President Bush's trip to Africa and promise of increased foreign aid will do little or nothing to solve the ongoing tragedy in most places on the south-of-Sahara African continent. Kenya is on the brink of a civil war. More than 1,000 people have been killed and another 300,000 made homeless. Rebels have invaded Chad.
In the Darfur region of the Sudan, millions of people have been displaced in a genocidal war. Ethiopia and Eritrea threaten war again. Somalian warlords are in a pitched battle. Zimbabwe, once an independent, thriving jewel on the continent, now ruled by a tyrant, is on the brink of disaster, experiencing a 66,000 percent rate of inflation, expected to be more than 100,000 percent by year's end. To put that inflation in perspective, the government has recently started printing 10 million Zimbabwe dollar notes. A hamburger sells for 15 million Zimbabwe dollars.
The recent African carnage is by no means new. During a 100-day period in 1994, an estimated 800,000 Rwandans, mostly Tutsis, were killed. There were an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 Ugandans murdered under the brutal rule of Idi Amin. Liberia, Ivory Coast and the Congo have been racked by war, and slavery exists to this day in Mauritania and Sudan. Added to this carnage is gross corruption, AIDS, famine and repression.
African leaders, and many people on the left, blame Africa's problems on the evils of colonialism. They sometimes blame the violence on the borders colonialists created that ignored ethnicity. Many African nations have been independent for four decades. If colonial borders were a major problem, how come they haven't changed them? And, by the way, colonialism cannot explain Third World poverty.
Some of today's richest countries are former colonies, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. Some of today's poorest countries were never colonies, such as Ethiopia, Liberia, Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. The colonialism argument is simply a cover-up for African dictators.
The worst thing the West can do to Africa is to give more foreign aid. For the most part, foreign aid is government to government. As such, it provides the financial resources that enable Africa's grossly corrupt and incompetent regimes to buy military equipment, pay off cronies and continue to oppress their people. It also provides resources for the leaders to live lavishly and set up "retirement" accounts in foreign banks.
Africa is the world's most natural-resources rich continent. It has 50 percent of the world's gold, most of the world's diamonds and chromium, 90 percent of the cobalt, 40 percent of the world's potential hydroelectric power, 65 percent of the manganese, and millions of acres of untilled farmland, as well as other natural resources. Before independence, every African country was self-sufficient in food production; today, many depend on imports, and others stand at the brink of famine.
The only people who can solve the problems of Africa are Africans themselves. It is only they who can change their leaders, end corruption and bring about transparency in government and end the African wars. Only they can stop the continent's massive brain drain. This was brought home to me a number of years ago at a dinner I was invited to in honor of a new Nigerian ambassador to the United States. During his speech, he admonished the Nigerian professionals in attendance to come home to help the country develop. The Nigerians seated at my table, and nearby tables, fell into quiet laughter.Most of what Africa needs, the West cannot give: rule of law, private property rights, fewer economic restrictions, independent judiciary and limited government. The one important thing we can do to help is to lower our trade barriers.
Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.