Africa Sucks!

      • Especially when the UN shows up.
  • I met someone who has recently visited relatives in Somalia. He commented that things had gotten worse when the UN decided to send in troops, and got better after the UN troops got out. The main reason was that ordinarily everyone there knows that most people there can’t afford much of anything, but foreigners can, so lots of foreigners arriving essentially inflated prices that local people couldn’t afford. - This fellow had lots of stories of aid organizations doing completely useless projects that wasted money, pissed off the locals, or both. He could have told them in advance that most of the idiot things they did wouldn’t have worked; he assumed they didn’t have a lot of native advisors near the top of management, not even for that particular effort.
  • I always like making fun of the UN, but I wouldn’t have been able to invent stories like the ones he told. Many of the major reasons for the UN coming were blown completely out of proportion to begin with. He pointed out that Somalia was and still is one of the most socially stable African countries, as far as clans mixing. To an extent, the “clan warfare” in Somalia is no more important to most people there than the Bloods and the Cripps going at each other in South Central L.A. -There are ugly instances of murders, but it’s not something that goes on constantly on every streetcorner. There was (and still is) no government in many respects, but many of the back-country people are nomadic, didn’t miss it, and never payed much attention to it anyway. Locally, it was mostly the government bureaucrats (who weren’t getting paid) and the foreigners who deal with them professionally that were worried.
  • The guy is not particularly Republican, or nationalistic, or paranoid. And I was still surprised to hear of the mistakes that had been made in the UN’s “rescue” mission. What do you call it when aid makes the problem worse? His suggestion was to provide schools that offered free meals and medical care, so that children could get an education and their parents (if present) wouldn’t have to feed them, encouraging both to participate in the program. I heard of the UN passing out food, which most people didn’t need. I never heard of the UN using marines to set up schools.
  • I usually read two or three news magazines, but none ever let on how much the UN wasn’t helping, and I suspect that they weren’t reporting other things so well either. What’s the worst place in Africa right now? - MC

Originally posted by MC

Well, I guess it depends on who you talk to. From what I’ve read, Sierra Leone has serious problems. Ranked dead last by the United Nations according to the Human Development Index.

Then there’s the situation in Rwanda between the Hutu and Tutsi. Check out “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda” by Phillip Gourevitch (1999).

I’d also check out “The Coming Anarchy” by Robert Kaplan (2001) A journalistic acount in which sections of the book are dedicated to portions of Africa. The book evolved out of a series of articles for Atlantic Monthly. You can find the relavant article at

MC, I highly encourage you to read a book called “Lords of Poverty”, about the international aid biz.

To answer the question in the OP “What’s the worst place in Africa right now?” without getting into your other points and without having been there, I’d have to vote for Sierra Leone.

There were two very good GD threads about poverty and political strife in Africa a few months ago, I encourage you to check them out - do a search on:

Let’s recolonize Africa!
Why is Africa poor?
Is Africa heading for disaster?

I’d link but my computer is so very slow today.

Moderator’s note:

Even though there are some opinion questions asked, e.g. what’s the worst place in Africa, what do you call aid when it hurts more than helps, etc. the general thrust of the OP seems more along the lines of “what can/should be done”?

IMHO the discussion would be better served in GD.


I read in Jane’s Defense Weekly the other day that Zimbabwe now has an HIV+ rate of 25%, one of the highest rates in Africa. Add to that a serious risk of widespread violence over the movement to expropriate the lands of white farmers, a fuel crisis, and an increasingly authoritarian government response to the growing popularity of the opposition party. Zimbabwe is not the worst place in Africa, but is definitely deteriorating in a hurry.

AIDS has got to be the worst problem in Africa right now. Education is the only remedy I can imagine for it; most Africans are far too poor to have any hope of building a medical system that can adequately treat the disease, so prevention is the only hope. My understanding is that prostitution is the chief source of new infection; if you can afford a prostitute, you can afford a condom! I suspect that lack of education, not poverty per se, is the reason that simple preventive measures aren’t being taken.

Surely South Africa must be viewed as the continent’s success story. It is the only country in sub-Saharan Africa I can think of where the people were enfranchised and a government of native Africans took power without immediately causing a massive exodus of the highly skilled and educated white minority. This has made South Africa so prosperous that it has become a mecca for the people of all the neighboring countries. Hopefully it can become a model for other African nations.

A few observations from someone who does business (not aid) in various corners of Africa, albeit mostly North Africa.

Firstly, everyone should keep in mind Africa is a big diverse place. It’s not all South Africa, nor Sierre Leone. I’ll add that I find Kaplan’s analysis hysterical bullshit.

Clearly the old bastard Mugabe is taking Zimbabwe into a downward spiral, and at the same time managing to discredit the perfectly reasonable process of returning land to Africans.

South Africa:
Among the success stories so far, but note, SA and Zimbabwe were essentially (excepting the Portuguese colonies) the only white settler colonies. And SA differs immensely from Zim. The whole thing about whites not leaving really only applies to SA to begin with. I don’t think SA is a model for other nations. Historically it is fundamentally different – and has had some major advantages in terms of capital investments. However, hopefully it can serve as an anchor the southern horn which is in deep doodoo due to AIDS (note the double digit infections in Africa are largely in the southern horn).

Socially stable? In the North but not the South. Your source is… whitewashing. The flux of armed bandits and the drought were indeed creating a humanitarian disaster. Rather than relying on one Somali, you should check out some neutral sources.

As for the intervention, assuming you mean in the early 1990s, it would be good to note that the cowboy part of it is mostly attributable to the USA --its command after all-- more than the UN.

However, lots of western aid programs, including UN programs are, from what I have seen, badly mis-concieved or mis-executed. As I see it, partly because of a shortage of skilled personnel, partly due to corruption, partly due to neo-Colonial attitudes towards Africans --including the attitude Africa sucks. However, your suggestion the UN isn’t helping seems off base. I think it would be more accurate to see its help is not as effective as it could be. But on the other hand, something is better than nothing.

(Lords of Poverty is a good rec., I second it.)