"Aid must not create parallel channels"

NAIROBI, MARCH 11. African academics have welcomed plans to double aid, cut debts and fight corruption on the continent.

Responding to the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair's Africa Commission report, academics compared the opportunity to the Marshall plan, which helped rebuild Europe after 1945.

``Historically, what Europe's own experience was with the Marshall plan, and how that helped Europe come out of economic and social problems — [compared with that] the amount of money coming to Africa now is quite small,'' said Ebrima Sall, the head of research at the Council for the Development of Social Science Research, in Dakar, Senegal.

``Increasing the amount of aid is a good idea, given all the infrastructure that needs to be built. [But] if you are talking seriously about helping Africa, you need to make sure the aid comes through already existing channels, and strengthen existing institutions rather than weakening them or creating parallel ones.''

Others welcomed the report's call for a doubling of aid by 2010 to $50bn a year, but said the proposal to cancel debts also needed to be carried out.

``Part of aid has got to be major and significant cutting back of existing debts,'' said Keith Gottschalk, the head of political studies at the University of the Western Cape, South Africa. Otherwise the aid is always far less than the interest flowing back to Europe from Africa.''

There were also calls for greater African control of how aid money was spent. ``Some of the stringent measures that go with the aid money may be part of the problem,'' said Mwesa Mapoma, of the Institute for Economic and Social Research at the University of Zambia.

Mediocre leadership

``There are conditions which sometimes control how fast or how slow money is to be spent, or how the money has to be used. Some of the citizens in donor countries don't know the conditions that go with the money, just that money has been given. There is a need for more collaboration.''

There was widespread support for the Commission's emphasis on tackling corruption and the importance of securing an effective state. Corruption and ``mediocre leadership'' after independence have blighted the chances of many sub-Saharan African countries, said Simiyu Wandibba, of the Institute of African Studies at the University of Nairobi in Kenya.

``People who got into power after independence were unwilling to leave,'' he said. ``They created a system whereby unless you engaged in a patron-client relationship, it was very difficult to get into politics. If you didn't have money you couldn't get elected.''

In some countries, corruption has infected every part of government, including the judiciary, so the corrupt can simply bribe their way out of trouble.

``People were judged on old colonial laws,'' Prof. Wandibba said. ``So people engaged in white-collar jobs got away with light sentences while people who stole a chicken were sent to prison for 15 years.''

The cold war entrenched corruption in some African countries, where aid bought the support of the leadership rather than benefiting the poor.

``In too many cases, such as U.S. aid to Mobutu [Sese Seko, former dictator of Zaire], aid has ended up in bank accounts because a kleptocrat was seen as preferable to a communist,'' said Mr. Gottschalk.


A proposal to strengthen the African Union by helping fund its peacekeeping operations was also welcomed. Mr. Sall gave the example of Togo, where pressure from the African Union and regional governments has begun to reverse a coup, as ``very encouraging''.

``I think west Africa in particular has been really serious about dealing with conflict [through collective institutions]. What needs to be done is to strengthen these institutions.''

But Mr. Gottschalk warned that spending on peacekeepers needed to be vastly increased, even given the slimmer wage packets of African soldiers compared with those of European peacekeepers.

``The truth of the situation in Darfur and the eastern Congo is that each country needs peacekeeping forces numbering divisions — tens of thousands — not the few battalions that the AU has been able to afford,'' he said.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004