Your Aid Dollars Bolster The Economy

After all of the debate and effort to give aid and debt relief to poor African nations, some people still did not believe we went far enough. We tied assistance to true political reform as a prerequisite for this relief, and many thought that such requirements were too harsh. In the end, the results satisfied few on either side of the question.
Of the few, however, the Congolese president must have been the most satisfied, if his spending habits give any indication. The London Times gives us a look at the Lifestyles Of The Rich And Subsidized:

THE leader of one of Africa’s poorest countries paid more than £100,000 in cash towards a £169,000 hotel bill run up by his entourage during last year’s United Nations summit in New York, according to court documents obtained by The Sunday Times.
Aides to President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo startled staff at the Palace hotel on Madison Avenue by pulling out wads of $100 notes to settle a bill for 26 rooms.
Sassou-Nguesso, who is chairman of the African Union, representing all the continent’s governments, is negotiating with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cancel many of his country’s debts on the grounds that it cannot afford to repay them. Yet the president spent a week last September in the Palace hotel, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious addresses.
He paid $8,500 (about £4,875) a night for a three-storey suite with art deco furniture, a Jacuzzi bathtub and a 50in plasma television screen. His room service charges on September 18 alone came to more than £2,000.

I suppose if one was to negotiate an end to debt, the smart option would be to run it up to the max before presenting the bill to one’s deliverers. And the stress of asking for money must have weighed terribly on the Congolese president, especially on September 18th. It sounds like he needed quite a bit of food to relieve the tremendous pressure of asking for money, since he paid almost $4,000 in room service that day.
By the way, if you’re keeping score, that $4,000 comes to the amount of money made by about 3200 of his citizens in the same time period. At least it does for some of his citizens, although it probably doesn’t apply to the butler, his personal photographer, his wife’s hairdresser, and the rest of the entourage that took up 25 rooms at the five-star hotel in New York.
The best part? President Daniel Sassou-Nguesso has held his office since the end of a civil war in 1997, but had originally come to office in 1992. As a Marxist. How many Marxists pay their $177,000 hotel bill in cash?
Last year, I supported the debt-relief initiative for African nations that cleaned up their corruption and reformed their governments through open elections and democratic institutions. If this demonstrates the effectiveness of that reform, then I suggest that the G-8 send Sassou-Nguesso back home, along with his bill, and tell his constituents that they still have a mortgage to pay.

Mugabe Takes Revenge On Urban Poor For Supporting Opposition

Robert Mugabe has set out to chase the poor out of the cities and into concentration camps, the London Telegraph reports, by bulldozing their houses and leaving them homeless. Unfortunately for a few Zimbabweans, Mugabe’s bulldozer squads don’t feel particular about checking to see if the houses are empty first, resulting in the crushing deaths of at least two babies in the past two weeks:

“The police came. They had been sent to destroy the house,” said Herbert Nyika, Charmaine’s father. “They knocked down the building, the walls; they smashed everything. This was when our child was trapped inside. She died there.” Her mother, Lavender, said: “I blame the government because it is they who instructed the police to do what they did. It is terrible. I have lost my daughter in such a strange way.”
She added: “Of course they have managed to clean up the city but at the same time they have brought suffering to the people – property destruction, homelessness and now the death of a child.”
The family is poor and their home was a small building in the back garden of a bigger house.
The Zimbabwean government has spent the past few years targeting white farmers, those with land and wealth; now it seems to be picking on the poor.
The Zimbabwean press yesterday admitted that two toddlers had died in the demolition drive – Charmaine, two, who died two weeks ago, and Terence Munyaka, 18 months, who died on Sunday from head injuries. As outrage rose around the world, the Zimbabwean police called on its officers to exercise more care. In London Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said on behalf of the G8 countries: “We call on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect human rights.”
Every day in Harare, in Bulawayo, in the towns and cities of Zimbabwe, police in riot gear are systematically moving from suburb to suburb forcing people from their homes. Bulldozers with their buckets raised are silhouetted on the skyline.
The scale of the clearance is so great there is too much work for the police to do – they are now forcing the people to destroy their own homes, or charging them a fee for demolition. On the roads are wheelbarrows piled high, trucks overloaded with cupboards, beds, mattresses – thousands and thousands of people making their way somewhere, but there is nowhere to go. Many are living in the open – their furniture arranged around them as if the walls were still there.

With the poor transformed into homelessness by Mugabe’s decree, the local charities and churches have been overwhelmed by refugees, while the cities must use force to push the newly destitute off of what used to be their land. The Telegraph followed some of them as they went off to farms seized by Mugabe from white landowners and where the agricultural basis for the nation’s economy has since died. The motive isn’t to restart the farming system that Mugabe destroyed by chasing off the farmers who knew what they were doing, but apparently to create refugee camps that will keep any rebellious movements away from the cities, where they could coalesce and create a real survival problem for the dictator.
Like so many modern dictators, Mugabe has decided to simply kill or dislocate as many of his potential opponents as possible. Whether they die of malnutrition, exposure, disease, or other means matters little, just as long as they die and do so as invisibly as possible. If that means that a few toddlers have to get crushed to death under his bulldozers … so be it.

Live-8 Live Blog!

I’m taking part in the Live-8 conference call with Sir Bob Geldof about the pressing need for aid to Africa, having been invited by John Hinderaker and Joe Trippi. Sir Bob is talking with a number of bloggers despite having the flu. This is part of the Make Poverty History campaign.
12:13 – Sir Bob is giving us a history of his involvement in ending world hunger, a compelling story about personal and emotional connections to the problem. He wants to make sure that hunger doesn’t become a Right/Left issue but that bipartisan efforts need to be made to keep people from starving to death …
12:17 – The idea is to get the G8 to make Africa a high priority. Africa is the only region that continues to decline …
12:18 – Sir Bob talks very quickly, and it’s hard to keep up. However, this is being recorded so we will be able to peruse it more closely later. However, he’s talking about the Ethiopian famine, about trees that bear no fruit, and how AIDS affects the producers in African society …
12:22 – Geldof insists that something other than corruption and conflict is at play in Africa — that they have some endemic condition throughout the continent which causes poverty to endure …
12:25 – He’s asking for a Marshall Plan for Africa — one percent of GDP dedicated to trade improvement, debt relief, and direct aid dependent on political reform. Sounds good in theory …
12:28 – Another concert would be pointless, Geldof says. What is needed is a groundswell of public pressure to come up with a workable plan and a significant amount for the effort. He feels that Bush is more responsive than widely thought on this issue and has an opportunity to surprise the world. Pat Robertson, Rick Warren, and other evangelicals have signed a letter asking for Bush to make this a top priority …
12:33 – Todd Zwicki wants to know about the concept of “trade justice”. Geldof: The EU is a protection racket that Al Capone would love. The trade cartels exist to protect domestic production …
12:37 – Geldof: “Read your Adam Smith.” Africa has its own issues with protectionism which need reform…
12:41 – Mugabe is “a thug”, but doesn’t necessarily represent the entirety of African politics.
12:46 – What they want: cancel African debt, lower trade barriers, and double the direct aid to Africa.
12:50 – Geldof: Aid doesn’t get into the thugs’ pockets as often as commonly thought since the end of the Cold War, when each side had their pet thugs. The debt is the biggest obstacle to the aid reaching the people who need it. The first launch of money would build the accountable structures of government in order to expedite later aid …
12:59 – “[Americans] were born to do this! … The American people are extraordinarily generous people.” He points out that official aid comes to 0.15% of the American budget, but that people think it amounts to 15% of the GDP. He’s mixing apples and oranges, but the underlying point is probably correct — we’re contributing less than we think, but we want to contribute more.
End of call — The bloggers want linkable sites to make our arguments, and the Live8 folks will be building those resources for us. We will be following up with more contacts between that organization and the list of bloggers. Sir Bob Geldof gave us a bounty of information, and hopefully we can start sharing that with you once we get it organized.
It’s exciting to see people reach out to the blogosphere on a nonpartisan basis to affect real change in the world. Keep your eyes out for more developments, here and at other blogs.
UPDATE 2:33 – Charles at LGF mirrors my feelings about the call:

Despite my skepticism (rock stars with causes, oh boy), I was impressed with Geldof�s knowledge of the situation, and by his group�s ideas to make sure that whatever aid is generated will not simply be pocketed by corrupt African dictators. Ultimately, the vision seems to be to promote freedom and reform on the African continent. Geldof said, �Robert Mugabe will not be included.�

That last quote came in response to my skeptical question about how to keep the money out of the pockets of tyrants.
UPDATE II: John Hinderaker, one of the conference-call’s hosts, has this to say at Power Line:

On the merits of Geldof’s campaign, I had reservations, given 1) my general preference for individual action over government action, and 2) the sad history of much foreign aid to Africa. But I figured I’d keep an open mind and hear Geldof out.
So this noon, we had a conference call in which a number of bloggers took part–I don’t know the exact count–that went on for over an hour. To say that I was impressed would be an understatement. Geldof is an extraordinarily knowledgable guy. Equally important, he is not soft-headed about Africa’s problems. He emphasizes free markets and the need for political reform, which should be, and according to Geldof will be, a condition of the assistance that he advocates.

Believe me, we all understand the skepticism — perhaps Geldof most of all. We know this will be a tough sell, even to ourselves. I want to see the specifics before I go running around mindlessly supporting it. However, I think we need to ask ourselves where we want to see Africa in twenty years, and what needs to be done to get it there.