by Waseem Shehzad (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 25, No. 2, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1416)
People in Africa have good reason to be wary of the new, USS 25 billion initiative launched by the United Nations on March 15 to help the impoverished continent. Called the ‘System-wide Special Initiative on Africa,’ the programme will be phased over a 10 year-period.
Ostensibly aimed at projects in education, health, food security, water, sanitation, information technology and `governance’ programmes such as building an effective civil service and judicial systems, it has already generated considerable cynicism. The UN programme will have a large dose of world bank input, one western institution that has done more to ravage Africa than any other in the world.
“There is such a trendy and fashionable cynicism about these things,’ said Stephen Lewis of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in answer to questions about failed programmes in the past. Lewis, a former Canadian ambassador to the UN as well as a failed NDP leader of Ontario, is himself a man with trendy but failed ideas. His praise of the new programme must also be taken with a pinch of salt. ‘This is the best and most promising of a succession of initiatives over the last decade none of which fulfilled the promises and expectation all of us had,’ said Lewis.
He failed to explain why the promises and expectations remained unfulfilled. Africa is not a poor continent despite its negative, stereotypical image created largely by the western media. It is a continent endowed with vast natural resources. Thanks to its colonial legacy and the rapacious policies of the west pursued in league with corrupt African elites, the continent has been devastated.
Its current debt at US$313 billion is 234 percent of the continent’s total export earnings. The world bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) structural adjustment programmes have left the continent in even worse shape than it was 30 years ago. Today, African countries pay out $2 billion more in debt servicing annually than they receive in aid. So much for western prescriptions to bail it out.
The $25 billion is to come mainly from redirecting existing monies and represents only 20 per cent of the current official development aid spent in Africa. The world bank has been assigned responsibility for raising the funds contributed by African and foreign governments as well as UN agencies, which are to coordinate their myriad social development programmes within each country.
The sting, as they say, is in the tail. The world bank’s involvement is a recipe for disaster. The UN has led the military/political assault on Africa while the world bank/IMF combine has led the economic assault. Tanzania, Somalia and Ethiopia are good examples. During the rule of Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, the country’s agricultural economy was ruined through the half-baked ideas of the ‘father of the nation’ with active encouragement from the world bank/IMF. Today, the western combine has come in with hand-outs to bail it out. The net result has been to make Tanzania more subservient to world bank/IMF dikfat.
Somalia and Ethiopia were ravaged by wars. The UN actually launched an invasion of Somalia under the cover of helping its famine-stricken people. For two years prior to that, the UN had ignored calls from its own envoy, Muhamed Sahnoun, to help the country before it plunged into total chaos.
Sahnoun, an able diplomat, had established good rapport with the numerous factions in Somalia. His appeals to the head office in New York fell on deaf ears. When he criticized Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the UN chief, for failing to take effective measures, Sahnoun was unceremoniously relieved of his duties.
Sahnoun look his work too seriously. His real assignment, as far as the UN was concerned, was not to help the war-ravaged country back on its feet but to pave the way for direct intervention by the US operating under the cover of the UN. Once the US and its proxies were humiliated in military combat in Somalia, it was abandoned to its fate. The Somalis continue to die of starvation but the UN is no longer interested because the US was unable to impose its hegemony there.
In Ethiopia, the Tigrayan Christian minority has been imposed on the Muslim-majority State. The former marxist turned-capitalist is now one of America’s favourite clients in Africa. Throughout its 30-year war, Ethiopia reflected the enigma of African States. While its people starved, the Ethiopian airlines carried exotic fruits and vegetables to markets in Europe every week to earn foreign exchange with which to buy guns to fight its silly war. Like other States in Africa, this was the direct legacy of colonialism . Africa was divided by the competing colonial powers to serve their own interests rather than take account of the tribal, geographical or historical factors on the continent.
It was to the wars that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian director of the African bureau for the UN Development Fund, drew attention during a news conference on March 15. The social development projects under the new initiative were aimed at encouraging ‘large reductions on the amount spent on arms and conspicuous consumption’ in Africa, he said.
This is a tall order. The western countries that provide funds tothe UN or the world bank do not do so in order to limit spending onarms. Who will pay for workers in the west if countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are not engulfed in wars?
Strategies for debt relief are also on the list in the new UN programme, we are told. Nearly half the debt is concentrated in Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Zaire and Angola - all countries either in the grip of civil wars or which have just emerged from one but not fully recovered.
The UN/world bank/IMF combine does not spell relief. It spells disaster for Africa and the rest of the countries in Asia, South America and the Middle East. The new initiative is another attempt to impoverish Africa further and to make it more subservient to the US-led new world order.
Muslimedia - April 1996-August 1996