Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Money for Nothing

An interesting story lies deep in this Spiegel article about the European awakening to the fact that simply throwing money at Africa doesn't help it, and may actually hurt.

It concerns the modern nation of Namibia, which briefly was a German colony, from 1884 to 1915, as Deutsch-Südwestafrika, during the Kaiser's quest for a place in the sun. In 1904 and '05, German troops put down a native revolt, killing as many as 65,000 people, among them many women and children. "Certainly one motive for German aid development is to make up for this brutality," Der Spiegel reports.

The article tells of the new 203-kilometer road connecting the Zambian copper belt to the Namibian port of Walvis Bay.

So that it didn't look like charity, the Zambians contributed 4.1 percent of the $30 million road, which was financed by the German Bank for Reconstruction. But just before the road was to be inaugurated, at the beginning of 2004, the government in Lusaka announced that it wouldn't pay.

The Germans then had to come up with extra funds so that the South African contractor would carry on with the work. They also had to pay the interest accumulated on account of the delay.

On May 13, 2004 the then president of Namibia, Sam Nujoma, attended the opening celebrations, along with the Zambian president Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, so that they could be praised for having built the wonderful road. Banners were put up with the words "thank you, Sam Nujoma, thank you, Levy Mwanawasa." The German ambassador came anyway. Shortly before the inauguration a small metal sign, noting German involvement in the project, was put up on the bridge crossing the Sambesi, which marks the border between the two countries.

Amazingly, Namibia doesn't even need the money. It is one of the wealthiest countries on the continent, with a solid infrastructure, a growth rate of 3.7 percent and a per capita income 10 times higher than that of Chad or Ethiopia.

Since Namibia's independence 15 years ago, Germany has donated more than €400 million. Sudan, on the other hand, which is much poorer and has 16 times as many inhabitants, receives €100 million less. Nevertheless, in 2003 Berlin increased Namibia's already enormous development aid by 50 percent.

All this, when Namibia's leader, Sam Nujoma, believes that his people actually don't need any help. The Africans are every bit as good as the Europeans, he said to Britain's Prime Minister, Tony Blair, "and to hell with those who think differently."

That hasn't stopped Nujoma from begging the government in Berlin for money for the planned land reform. Minister Wieczorek-Zeul didn't disappoint him. Now German tax revenue is helping to finance the legally controversial ousting of German farmers from their land.

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