book review: Africa Doesn’t Matter

Africa Doesn’t Matter – How The West Has Failed The Poorest Continent And What We Can Do About It

Author: Giles Bolton

Let me preface this blog post with the following fact.  I am not very familiar with development in sub-Saharan Africa (or anywhere for that matter) and was given this book by my brother in law, to enhance my understanding of how development aid works (or doesn’t).  The book proved to be a good introduction to development aid, trade, and globalization.  The focus of this post will be aid and trade.  Author Giles Bolton broke down the components of development in such a way that made it easy to understand, especially the complexity of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  Mr. Bolton speaks from experience as an aid worker in both Rwanda and Kenya, and his insights were detailed and concise, without getting lost in numbers and statistics.  The three concepts to making development aid effective, according to the author are ownership, capacity and sustainability.

Mr. Bolton breaks down aid into three types: charity aid, national aid and international aid.  Aid to Africa is broken down as follows, approximately 60%  through national aid, 30% by international organizations and about 10% through charity aid.

Charity aid is just as it may sound…driven by charities such as Heifer International, Save the Children, or Doctors without Borders.  This is where you donate a “goat” to a village or dig wells.  National Aid is generally provided by the US or other government’s aid agencies.  Finally, international aid amounts to subsidized loans or grants from the IMF, UN or World Bank.

Another interesting takeaway from the book is the amount of aid promised by western countries.  In 1970 UN General Assembly and their associated governments decided to spend a minimum of 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income (GNI) for aid to poor and developing countries.  As reported by the OECD for 2008, the only governments to eclipse that 0.7 percent threshold are Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  The average contribution is 0.45 percent, with the United States at 0.19 percent.  These facts were also referenced in Bill Gates second Annual Letter.

Trade inequities and imbalances are really hurting Africa, with agricultural subsidies from the west and Europe taking their biggest tolls.  Subsidies on Cotton, Sugar, and Coffee are some of the biggest trade hurdles to face.  This is certainly something I’d like to read more about.  We as consumers have a good deal of power, as Giles Bolton details as a solution in his book.

In summary, the book presented a good introduction to problems and solutions to development aid and trade, especially for someone just now educating themselves about the economic situation in Africa.  If I’m to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced in sub-Saharan Africa and how ICT4D can make a positive impact, I’ll need to broaden my own fundamental understanding. My next read to fill in the gaps and learn more about development is The Bottom Billion by Paul Collier.


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