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Kevin Myers: Africa has to learn lessons -- the hard way if necessary

Writing on these pages two days ago, Concern's CEO Tom Arnold wrote: "I am being constantly asked by people 'Why food shortages in Ethiopia again? Why are we always being asked for money to keep people alive there? What is the Government doing?'"

The questions were good. How did he answer them? Well, he didn't. For he continued. "The implication is that the Ethiopian government is doing nothing. . . The implication is that nothing has changed."

Tom. Do us a favour. Spare us what you think people might be implying when asking these questions, and simply answer them. So back to question one: "Why food shortages in Ethiopia again?" Go on: the answer please. Question two. "Why are we always being asked for money to keep people alive?" The answer, again, please. Question three. "What is the Government doing. . ?" Oh please.

True, later he pointed to a rise in food prices as a sort of general explanation for why six million Ethiopians now need feeding. (But food prices have risen round the world. And six million people are not queueing for foreign relief in India or Brazil). He added that a number of measures were needed, including watershed management, environmental regeneration, greater use of drought resistant crops, da da da da. . . "It takes time to achieve structural strange," he cautioned. Indeed it does. But if structural change is being simply overwhelmed by population increase, then it can achieve nothing.

There's one word that all our aid agencies never use when asking us for more money: demographics. I'll go over this again (just in case there's some other body of state-employed bullying layabouts which hasn't yet hauled me up before the Press Council or An Garda Siochana for having the temerity to disagree with them, and they think now it's their turn to have a go). So let's stick with Ethiopia, which at the height of the famine 25 years ago, had a population of around 34 million. Its population (conservatively) is now 72 million.

Excuse me. Just what on earth are we doing, continuing to sponsor, subsidise, promote, encourage and reward population growth at such catastrophic levels? What will we get, but only tens of millions more Ethiopians expecting us to feed them? Then scores of millions; then hundreds of millions. Though of course, at some stage, sooner or later, we shall stop feeding them, simply because. . . oh, just because.

Ethiopia is the sterling exemplar of why it's time we seriously re-examined our responses to the gathering catastrophe that is Africa.

One, its population growth is out of control. Two, it cannot feed the people that it has, never mind the future population it is generating. Three, its already deplorable water-management skills are deteriorating. Four, rapid environmental degradation is reducing the absolute amount of agricultural land available to grow crops. Five, Islamic fundamentalism is growing amongst Ethiopia's millions of Muslims. Six, for all the billions poured into Ethiopia, we haven't even demanded the basic quid pro quo, that Ethiopia abandon female circumcision, which kills thousands of little girls every year.

In other words, this is the genuine nightmare state, whose only prospects are more population growth, more environmental degradation, and more famine, prompting rescue and chronic dependency: to be followed by more population growth, more environmental degradation and more famine, prompting another rescue, and an even more chronic dependency: followed by even more population growth, et cetera. And that's it. That's been the pattern over the past 25 years, with absolutely no prospect of that pattern changing -- none whatever.

Moreover, this vicious and idiotic cycle is protected and perpetuated by a coercive and dogmatic silence in the lands which fund it. Even to say this cycle is self-destructive madness is to court allegations of racism. When I wrote on this subject last year, I was subjected to a criminal investigation by An Garda Siochana, one half-witted prig in the 'Irish Daily Mail' virtually compared me

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with Eichmann, and the Press Council said my remarks were "offensive to Africans in Ireland". Ah, the poor dears.

Listen. There should be nothing quite as offensive to Africans -- here or anywhere -- as Africans starving to death in Africa, by their tens of millions, as they will certainly be, unless Africa's headlong rush to armageddon is halted. That means Africans having to learn simple things like sexual continence, and long-term planning, and deferred reward. We cannot teach them. They must teach themselves these lessons, the hard way if necessary.

They have not yet known the hard way. Ethiopia was rescued by outsiders from its self-made famine 25 years ago, and it then rewarded this kindness by promptly doubling its population, but without doubling its own food supply or its economic base. This is stupidity on an epic scale, for which only Ethiopia is answerable. Furthermore, it's long overdue that the Irish people abandoned their patronising and racist conceit that we can save Africa. We can't. Only Africans can save Africa, and the longer we interfere in their business, and the longer we continue to reward the outstretched begging bowl, then the longer it will take Africa to learn that basic lesson.