Reducing US Foreign Aid Will Help Africa, Scholars Say

By Josiah Ryan | July 7, 2008 | 8:18pm EDT

( - Scholars participating in a panel discussion at the libertarian Cato Institute Wednesday called for a partial divestment of aid to troubled African states as a solution to that continent's many problems. One scholar said the foreign aid is so damaging that he hopes to see more of it stolen by corrupt government officials.

"If someone really cared about Africa, they would do the very opposite of what we have done so far," said panelist Edward N. Luttwak, senior associate at the Center for International and Strategic Studies. "Foreign aid blocks the emergence of organic entities which are waiting to emerge and gives the government legitimacy.

"I wish there was more corruption in Sudan," he said. "If it's wasted, it does less harm. Somebody takes the money, feeds his family, and [that] means that there are less soldiers running around with weapons shooting each other."

The other panelists at the discussion, entitled "Let Failing African Governments Collapse: A Radical Solution to Underdevelopment," included and

Vicki Huddleston, a visiting fellow with the liberal Brookings Institution, told Cybercast News Service that the idea that foreign aid damages Africa is nonsensical. Also, the panel's view of how aid is distributed in Africa demonstrates "ignorance" about what's really happening, she said.

"We do it very well - the money - and for the most part we oversee it, there is accountability, and we know how it is being used," Huddleston said. "Most of it is going to much-respected, well-known organizations."

Huddleston said that in Sudan, for instance, most of the money is going to run refugee camps.

Mauro De Lorenzo, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that sending foreign aid to Africa relieves leaders there of responsibility to their own taxpayers. "If you are getting money from the people you are representing, you are much more likely to treat them well than if you are getting it from the United States," he said.

George Ayittey, an economics professor at American University, said that beyond the damage our foreign aid does to the continent, Africa has plenty of its own resources that could be exploited to help its own people instead of Western money.

"The foreign aid resources that Africa needs can be found within Africa itself," Ayittey said. "Africa does not really need our aid."

But Huddleston contended that the amount of aid the West sends Africa is relatively small and that while some African states are rich in resources, Africa also hosts some of the poorest states in the world.

"Africa does need our help, and it certainly isn't a lot of money," she said. "It's a small percentage of our GDP. It's not really a great [amount] of money."

U.S. humanitarian and development aid to Africa is pegged at nearly $5 billion for 2008, according to USAID.

Ayittey noted that no matter how legitimate his argument, suggesting less aid for Africa is an unpopular notion.

"It's extremely difficult to make the case for less aid to Africa," he said. "Even the Bush administration has quadrupled aid. If you propose this idea of withholding aid, you are suddenly accused of being stingy. We need something other than the same old failed paradigm."

Ayittey noted that the idea of foreign aid is especially unpopular among the African political elite. "You tell them to cut government spending, and they will set up a ministry on less government spending," he said. "They are not interested in what Africa needs the most, which is reform."

There was some disagreement among the panelists. De Lorenzo said that Luttwak's idea that withdrawing U.S. resources would help to collapse corrupt regimes was not realistic.

"Letting African states collapse is obviously preposterous and has perhaps moral lessons as well," De Lorenzo said. "We think we are somehow the ones saving these states from collapse and that it is in our power to do so."

But Luttwak contended that the aid was sustaining the corrupt regimes.

Some of the arguments put forth by the panel were viewed as so controversial that moderator Marian Tupy, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute, commented, "We say if you can't say it at Cato, you can't say it anywhere."

If Africans aren't going to receive aid, I am sure these scholars are calling on us not to give aid to anyone. For the richest country in the world to become so parsimonious that we can't give even a little bit makes me sick, especially when most of it goes for health and education," Huddleston said .

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