities for ordinary people.
In the past two decades, Africa has seen a mass migration of its newly skilled and educated labor to North Africa, Western Europe, and North America. Professionals and academics are leaving the political and social instability in many African countries for better personal circumstances. This "brain drain" is handicapping African societies who can benefit from the skills, resources, and vision of those who have succeeded elsewhere. As Former South African President Thabo Mbeki has noted, "I dream of the day when they will return to add to the African pool of brain power, to enquire into and find solutions to Africa's problems and challenges, to open the African door to the world of knowledge, to elevate Africa's place within the universe of research the information of new knowledge, education and information."
Mbeki's dream can become a reality if more aid, whether in the form of charitable donations, technical expertise or private-sector investment, should come from Africans living outside of Africa. These Africans have skills, resources, ambition, vision and youth. Yet Diaspora Africans, despite their great successes in Britain, America, Canada and even France, are not taken seriously as potential partners by bilateral and multilateral donor organizations. And Diaspora Africans, understandably, are often limited in their outlook by their own ethnic, religious and national backgrounds. The situation is dynamic, however.
As Africans in the Diaspora gain more confidence in their ability to make a difference in their home countries, international donors will begin to adjust their views. The momentum behind the Diaspora is likely to grow because of the inevitable growth in European and American demand for African talent. Critical labor shortages in Europe will drive African migration; in the U.S., where today more than 1 million black African-born people live, "chain" migration will propel more Africans to leave their homes for the U.S.
G. Pascal Zachary is the author of The Diversity Advantage: Multicultural Identity in the New World Economy and Married to Africa. He has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Foreign Policy.
Related Material from Atlantic Community:
- Editorial Team: A New Course for Western Aid to Africa
- Gregory Adams: Local Solutions to Africa's Aid Problems
- Cecilie Wathne: Need for a New Paris Declaration