It’s hard to pinpoint an exact moment when the Western obsession with saving Africa started, but it certainly hasn’t ended. More than one writer has speculated that the U.S. is nursing a guilt complex over its opulence and has sent billions of dollars in foreign aid and hundreds of thousands of college students, mission teams and nonprofit organizations over to Africa as penance.
And while these things might assuage the guilt, how much good is it all really doing?
Between 1981 and 2010, the World Bank estimates the number of poor people in the world dropped by about 700 million. However, a quarter of countries in sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than they were in 1960—despite receiving well over $500 billion in aid.
As The Spectator observes, the cycle of poverty cannot be broken by an influx of foreign money, since it’s created by economic institutions that block incentives and opportunities for citizens. This is the attitude of a growing number of experts: The unending flow of money and volunteer efforts may be necessary, but they are not enough, as they often end up supporting the very institutions that need to be restructured.
Experts point to China, which has seen its poverty rate plummet to about 5 percent in recent years, all without a tidal wave of aid. Instead, the country has focused on for-profit businesses and investing in agriculture, which has grown its economy and provided jobs and opportunities for many in poverty. Of the 700 million the World Bank estimates were raised out of poverty over the last 30 years, 600 million of them are Chinese. It seems fair to guess that what worked in Asia could work in Africa, too.
“I hope people will realize Africa doesn’t want to be saved,” writes Nigerian author Uzodinma Iweala in an op-ed for the Washington Post. “Africa wants the world to acknowledge that through fair partnerships with other members of the global community, we ourselves are capable of unprecedented growth.”