Yesterday there was a town hall meeting at Holman United Methodist Church in Los Angeles, California to discuss US policy in Africa. It was hosted by California’s 37 District Congresswoman, Karen Bass. The goal of the town hall was to not only encourage more trade with Africa but to also have more African business set up shop in Los Angeles along with raising more awareness about the continent of Africa overall.
While Africa is old in the sense of its land and is known as “the cradle of civilization.” It is rather new when it comes to democratic institutions as well as being free from colonization. The 54 countries in Africa (remember, Africa is a continent, not a country) pretty much gained their independence during the 60s and 70’s. However, you might be surprised to learn that Ethiopia was never colonized. [African Independence Days] Or that Liberia was started by free Black men and women of American and Carribean descent. And though Liberia was settled by the American Colonization Society, they were not your typical colony. For no other nation claimed them. It wasn’t until 1862 that they were recognized by the US as a nation. “Liberia is the only African republic to have self-proclaimed independence without gaining independence through revolt from any other nation, being Africa’s first and oldest republic. Liberia maintained and kept its independence during the European colonial era.” [Liberia]
The United States has had a tenuous relationship with African since the days of slavery, but outside of Liberia, America has never claimed African land for its own. Now that we know a bit about Africa, we will look at what our current foreign policy is in Africa and some of the problems with doing business with Africa.
Current Policy on Africa
The majority of our policy involves creating infrastructure for Africa. One of the projects that are being undertaken is Power Africa, which would supply Africa with electricity. In fact, according to Ms. Bass two-thirds of Africa does not have electricity. Karen Bass even admitted that the most progressive liberals were not 100 percent behind this project because they want them to solely concentrate on renewable energy. “That is easy to say when you can go to the back of the room and turn on a light,” she told the room. While the people in Africa have no problem incorporating renewable energy into their lives, they should not be forbidden from using other electrical sources, including fossil fuels. The Industrial Revolution was able to take off here and in Europe because we were able to use fossil fuels, to now tell African countries they cannot is elitist and imperialistic. (To use language, liberals understand.)
According to the printout of facts, we each were given at the town hall the start-up of this project is the following: “Power Africa initial $7 billion commitment has already mobilized more than $20 billion in private sector commitments to invest in power generation and distribution across Sub-Saharan Africa.” I think it is great that 20 million has been raised by the private sector to help light up Africa. The more Africa becomes modernized the more it will be able to compete on the global market and that will help lift the poorest countries in Africa out of poverty. And that is exactly where the money should be coming from the private sector. My problem is we have 7 billion to help light up Africa but no money for Cost of Living Allowances for those on Social Security. We tell our homeless, especially our homeless vets, we have no money for them. Why is that 7 billion not being used to help poor Americans with no electricity like those in Appalachia?
Power Africa has been in effect for two years under an Executive Order of Obama. You know how Obama loves his executive orders. Now we haven’t heard of this in any mainstream news outlet because let’s face it-it’s Africa. If it was France or Germany, the news would have been everywhere. We could have built strip clubs and meth labs over there and no one would have been the wiser. While the initial outlay was $27 billion, two years in the program has grown to $32 billion in private and public funding.
That is not the only program Obama launched by Executive Order. The other is Doing Business in Africa (DBIA). Once again, all the information comes directly from the Congresswoman and the handouts she provided at the town hall. According to that handout: ‘The E.O (Executive Order) directs the Secretary of Commerce to establish a President’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa that will be comprised of not more than 15 members of the private members of the private sector, including small businesses. ” Okay, here are my problems with this, why is not more than 15? So basically as long as they have one member that is private sector they are in the clear? Next, how big is the board? Are we talking a 15 member board, in which that would be the total board so that makes sense or are we talking a 30, 40, 50 member board? In that, case why limit it to 15? Why not make it make it so the private sector is 1/2 the board or 3/4 quarters of the board instead of limiting its overall number? Also, although it mentions small businesses, the likelihood of them being included is rather small. It is rather unlikely the Secretary of Commerce is going to have his staff run down small businesses so they can sit on the Council.
Here is how I see it, if you are really interested in American businesses doing business in Africa, you want as many on board as you can, not as little. Now maybe the other 15 slots are for African businesses, that’s fantastic, however,the handout doesn’t mention any African countries sitting on the board just various governmental agencies that will work with them in various capacities. In fact, there are 11 governmental agencies sitting on the board each with their own agenda which I am sure makes for very smooth, non-bureaucratic meetings. The agencies that are associated with it are:
- U.S Export-Import Bank
- Millennium Challenge Corporation
- Overseas Private Investment Corporation
- U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA)
- U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA)
- U.S Department of State
- U.S Department of Commerce
- U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)
- U.S. Department of Transportation
- U.S. Department of Energy
- Office of the United States Trade Representative
Now according to the fact Sheet there is some good news in all this: “Taken together these new commitments (including Power Africa) amount to more than $33 billion dollars, supporting economic growth Africa and tens of thousands U.S. jobs.” Which is great, America needs jobs. Because let’s be real if America was to perish because they were too busy taking care of others and not themselves would good would that do Africa? However, tens of thousands of jobs is rather vague isn’t it? Are we talking more like 10,000 or 90,000? Why the uncertainty about how many American jobs? Is that because everyone on the committee is more focused on African jobs than American jobs?
The Problems with Africa: Corruption
An African man during the town hall got up and asked, “I have heard no one talk about the major problem in Africa, corruption. The money never gets to where it is supposed to go. It is a waste of taxpayer money.” Now had that man been American he would most likely be booed off the stage, so to speak, but since he was African he was given applause. As well as he should have been. That is a real problem on the African continent.
There is a company called Transparency International (TI) which looks at corruption around the world. It then places the country on a scale according to how corrupt they are. If you get a 0 you are very corrupt. If you get a 100 you are very clean. The most corrupt country in the world is Somalia. More corrupt than Iran or Iraq. Even more corrupt than Syria. It is dead last at 168. (There are 220 countries in the world but some of them were tied, so we end up with 168) Transparency International is an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) which means while they work closely with governments they are not tied to any specific one, therefore, they are able to be more objective when scrutinizing various governments. Somalia received an 8 out of a possible 100.
The highest ranking African country, in terms non-corruption, is Botswana. It has a ranking of 63 and lands 28 on the list. For instance, The Millennium Challenge Corporation “expects to commit nearly $2 billion by the end of 2015, nearly doubling its $1 billion dollar commitment. MCC is implementing power compacts in Ghana, Malawi and is developing energy sectors in Bein, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania.” Now let’s look at the corruption of those countries.
So the United States has just given 2 billion dollars to some of the most corrupt countries in the world. Let’s take them in order: Ghana has a rating of 47 and is #56 on the list. Malawi has a rating of 31 and is #112 on the list. Benin has a rating of 37 is #83 on the list. Liberia has a rating of 37 is tied with Benin at #83 on the list. Sierra Leone has a rating of 29 and is #119 on the list. Lastly, Tanzania has a rating of 30 and is #117 on the list. [Ratings] Not one country on the list has a rating above 5o and yet we just sent them 2 billion dollars. And why did we send them money? So, we could do business with corrupt countries. In fact, according to TI, Tanzania has become more corrupt since 2012. In 2012, their score was 35 and now it is 30. So why are we doing business with these countries if they cannot even show an improvement overcoming corruption?
Here is the thing, this is all PRIVATE sector. “Our 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating serious levels of public sector corruption.” [TI] So while your usual solution of using the private sector to get the needed funds to the people, in these cases it is the private sector is the problem and we all know if they private sector is that bad, the government is worse, so what is the solution? Is it NGOs with their associations with various governments without actually belonging to any one or as they just as corrupt as the private sector? Is it MNC (multi-national corporations) that can move in and out of countries with ease or do they just invite corruption? There is no easy solution but giving corrupt countries our money is not going be any help either.
Should we help Africa? Yes, of course, we should. As good Christians, we are all called to help those less fortunate. So anything we can do to help those in need in Africa we should not hesitate to do. However, if our efforts are being thwarted by corruption then all our time and efforts are for naught. My church works with an organization that makes sanitary napkins for young girls so that they can go to school when it is that time of the month. While I can’t remember the name right now, I do know my church is real good at making sure whatever we do gets to the people who are supposed to get it.
So helping Africa is not really the point here. It is doing it in the best possible way that will provide the aid they need without creating more national debt on our side. While I still think NGOs are the possible solution we have to make sure they are not corrupt as well. One such example is Heifer International: “We empower families to turn hunger and poverty into hope and prosperity – but our approach is more than just giving them a handout. Heifer links communities and helps bring sustainable agriculture and commerce to areas with a long history of poverty. Our animals provide partners with both food and reliable income, as agricultural products such as milk, eggs and honey can be traded or sold at market.”
According to Charity Navigator, an organization which tracks charities and ranks them according to their financial records and their overall transparency, Heifer International is a highly ranked charity. The highest score a charity can receive is 100. Heifer International received an 82.5 and received 3 out of 4 stars. It also received 4 stars in terms of transparency. They had a total score of 97. Oxfam, which is similar to Heifer International, was considered one of its top ten charities. [Charity Navigator] Using resources like this we can ensure what goes to African villages stays in African villages.
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