Monday, June 27, 2005

Editorials Gone Wild -- uncensored

Below you will find my first foray into the realm of full length editorials. I figured I should post it myself in its purer form before the higher-ups get their hands on it and crap all over it. It's already been highly edited/watered down in as much as that because it's an editorial, it's speaking for the whole newspaper. If it was an opinion piece, I could pretty much say whatever I wanted. All in due time, young grasshopper...all in due time.


With nearly half of its population ‘living’ (and the term is used loosely) on less than a dollar a day, with many countries burdened with billions of dollars in external debt, and with more than 25 million people suffering from AIDS, Africa has no doubt found itself in dire need of outside assistance. Some claim fault lies in lack of education, others claim that the external debt is choking off economic opportunity — but all of these can be traced to one source — corruption.

So what is the ‘developed’ world doing to alleviate such destitution? Chiding the United States for not doing enough, of course — all while doing a fraction of the job done by the U.S.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States leads the world in foreign aid donations with some $58 billion donated since 2001, followed by Japan with $37 billion. However, despite ranking at the top of total amount donated, the United States ranks near the bottom of donations as a percentage of GNP. When held to the standard of the U.N.-agreed goal of 0.7 percent of GNP (agreed to in 2000, agreed to reach by 2015), only five nations — Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands — with the rest of the world sorely lagging behind.

But regardless of methods used for measuring donations, and despite the holier-than-thou finger pointing and criticisms, one thing is clear: whatever is being done to assist Africa obviously falls short of solving the problem. Theoretically, if the top 20 nations had met the goal of 0.7 percent of GNP, worldwide aid donations would have likely surpassed the trillion-dollar mark. But would anything have changed?

The fact of the matter is that despite the tripling of aid ¬— more than a quarter of a trillion dollars total between 1975 and 2000 — there is little progress to be seen on the African continent. Actually, GNP per capita has declined from $1,770 to $1,479 over the same 25-year period.

Where is the money going? Definite figures are hard to come by, but there are some assumptions that can be made. For example, in the former colony of Zaire (now the Republic of the Congo) the nation was the recipient of five billion dollars in aid, and President Motobu Sese Seko mysteriously became the owner of a four billion dollar fortune. A recent study by Elizabeth Blunt of the BBC also found that corruption costs the African continent some $150 billion every year.

Corruption is so central in perpetuating the dire situation in Africa, that even Bono, Irish rock star turned activist, admitted its toll on Africa in a recent interview on Meet the Press saying “[Corruption] is the number-one problem facing Africa. Corruption; not natural calamity, not the AIDS virus. This is the number-one issue and there's no way around it.” Not to mention the fact that in a 10 year period, sub-Saharan Africa experienced 92 attempted military coups in 29 countries.

So despite the good intentions from wealthy, Western nations, it doesn’t seem likely that the billions of dollars in donations are being spent on medicine and schoolbooks. The sad truth is that after the summits, photo-ops and self-gratifying love-fests of world leaders, millions of Africans remain deprived, diseased, and despondent.

Vastly increasing aid contributions with no concern for results accomplishes little, and improves nothing but the egos of Western leaders. Recognizing this, President Bush founded the Millennium Challenge Account (MCA) in which increased aid contributions are contingent on increased results — which aims to ensure that the billions of dollars received by impoverished nations are used effectively.

Aside from various economic requirements such as GNP per capita, there are 16 other indicators in the three categories of ‘governing justly,’ ‘investing in people’ and ‘promoting economic freedom.’ To qualify for funding, a nation must score above the median in half of the indicators in each category, as well as in the area of ‘control of corruption.’

The MCA is a promising prospect, to be sure, and it is certainly an improvement over the horribly inefficient and ineffective blanket donations that have been the modus operandi over the last several decades. It focuses purely on development, and does so without awarding a blank check with simply the hope that it will be used effectively.

However, the MCA could face the same destiny as other government entities before it — a fate of ineffectiveness, under-funding, and bureaucratic slothfulness. Funding for the MCA has already been reduced by congress by over a billion dollars per year, and it remains to be seen how administrators plan to ensure the actual ‘on the ground’ implementation of MCA policies. There is also evidence that current MCA requirements put the poorest countries at an exponential disadvantage. However, it seems that this can be remedied by a simple procedural change. But with all its faults, the MCA is a step in the right direction, and at the same time a step away from the discredited status quo.

The MCA is not likely to be popular among the holier-than-thou progressives of Europe who believe that dollar signs denote compassion and that intentions trump results. However, it seems that the Bush administration is of the opinion that, when faced with the decision, true compassion and nobility lie in ‘teaching men to fish,’ rather than donating billions upon billions of fish every year — fish that will likely be used for nefarious purposes.

Or, we could continue the status quo of pouring billions and billions of dollars into an irresponsible, unaccountable system and being lectured to by foreign leaders and aging Irish rock stars who, instead of actually achieving results, seem to be more interested in holding press conferences, patting each other on the back and singing impromptu versions of ‘We are the World.’


Anonymous Kimberly said...

Hey, that's not bad at all! Congrats!

4:54 PM  

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