The upcoming G-8 summit and Blair’s declared focus on Africa has inspired a great deal of Africa-focused reporting in mainstream media, some of it pretty smart and insightful. An excellent post by Bletch on Metafilter rounds up a number of articles about China’s increasing influence in Africa, including a great piece in the New Statesman that points out that China is making investments in Africa with very little concern for human rights, political freedoms or governmental legitimacy.
Abraham McLaughlin echoes this point in the latest in a series of articles of Chinese influence in Zimbabwe, pointing out that some African nations may be looking at Asian models for political leadership and pursuing a “vision of ‘state’ before ‘individual’.”
Driving to Boston this morning, I was pleased to hear a pair of stories on BBC Newshour (though none in the two hours I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition) focused on Africa. The first was an interview with Andrew M. Mwenda, a Ugandan political commentator who argues that foreign aid interferes with government accountability. He makes the point that half of Uganda’s budget comes from foreign aid, which makes Museveni more accountable to foreign donors than to domestic taxpayers. His recent op-ed in the International Tribune – “Foreign Aid Sabotages Reform” – is radical, interesting and smart. (I’m not sure I agree with it, but it’s damned interesting.)
A second interview was with Simon Anholt, a marketing expert and author of “Brand New Justice”, a book that argues that Africa’s “bad brand” contributes to problems of economic development. Anholt points out that Ethiopia, for instance, is branded as a “basket case”… which makes it very hard to recruit manufacturers to open factories, or to open the nation to tourists. While the “basket case” brand is very effective for generating aid dollars, it’s the wrong message to send for economic development. It’s an interesting argument, not far from the argument I’ve been making regarding Live 8 – I’ve just bought his book and will review it here in the next couple of weeks.