Editorial: Shame of African leadership

Before I became a Hammersmith-bound desk-jockey, I used to travel a bit for work in the developing world: India, Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe, Egypt, Ethiopia, The Gambia, California ... On one occasion I spent a fortnight in Papua New Guinea and picked up some pidgin. 'Namba wan pikinini bilong misis kwin' is, of course, Prince Charles.

by Matthew Gwyther, MT editor
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Now, my observations gained from small-time globe-trotting don't give me anything like the depth of experience or insight in the field of globalisation enjoyed by Joseph Stiglitz. (Nor am I ever likely to receive a Nobel prize for economics.) However, I'm worried by his argument that the failures of globalisation lie only at our door: that poor countries are done down solely by the machinations of rich nations and multinationals.

Take the example of the horrific state of Zimbabwe, a beautiful place.

It is currently run by a vicious, kleptocratic tinpot Marxist who has totally screwed up his homeland in a now classic post-colonial African blend of corruption and mismanagement. What makes someone like Mugabe's crimes so heinous is that his country had real potential: a fertile land, a serviceable infrastructure and a host of goodwill from the West.

Like so many African leaders, he has let down his people. It is to the continuing shame of the continent-leading regime in South Africa that it steadfastly refuses to utter one word of criticism about its neighbour from hell.

I don't believe that the twin institutions of the IMF and the World Bank are peopled by saints, either. If they actually got down from their fully-specced Toyota Landcruisers and spent time among the poor they are supposed to help it might be a good start. We prosperous countries can be clumsy and arrogant in the way we distribute loans and aid in the developing world; we can hinder where we seek to help. But the West has rightly grown wary of simply throwing cash unchecked at the developing world's problems because so much of it is either naively wasted or actually stolen.

What I do know, though, is that the three-month-old child covered in scabies I observed at a hospital in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, watched by her eerily calm teenage mother, died from the effects of poverty. The only way out of this is for poor countries to get wealthier so that they can afford their own doctors and honest civil servants and engineers and teachers. (And, by the way, journalists who are allowed to write the truth about what they see.) So even if the trade isn't always 100% 'fair' - and that is a term fraught with ambiguity - in the short term it is better than nothing.

Anyway, rant over. Do read the Stiglitz profile. He deserves hearing out.

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