Friday, July 18, 2008

Should we let Africa starve?

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.


Wolfie said...

I don't think Myers was suggesting that we "let Africa starve" at all although indeed I think a lot of people, particularly of a left-ish bent seem to think he was as they crank out the usual race-speech twaddle. He is suggesting that by helping Africa too much it is preventing it from helping itself. Lets face it Europe has seen dark days and nobody turned up to assist and maybe that's what helped move us forward. This point has been missed in the fog of indignant rhetoric.

Wolfie said...

Oh yes, you should see this film if you can.

Sackerson said...

Doctor Johnson explained that he gave to a beggar, so that he could "beg on". I think he meant that every extra day of life is a blessing, but also that while there's life there's hope. I still believe Africa could be far more prosperous and self-sufficient if the continent wasn't being stripped by outsiders and ruled by cruel tyrants. Surely we can do something to encourage them to improve their agriculture and modernise their energy sources.

Wolfie said...

Amen to that.

Liz Hinds said...

I agree with your comment here.

Our church helps support a children's village in Zambia (orphanage for AIDS-orphans). We've been fund-raising to build a new dormitory and during the time we've been collecting - 18 months - the cost has almost doubled. It's partly because of rising costs but also because of the money that has to be paid to get the plans approved. But though the system can be dodgy, until that can be changed, there are still children in need and we want to help them.

Anonymous said...

They should be left to get on with it. We are foolishly creating a global crisis much greater than 'global warming'. Sorry, but its not my problem.