Aid is not the answer
Bill Gates says he is a huge fan of capitalism and trade (Save Aid!, 22 April) but then spoils it by repeating the received wisdom about aid: ‘If you care at all about conditions in Africa – the population explosion, measles, polio — then don’t suggest there is a private-sector solution to these problems. It’s outrageous.’
No. It is not outrageous. A vigorous private sector is the only answer to African development. I have spent my life in Africa, working in 18 of its countries, usually deep in the bush. I have watched numerous aid programmes fail once the external funding is removed, and have spent much time thinking about and discussing why this should be so.
After 50 years and something like a trillion dollars, Africa’s growth rate is barely keeping up with its population. Mr Gates has put aside $40 billion to help, and yes, the clean water, sanitation and vaccinations it funds will save many thousands. But it will not drag Africa out of poverty. This requires cultural changes.
The problem here is the nomadic roots of African culture. Nomadism eschews private property, and communal land ownership is still the norm in Africa. If Africa is to develop, then aid money should be directed at changing this. Until this cultural change occurs, the money spent by Mr Gates will not develop Africa. It will simply keep it running on the spot.
Sir: When future historians attempt to explain the recent rise of populism with policy-related examples, they can be assisted by Bill Gates’s recent intervention in the political debate around the UK’s contribution to overseas aid. Although he is the richest man in the world, Gates has no electoral mandate. However, it seems that his advocated aid budget of 0.7 per cent of GDP has the support of all the main UK political parties.