Wofie's post on the futility of charity in Africa, a rider to Kevin Myers' article in the Irish Independent, gave me pause for thought. Are we wasting our money keeping poor children alive, so that they can grow up to be gangster-soldiers? If abortion is the answer to the criminal classes (not actually advocated as such by the authors of "Freakonomics"), is starvation the solution to civil war in Africa?
"Africa’s peoples are outstripping their resources, and causing catastrophic ecological degradation," says Myers. Perhaps, if they do things as they have done before. But on that basis, one would never have predicted the growth of Europe's population to its current size.
One of my relations by marriage went to Kenya to try his fortune some years ago, and having married a local girl from the Kikuyu tribe, bought a farm. His new wife is clever and sent off for pamphlets on farming, from which she learned that you can multiply the productivity of your land by companion-planting several crops. I wonder how much more food Africa could produce if agricultural skills there were better developed and disseminated.
Even in Europe, there are disparities in efficiency. Up to the end of World War 2, my grandfather had a farm in East Prussia. His 600 acres produced at least as much as the 2,000-acre farms of his neighbours. He compounded this advantage by diddling the taxman, telling the latter that as a simple farmer, he didn't understand finance and would the taxman please assess him on what his land could be judged to yield. You may be sure that he paid his tax bill without argument.
And what about modernising energy supplies, too? As a child, I saw a map of the Congo Basin and fantasised about damming the encircling ring of mountain ranges to make the world's greatest hydro-electric project, supplying the electricity needs for the whole of Africa. Of course, I hadn't considered ecological consequences; but in the Sixties, all I ever (over)heard of "ecology" was an brief, excited discussion between two of my teachers. This doesn't vitiate the argument for looking for efficient energy production that doesn't require chopping down all the forests to cook on wood fires like traditional tribespeople, or middle-class hippies.
Yes, some African countries are spectacularly badly governed; but I don't think we should rush to a money-saving despair for their peoples.