Both Bono and I are interested in Africa, but Bono gets all the press. How is that fair?
Vast sums of money are spent trying to figure out why the people of that continent are so beset with poverty and oppression. One can simply resign oneself to the mess, saying "This is Africa," as Leonardo DiCaprio's character does in Blood Diamond (2006), but, as "God gives us all things richly to enjoy" (I Timothy 6:17), it must be on account of some sinful perversion of God's created order that these people are sitting on top of such wealth and yet in such want. The answer is not in the infusion of capital from the wealthy west (which was poor until we developed it). The answer is in Africa!
Paul Collier has written a book entitled The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (Oxford, 2007). What we once called The Third World (neither the Soviet sphere nor the Western alliance), we have come to call The Developing World, and indeed much of it is doing just that. But of the world's 6.7 billion people (last I checked), there are a billion who appear to be inextricably stuck in poverty and generally in a manner of life unworthy of human dignity. Collier calls it "the fourteenth century: civil war, plague, ignorance." Collier reports that most of these people are concentrated in 58 countries, and 70% of those people are in Africa.
He identifies four "traps" that have these people ensnared:
1. The Conflict Trap (e.g. civil war, recent tribal conflict in Kenya comes to mind),
2. The Natural Resource Trap (over dependence on extracting and exporting these, typically mismanaged by a corrupt government),
3. Landlocked with Bad Neighbors, and
4. Bad Governance in a Small Country.
It strikes me that all of these seem to come down to bad government. But if Western governments put the slightest pressure on these dictators they cry "colonialism!" and all the people rally to them (as well as the American left, needless to say).
He rejects the aid-oriented solution advocated by Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty, 2005) and Bill Gates. But he is not quite as opposed to it as William Easterly (The White Man's Burden, 2006). Aid is not a solution, but "a holding operation preventing things from falling apart." It is subject to a law of sharply diminishing returns. Collier actually suggests military intervention in what we have come to call "failed states," but I'm skeptical. Benevolent conquest is always tempting to well-meaning Americans, but for some reason the beneficiaries of our thumpin' good will never seen to recognize their blessings. Furthermore, it would require terror which only the resulting insurgents have the stomach to pull off. Beyond that, he suggests improving trade and various laws and charters for government to sign and honor.
Ah, yes. It all comes back to government. Why should these gangs of thugs called "governments" bind themselves to principles of justice? They need counterbalancing centers of power. Church. Economic interests. The small size of many of these countries is a problem for which James Madison has wise words in Federalist Paper #10. How do you trade with people who don't produce anything worth having? They won't produce anything without capital investment. No one will invest unless property is secure. If people can be sure of enjoying the fruit of their labors, they will labor.
The latest discussion of the merits of aid to Africa is in the City Journal (Winter 2008), "Hearts of Darkness: Trendy paternalism is keeping Africa in chains" by Michael Knox Beran.
You should also look at a recent New York Sun essay by Amity Shlaes ("One Flawed Gift," Feb. 28, 2008) author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression. Her point is, "The 2.3 trillion in aid America and allies have spent in Africa over a half century has been a counter-productive distraction from achieving stable growth."
A missionary to a particular African country who, unlike his suffering church, was recently released from prison and expelled from the country, recommended Martin Meredith's The Fate of Africa which, I am told, attributes much of Africa's problems to bad governance. That conclusion should be universally obvious. Sadly, it is not.