Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Bottomless Pit

[Posted by Callimachus]

The horrific woes of sub-Saharan Africa and its people have been articulately outlined in many reports and articles I've read in the last 10 years. Many are libertarian or conservative productions, which seem more intent on emphasizing the failure of the Euro-socialist attempt to solve Africa's problems by a blind flood of cash. Yet even after I got the point, I'd come away not with the argument foremost in mind, but with the image of the awful state of life for so many people.

Here's a good recent piece that tries to get deeper into the problem.

[Paul] Theroux was a member of the Peace Corps on his original visit to Malawi. In Dark Star Safari he says it is not for him to blame the Africans who inherited the estate for “chopping the trees up for firewood, or slashing the hedges, or growing cassava where I had grown petunias”, or even for turning an English chalet-bungalow into an unlovely hut. Yet he feels bound to comment on the needless and preventable dereliction. “I did regret that the paint had peeled from the trim and eaves, that the wood had rotted and brickwork had cracked and the windows had slipped from their frames.”

Malawi suffered under a long-term despot, Dr Hastings Banda, but it’s hard to see how he can be blamed for the universal desolation. Yet as soon as Theroux asks whose fault it is, “the government” is blamed: two million dollars from a European donor country had allegedly been embezzled by Malawi’s finance minister. And when he finds all the books in a once useful library have been stolen, and it is now “a black hole of ignorance and plunder”, a young visitor from Scotland, keen to do good wherever good can be done, says defensively that there’s “a serious money shortage.”

But that’s not the point. What is missing at the Soche School has to do with attitude and morale. What is lacking is work and care. “How much does a broom cost?” Theroux asks. “The students could sweep this place and cut the grass. I don’t think it’s a money problem. I think it’s more serious. No one cares. You’re here from Scotland to do the work, and you’re willing, so why should anyone help?” A deep dependency has taken root. The prevailing attitude is that if someone will come all the way from Scotland to sweep the floor, why not let them?

Just because some of the possible answers are disturbing, we're not entitled to dodge the questions.