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Corruption in Africa is biggest block to recovery

US President George W Bush is being widely and vehemently criticised in Europe for a negative approach to African aid. Yet to me, Bush's approach to African aid appears eminently sensible. Bush defended the US role in Africa, pointing out that the US had tripled its aid to sub Saharan Africa in the past four years.

However, as reported in some papers, Bush also said that there were limits to the aid that African countries could possibly expect. "Nobody", said the President, "wants to give money to a country that is corrupt, where leaders take money and put it in their pocket."

Unfortunately, however, President Bush is wrong about the "Nobody". One report went on: "The US response was met with disappointment from across the British aid sector. Oxfam urged Mr Blair not to water down his ambitious proposals on aid, trade and debt.

"International public pressure is building on all of the G8 leaders," said Oxfam's director, Barbara Stocking, "Saving Africa has to remain a higher priority than saving face. To waste this momentum now, to drop the bar and lower the ambition at this actual stage will be seen by many as the betrayal of Africa," she said.

President Bush's incisive criticisms of the pilfering by so many African leaders of the monies quoted for African relief has not been challenged. The people who were lecturing Bush most had been aware both of Bush's criticisms and of the fact that they were well founded.

I am reminded of Lenin's scornful reply to a bunch of American do-gooders who told him that they had come to help the Russians.

"You want to help the Russians?" Lenin said and then asked: "Which Russians?"

Lenin's quotation was cynically motivated, as was often the case with his remarks. But, as well as being cynical, his question was penetrating and is also relevant to our own times. We can see that if we rephrase the question to apply to modern efforts to "help" Africa: "You want to help Africans? Which Africans?" The ones who are actually suffering? Or those who are looting for their own profit monies voted for their assistance.

Only a tiny proportion of the monies voted by governments for "Aid Africa" actually reach those who were supposed to benefit from the aid in question.

Those who are genuinely interested in African aid are not the Western governments, still less the African ones. They are those private enterprises who reach directly to poor Africans. They help to train them to help themselves. And they try to lower the trade barriers which still exclude African products which would be saleable in the rich world if they could find access to markets there. People in Europe and America who genuinely want to help real poor Africans should therefore turn to the charitable organisations.

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That is the broad picture. There are of course many other intractable problems in modern Africa, some of them bizarre. One of the most bizarre is Zimbabwe, where a half crazy dictator, Mugabe, is running an economy which was one of the most prosperous in tropical Africa. The dictator organised a "Take the land back movement," mobilising landless men to take over white farms, which then those who took them over were quite unable to farm.

The dictator then turned against the same uprooted people he had encouraged to seize the farms. Zimbabwe's African neighbours offer Mugabe good advice which he pretends to take, but is incapable of putting into effect. His neighbours put up with this, chattering about "Give him time".

Fortunately, the dictator is now running out of time. Hitherto he has managed to pay his elite troops who have therefore kept him in office. It looks as if with the imminent collapse of Zimbabwe's whole economy, the dictator will be soon incapable of paying even his elite troops. When that moment comes, the troops in question will mutiny, and put an end to his regime. Roll on the day!

Some things, however, change.

An independent news source report on Thursday was headlined "US support for the war in Iraq collapsing, poll shows."

The poll purported to show Bush's deepening unpopularity. When I read that I said to myself: "This is where I came in."

I remembered that for two months before the last presidential election in the United States European polls almost unanimously regularly predicted that Bush was facing a humiliating defeat in the coming presidential election. Knowing the American political scene fairly well at first hand, I repeatedly said pollsters had got it wrong. And they had.

The president was triumphantly re-elected. And I am confident that this time the pollsters have got it wrong again. There is every likelihood that the president will serve his full term. He will then choose Condoleezza Rice to succeed him, and overcome her objections. She will then easily win the presidential contest.

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