It's Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

It's Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

Author:Michela Wrong
Language: eng
Format: epub
Publisher: HarperCollins
Published: 2009-03-21T16:00:00+00:00


Gorging Their Fill

‘He’s a menace to the donors, he’s the taxpayers’ despair, For the Treasury is empty–but Macavity’s not there.’

British high commissioner EDWARD CLAY’s bastardised version of ‘Macavity: The Mystery Cat’

John’s struggles were not going unobserved outside the confines of State House. Watching from the sidelines were the media, civil society and Western donors. This last group had a particularly keen interest in NARC’s performance on corruption. Having piled into the country with promises of aid when Moi quit the scene, they needed reassurance that it was not sliding back into the bad old ways.

Kenya is one of a raft of African nations locked in a symbiotic–perhaps ‘mutually parasitic’ is a more accurate term–relationship with the developed world and the lending institutions set up at the Bretton Woods conference in the wake of the Second World War to combat global poverty. Post-independence, its agricultural sector received British support, but it was with the oil shocks of the 1970s and the collapse of commodity prices that Kenya’s economy really began to depend heavily on loans, grants and investment from an industrialised world ready, as the Cold War locked Africa in its icy grip, to provide ‘no questions asked’ funding to any government rebuffing the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc.

Seen as too important to be allowed to fail, Kenya became the first sub-Saharan country in the 1980s to receive structural adjustment funding from the IMF. Between 1970 and 2006, this modest African country received a total of $US17.26 billion from its foreign allies, roughly one and a quarter times what the Americans spent on the Marshall Plan, designed to rescue the whole of war-ravaged Europe. At its height in the early 1990s, aid from both the multinational lending institutions and donor nations which followed their lead accounted for 45 per cent of the Kenyan government budget. Under Kibaki, that shrank to less than 5 per cent, thanks to improved tax collection, but the total–$768 million in 2005–remained hefty by any standards.

The relationship between giver and receiver has rarely been free from strain. In the early years, donors carefully steered clear of what were known as ‘governance issues’, a polite euphemism for ‘graft’. Raising the issue in the prickly era when memories of colonial injustices were still sharp was deemed intolerable interference in a nation’s sovereign affairs. The World Bank and the IMF’s raison d’être, their members argued, was to fight poverty, not corruption–which was a political, not an economic issue. The cynical realities of the Cold War required loyalty payments, and if those had to be made to military dictators and autocrats with blood on their hands in the knowledge that little would reach the poor, so be it. But with the passage of time came the growing realisation that financial transparency, human rights and institutional checks and balances mattered more to the quest for prosperity than had previously been recognised. Africa’s insatiable Big Men were in danger of killing their own economies, and as crisis bit, their pillaging began to hurt more than it once had.


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