Time to wean ourselves from aid dependence

04 Aug, 2019 - 00:08 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Monica Cheru

A good number of Zimbabweans have recently been discussing the ascendancy of Boris Johnson to become the new British prime minister insofar as what it would mean for relations between Harare and London.

Will the “British Trump” take a soft line towards Zimbabwe or will he push the same old agenda?

Will he influence the American Trump to take a similar stance towards our nation?

The reason why we are so keenly interested is because we will have to live with the result of whatever decisions Johnson takes.

We will feel the impact in our daily lives.

Which is a rather unhappy and dangerous state for an allegedly sovereign nation: to be dependent on the whims of  leaders of countries that are a million miles away geographically, socially, economically and culturally; to be at the mercy of privileged white males who have no clue what it means to be a black Zimbabwean, or any other African.

I believe that having already suffered the pain of censure by the Western powers, Zimbabwe is in a unique space to make history.

Instead of continuing to look for approbation and succour from our erstwhile colonial masters in the form of aid, we should be shaking off the yoke of dependence.

Not that I am advocating that we abandon the re-engagement drive.

Far from it. But we need to remove the “beggar” tag when we go to the negotiating table.

As long as we engage as the poor cousins praying for aid, there will be no progress in our nation.

Although the jury is still out on whether aid has harmed or benefited Africa, there are figures that do not lie.

In spite of billions reportedly spent by the West on aid in Africa, the continent remains an underdeveloped continent by all standard markers.

Possibly because a huge chunk of the “aid” is really used to sponsor warfare.

And the amount that is pushed towards humanitarian and development programmes is further significantly reduced through salaries and allowances for foreign aid workers.

We can quibble about the how and why aid has not uplifted Africa into a developed continent, but that bottom line will not change.

The African continent will not rise on the back of aid.

No nation can force development on another.

With an increasingly young population, Zimbabwe and the rest of Africa have to urgently turn towards sustainable legacies.

This is so important that the World Bank has dedicated a 24-hour “Econothon” — marathon talks on economics — to discuss Africa’s young population.

In Zimbabwe, we are already seeing overwhelming pressure on basics such as health delivery, education, shelter and food.

What will it look like in the next decade when the population hits 30 million if current levels of unemployment are not dealt with?

Earlier this year, organisations like FAO estimated that approximately 2,4 million people, making up about 28 percent of the rural Zimbabwe population, would have become severely food insecure by March 2019, with figures expected to rise as the year progresses.

This is something that is quite common in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole since most nations continue to rely on rain-fed agriculture.

The answer has been to wait for the big white saviour in the form of organisations like USAID to move in with food aid.

This is tantamount to the State institutionalising dependency on donors for the survival of certain demographic groups.

That is not acceptable and we cannot continue to pretend that the country will develop with such a mindset informing our policies.

Which is where China comes into the equation.

China is now the world financial powerhouse to watch.

China has turned to Africa as a potential partner in changing the balance of power to create more equitable space for the global south on the world stage.

Does the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (Focac) provide a realistic option for Zimbabwe and other African countries to take control of their own destinies and write the future history that they desire?

Can the Belt and Road Initiative drive Africa to developed world status?

Announcing the latest US$60 billion three-year Focac package for Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that Chinese funds are not for “vanity projects” in Africa.

“Inadequate infrastructure is believed to be the biggest bottleneck to Africa’s development,” he said.

Thus, Focac funding should not be viewed as a panacea for all of Africa’s ills, but a viable option to the Western aid and debt-trap model.

There are lessons to be learnt from China’s story.

Statistics say between 1981 and 2013, China lifted 850 million of its citizens out of poverty, with the percentage of people living in extreme poverty falling from 88 percent to 1,85 percent of the total population.

But that success story will not be duplicated in Zimbabwe or any other African country without concise action plans.

This was no fluke, but the result of concise plans and implementation.

Poverty reduction programmes in China are not foreign-aid-driven initiatives designed in some Western city.

They are village-based, with government officials shouldering responsibility through strong monitoring and evaluation systems where results cannot be fudged to reflect false and superficial success in reports for remote donors.

We need to identify the infrastructure projects which will have high impact.

We have a lot of potential in our agriculture sector and that is the backbone that should drive all other considerations.

Our land laws and policies need to be made more investor-friendly without mortgaging the country afresh.

Whoever we are turning to for partnership in our development, the drive for development has to start with us.

It is only our dreams and aspirations turned into action that can propel us to create the country that our own baby boomers can live in with dignity.

We cannot continue depending on white males in distant lands that have never been to Zimbabwe to take pity on us.

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