Thursday, June 9

SAP and the Four Forces

"After reading your posts from yesterday and earlier today I'm having a hard time understanding your position on the Blair-Brown project, as you call it, or the Commission for Africa report. You seem to be both for and against it.

The report itself is confusing. It reminds me somehow of the EU Constitution. I'm assuming that many of the recommendations are wishful thinking, but it's almost as if the planners are trying to apply the "Europa" concept to Africa. The French and Dutch stopped Europa in its tracks with their "no" votes and I think the British would have soundly rejected the constitution if they'd been allowed to vote on it. Yet it almost seems as if the complex bureaucratic machinery that so many Europeans dislike about the European Union is being proposed for Africa.

The report recommendations hit all the right notes--dealing with corruption, the need for better government and judicial mechanisms; they discuss many of the themes you've addressed in your essays about development. However, the machinery for implementing, administering and overseeing the recommendations, the vast sums of money required, would put the effort out reach of most people's understanding--the same as for the EU Constitution.
Jan in Reston"

Dear Jan:
You've brought up an interesting comparison, which ties in with the Regionalism Debate. The debate has been kicking around for years in trade policy circles. To boil it down, if you carve up the world into regional trading blocs such as North American, European, Asian, African, etc., what does that do to multilateralism--the linchpin of foreign policy negotiations in the modern era?

To reduce the argument to its essence, if everybody plays Monkey See Monkey Do, isn't everybody right back at square one?

Pundita suspects that cold, hard balance of payment figures trounce the academic points of the argument; i.e., the Bank for International Settlements will 'recommend' on how many teeth the bloc agreements will actually have.

Where were we? The Commission for Africa. The Save Africa Project (SAP), shall we call it, is a flashpoint, which is why it's confusing. It represents a head-on collision between four very powerful forces; before I list them, I want my point to be at the top of the pileup. This is the same point I've made in essay after essay:

Whatever amount of money is spent on SAP, whatever type of structural adjustment is initiated, whatever kind of debt relief is arranged, do modeling first. Attempt to project the unintended consequences, attempt to project the consequences if a SAP project is successful. Then factor in how to head off the worst consequences.

So my position is that some version is going forward, no matter what Pundita and the Bush administration think of the Africa Commission. There's nothing that can be done to stop SAP. So I am thinking from a position of damage control: at least try to limit the worst-case scenarios that can arise from SAP projects.

That doesn't mean I'm for or against the commission. It means I know a great deal about the history of earlier all-out attempts to save the world. To play on a famous sentence in Atlas Shrugged, before you can be a person who saves the world, first be a person who knows how to get things done without sowing disaster.

This advice, so sensible when viewed from an armchair, is very hard to stick with, when you are out in the field and faced with the sight of dying babies and their desperately ill and starving parents. I have been there; I know exactly what it feels like.

The natural human impulse is to want to kill whatever it is that is hurting such horribly suffering humans. You want to throw everything at the Enemy. If anyone stands in your way, the impulse is to brand him a demon.

In that frame of mind, you don't want to hear about diverting millions of dollars to mathematical modeling to assess how you will feed and provide water to those people you save and get them educated and gainfully employed so they won't start gunrunning militias that plunge a region into ceaseless rounds of massacres.

Now that I have that off my chest, here are the Four Forces:

1. Gordon Brown and Tony Blair (two Scots) are representative of a noble tradition in Great Britain that came to recoil against slavery--indeed, the tradition inspired the humanitarian aspect of the American Civil War. In short, Blair and Brown are sincere in their desire to help the peoples of the African continent, as whole.

And Blair and Brown are not stupid or naive; they are very much aware of the pitfalls in throwing huge amounts of money into African aid. However, their position strikes me as an echo of Bush's answer to the naysayers about the invasion of Iraq. In certain circumstances, you can't allow the threat of catastrophic failure to prevent you from doing the right thing by your fellow humans.

2. Just when leaders of broke African governments were wondering how they were going to talk the Group of Eight into giving them debt relief, along came the war on terror. This was followed by hordes of al Qaeda fighters chased by Coalition special forces into Africa. The African leaders raised their eyes to the sky and shouted, "Thank you!"

So basically it's costing the Coalition an arm and a leg to get help from broke African governments in chasing down Bad Guys in their neck of the woods.

3. The UN Oil for Food Program busted wide open when the Marines got to Baghdad. This meant the party was over for many crooks; they knew that sooner or later the US government was going to lower the boom on the United Nations. So they began casting around for alternate means, different organizations, through which to work crooked deals. As soon as they heard about SAP their ears went to full perk.

4. Bill and Melinda Gates decided to save the world.

Put the Four Forces together and shake. The resulting glop means it would be really wise to chop down the Commission for Africa into little commissions that can be very closely monitored by well-trained independent observers, to include teams of forensic accountants.

And to spend an unfortunately large amount of money on draconian security for SAP projects. This way there is a fighting chance that vaccines and AIDS medication won't be stolen, watered down, and sold on the streets of cities across Africa and Asia.

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