28 May 2014

Foreign Policy and the Less Able


We have asked if Sub-Saharan Africa can really be considered 'post-colonial,' and concluded that it cannot. When the More Able butt up against the Less Able, the power dynamic can be so uneven that normal relations are impossible.  Westerners (and, increasingly, Easterners) just can't seem to keep their fingers out of all those little pies, commercial or humanitarian.   But the doctrine of international relations today says that all peoples sit at the same table, negotiating as equals.

If it were proved tomorrow, beyond a shadow of doubt, that Sub-Saharans as a group were far less able than Westerners,... what would be the right policy response?  We at Those Who Can See argue that such a policy framework is not hard to imagine-- as it is largely the one being used now.

World Trade Organization:  Do we all belong at the Grown-ups' table?

1) Trade policy

We don't force children to play by the same rules as adults. In the context of the WTO, if a More Able people were faced with a profoundly Less Able one, what could be considered a 'fair' trade position to take? It may look something like this:
The first Lomé Convention (Lomé I), which came into force in April 1976, was designed to provide a new framework of cooperation between the then European Community (EC) and developing ACP [African, Caribbean, Pacific] countries, in particular former British, Dutch, Belgian and French colonies.
It had two main aspects. It provided for most ACP agricultural and mineral exports to enter the EC free of duty. Preferential access based on a quota system was agreed for products, such as sugar and beef, in competition with EC agriculture. Secondly, the EC committed ECU 3 billion for aid and investment in the ACP countries.

Why are these countries singled out for special treatment?  After all, the list of places colonized by Europe is much longer:

On further inspection, it seems most of the 'ACP' countries have something in common. Besides the handful that are run by Mestizos, East Indians, or Micro/Mela/Polynesians, all the rest (75%) are Afro-run. But most of the former are micro-states: In reality 98% of the population of the ACP states is Afro.  In addition, we note that every Afro-run nation on earth belongs.

With this group and this group only, then, trading as equals was out of the question. And as colonialism receded further into the past, the need for this special treatment...got bigger:
The convention was renegotiated and renewed three times. Lomé II (January 1981 to February 1985) increased aid and investment expenditure to ECU 5.5 billion. Lomé III came into force in March 1985 (trade provisions) and May 1986 (aid), and expired in 1990; it increased commitments to ECU 8.5 billion. Lomé IV was signed in December 1989. Its trade provisions cover the ten years, 1990 to 1999. Aid and investment commitments for the first five years amounted to ECU 12 billion.

Not everyone looked so benignly on these lowered goalposts:
In 1995, the United States government petitioned to the World Trade Organization to investigate whether the Lomé IV convention had violated WTO rules. Then later in 1996, the WTO Dispute Settlement Body ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, effectively ending the cross-subsidies that had benefited ACP countries for many years.

With the U.S. raining on the E.U.'s post-colonial parade, the Lomé convention was cut short. But really, nearly forty years after independence, these ex-colonies were surely able to stand on their own two feet and trade as equals?
[In 2000] the Cotonou Agreement replaced the Lomé Convention which had been the basis for ACP-EU development cooperation since 1975. The Cotonou Agreement, however, is much broader in scope than any previous arrangement has ever been. It is designed to last for a period of 20 years...

...Or maybe not.

Under the Cotonou Agreement, however, this [Lomé] system will be replaced by a new scheme which is to take effect in 2008: the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs). These new arrangement provide for reciprocal trade agreements, meaning that not only the EU provides duty-free access to its markets for ACP exports, but ACP countries also provide duty-free access to their own markets for EU exports.

Equality at last?
True to the Cotonou principle of differentiation, however, not all ACP countries have to open their markets to EU products after 2008. The group of least developed countries is able to either continue cooperation under the arrangements made in Lomé or the "Everything But Arms" regulation.

The 'least developed':

Generations after independence, some are still being given special consideration. Why?

Modern blank-slatism argues that ethnic groups have no deep differences, neither cognitive nor behavioral.  If Western Europeans really believed it, then accords such as Cotonou would be slowly phased out. Is there any evidence this is the case?:
But the reality in 2020 – when the Cotonou Agreement ends – is likely to be drastically different from today. ...  Ahead of the next scheduled revision of Cotonou in 2015, and ideally even before, the roadmap for the post-2020 regime needs to be clear to foster a smooth transition into the next phase of ACP-EU partnership.

A phase which will not, by all accounts, resemble the normal trading relations that Europe shares with its other ex-colonies.

Caveats if you plan to trade with the Less Able:
  • They may plead special conditions; be prepared to extend them.
  • If you take the sensible step of subsidizing your own farmers, be prepared for harsh criticism. Advise your critics to follow your lead.

2) Lending policy

What to expect from a group of international partners who are endowed with far less impulse control, conscientiousness, organizational ability, and commonweal-orientation than others?  A smaller economy and very low human development indicators.

Unable to generate much income themselves, such partners may want to borrow funds for development.  But if capital markets consider them a bad risk, from whom can they borrow?  From your taxpayers.

Though it was founded by Euros for Euros after WWII, the IMF has experienced mission creep over the years. It has now turned into the international equivalent of a payday loan place.  When neither foreign nor domestic banks will lend to you anymore, and even your family's decided you're a bad risk, your only hope is to cross fingers and roll up to the IMF. One may ask if this sounds like the borrowing history of a people that's 'just like everyone else':
Because analysts at the time [late 1970s] thought most African countries were facing temporary liquidity problems from the oil shocks and other world developments, the IMF was seen as a natural instrument for this purpose. Inside the Fund, the Managing Directors—H. Johannes Witteveen until 1978 and then Jacques de Larosière—shared this vision and made extensive efforts to broaden and deepen the Fund’s role.  The surge, it must be said, did not succeed. The adverse external conditions of the 1970s did not go away, and “temporary” financing needs became permanent.

As is so often the case with Afros, egalitarian assumptions end up in smoke:
...IMF credit outstanding to African countries hit an all-time peak at the end of 1985, at $9 billion (SDR 8.2 billion), owed by 38 countries. Lending continued unabated, and nearly half of the countries in Africa were prolonged users of Fund resources for at least part of the 1990s. ... One reason the volume declined was the Fund’s concern that many African countries were accumulating dangerously high levels of debt.

Outstanding IMF debt today:

Caveats if you are thinking of lending money to the Less Able:

  • Resign yourself to the fact that you may never see this money again. Your 'loans' may, ex post facto, have become grants.

3) Aid policy

Lending to the uncreditworthy is part of dealing with Less Able countries.  But so is giving to them. TV images of extreme poverty make public pressure mount; foreign aid is also a political tool, never more so than during the Cold War.  A kind of charitable 'keeping up with the Joneses' also has the Eurosphere digging deep:

And when it comes to official aid, it is largely ethnic Euros who give:

Ex-colonies peopled by those who are your equals will eventually not need any more aid.  But those who are 1) Less Able, and 2) stuck in the Malthusian trap, will only need more and more as their numbers swell:

Caveats for those giving aid to the Less Able:
  • The need may never go away, particularly if population continues to explode.  Be prepared for lifetime commitment.

4) Military policy

Less Able countries are often unable to generate enough revenue to properly outfit their militaries.  As many of these nations suffer constant ethnic tension, outside help will be asked for--'outside' in Africa's case meaning 'outside the continent.'  If you have economic interests in such a country, be prepared to contribute heavily in order to protect your assets:
The UN fielded one of its first peace operations, the UN Operation in the Congo (ONUC) in 1960. The mission proved to be a very costly attempt to solve the many ethnic differences in the Congo and to this day more peacekeepers died in ONUC than in any other UN peace operation. The experience resulted in reluctance for UN peacekeeping on the continent for 25 years.

Until 1980, African states proved to be reluctant and/or unable to help themselves by organizing peace operations with continental assets. Major General Martin Luther Agwai informed participants at a July 2001 meeting that African states want to participate in peace operations on the continent. However, many are not able to deploy peacekeepers because they require logistical and financial assistance to accomplish the task.

Sub-Saharan states fumbled along as best they could (albeit with frequent Western help) until the 1994 Rwandan genocide.  This was horrific even by the continent's standards, and led to much hand-wringing in the West.  Seeing clearly that an African-led intervention force was not in the cards, Euros opened their wallets yet again:
The [U.S-founded] Africa Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) began in 1997 with the mission of enhancing the capacity of African partner nations to participate in worldwide multinational peace operations.

It soon changed its name to the even more unwieldy Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA), under the wing of the State Department:
Since 1997, ACOTA  has provided training and non-lethal equipment to 254,228 peacekeepers from African partner militaries in 257 contingent units. ACOTA’s 25 partners include Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.

The U.S. has not been alone in its endeavors:
France has established peacekeeping training centers in Cote d'Ivoire and Benin. ... The British helped establish peacekeeping training centers in Ghana and Zimbabwe and is funding a third center in Kenya. ...  Program participants who have deployed their peacekeepers include Benin, Gabon, Ghana, Mali, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, and South Africa.  

The U.S. has also--presumably in response to Chinese influence--been coyly extending its military presence around the Dark Continent these last years:

A final warning  by the author of this exhaustive report:
Despite an October 2002  mandate to field a peacekeeping operation into the Central African Republic and a November 2002 mandate for Cote d'Iovire, the contingent providers have been reluctant to actually deploy their soldiers into the crises. One thing is certain, African countries will not be able to meet the requirements of a dangerous operation without Western support and training.

Caveats for those contributing militarily to the Less Able:

  • Where you have trained armies to intervene in their own neighborhoods, don't be surprised by foot-dragging and more calls for Western help.


*     *     *

Though they say they can, the More Able cannot truly deal with the Less Able on equal terms.  The uneven power dynamic we see within our own communities is still present, though greatly scaled up, in the international arena.  The old solution to this was to treat them as children: colonialism. The new solution is still to treat them as children--while loudly insisting on their 'equality.'

What, then, is the proper attitude to take when dealing with international partners who are far more impulsive, more aggressive, less conscientious, less commonweal-oriented, and less organized than others?  One could simply leave them to stand or fall alone. Even fervent anti-colonialists of the 19th century decried such a stance. J.A. Hobson (1905):

If organised Governments of civilised Powers refused the task [of colonialism], they would let loose a horde of private adventurers, slavers, piratical traders, treasure hunters, concession mongers, who, animated by mere greed of gold or power, would set about the work of exploitation under no public control and with no regard to the future; playing havoc with the political, economic, and moral institutions of the peoples, instilling civilised vices and civilised diseases, importing spirits and firearms as the trade of readiest acceptance, fostering internecine strife for their own political and industrial purposes, and even setting up private despotisms sustained by organised armed forces.  (1)

We may keep up the kindly fiction that these are states capable of first-world governance. Or we may come back to an older, more honest appraisal: that some peoples are Less Able than others, and that simple noblesse oblige compels the More Able to lend them a hand.  Were such a notion to (re-)hit the mainstream, we argue that international policy towards the tropics would in all likelihood continue to look very much as it does today.


(1) Hobson, J.A. Imperialism: A Study. London: Allen & Unwin, 1905. 


Mr. Rational said...

Chinese ingerence

I find no definition for "ingerent" in the dictionaries I've checked.

Janet said...

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading. I am not educated in this subject and am grateful for this information.

M.G. said...

Mr. Rational--

It appears I had a French-English (Frenglish?) brain backfire, I do apologize. It's been fixed.


Thank you for stopping by.

Discard said...

They're still going to run out of food, unless we commit to feeding them forever. Shall we support them when they are three billion? My hope is that, behind the do-goodery, there is a solid plan to eventually seize those parts of Africa that are valuable and let the natives follow the Neanderthals into extinction. It sounds awful, but it became inevitable when we first began to "help" them.

YIH said...

These ”christian charities” are little more than a scam anyway.
The typical tag line is ”for just pennies a day, you can feed Starvin’ Marvin”.
Here’s what happens to that dollar you put in the envelope:
80 cents: The ads. What, you thought the TV station donated that airtime?
10 cents: Administration; that’s the guy in the suit in the office, the lawyer, the accountant, ect.
9 cents: That’s your actual ”aid”; How do you think the aid workers got to Africa? Transportation, food and supplies for the ”aid workers”.
Oh you did know about that cameraman and sound man that were along for the ride, right? They need transportation, food and supplies as well y’know.
Why did they tag along? Well those commercials don’t make themselves…
1 cent: That’s how much was spent on the Bibles, food and clothes for ”Starvin’ Marvin”
But hey, they got those awesome Denver Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII Champion T-shirts!
”But didn’t the…” Shhhhh, they don’t know any different ;)
BTW though the link is to a humor site, the 'losing Super Bowl t-shirts' being donated is accurate - and has been for years.
In the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl 'winner' shirts are designed and produced for both teams. They get shipped to stores the Friday before the game. The actual winner shirts get put out for sale right after the game. The 'loser' shirts get sent back and donated, usually to Africa. And written off the taxes at full retail price.
The 90% for ''administration and fundraising'' is the IRS limit for a 501c3 meaning that 10% must be spent on whatever 'cause' they support (however vaguely) with the caveat being that full bookkeeping be done on income and outgo. IOW if they have the cancelled checks to prove they spent 80% on TV spots and/or phone banks (more typical than you think) then it's fully legit.
Mind you, all charities* have to spend a part of donations for 'administrative' reasons such as paying the CPA to keep the books straight.
*The one exception is USMC 'Toys for Tots' where 100% of donations are indeed used for that purpose, all other costs (such as transporting the toys) are covered by The Corps.

M.G. said...


You're right. Have you seen these population projections from the Washington Post?

The continent's overall population is expected to more than quadruple over just 90 years, an astonishingly rapid growth that will make Africa more important than ever.

Uunmentioned is that yes, this growth is contingent on a never-ending flow of food aid and vaccinations from the West. If/when that stops, there will be a huge population slump. I think China is better positioned than anyone to, as you say, 'seize those parts of Africa that are valuable' and that's exactly what's happening. Sooner or later though, as the U.S. weakens, I think the benevolant mask will slip and China will be less afraid to bring some straight-up colonialism.

M.G. said...


Indeed, in researching this post I came across many books exposing the underbelly of the 'aid industry.' My sense is that there are a lot of people out there who've figured out how to play on the famous NW Euro guilt in order to make a tidy living. And yes, a lot of 'aid' is just getting a tax write-off for things they'd otherwise throw away, including the food surpluses that come from agro subsidies that totally screw up local African markets. You really have to do your homework before donating.

Anonymous said...

While we're on the subject of Africa, how much of their dysfunction can be blamed on the ethnic inhomogeneity of the countries? Putnam's research is pretty clear that lack of cohesion and solidarity causes big problems for trust-based institutions, and I'm wondering if the Europeans had partitioned the place better along ethnic lines (making the continent look like an enlarged Holy Roman Empire), we might see less strife.

ckp said...

(reposting because I didn't see the request not to post anonymously)

While we're on the subject of Africa, how much of their dysfunction can be blamed on the ethnic inhomogeneity of the countries? Putnam's research is pretty clear that lack of cohesion and solidarity causes big problems for trust-based institutions, and I'm wondering if the Europeans had partitioned the place better along ethnic lines (making the continent look like an enlarged Holy Roman Empire), we might see less strife.

YIH said...

The most telling story is also the most famous: Live Aid.
The artists were not paid to appear, so the fundraising costs were easily covered by the show promoters and MTV.
Then came time to distribute the aid, as noted in the 'Fund use in Ethiopia' section much of it was openly pillaged (I know someone who worked on the project). Geldof and company paid for everything they needed - food, medicines brand new trucks to distribute them and the costs to fly everything there.
When the planes landed, they got surrounded by soldiers. It took six hours (and more than a few bribes) before the aid workers were even allowed off the planes.
Then they started to unload the cargo, the army saw those trucks and declared ''those are unacceptable'' and seized them as ''contraband''. Then they offered to sell them ''acceptable'' trucks (of course at a markup from normal prices) so they went with that.
Then with the civil war as an excuse, the army strictly dictated where the 'aid stations' would be. When a group went on their own to set up an 'aid station' they were ''captured by the rebels'' so more bribes had to be paid just to get them released - and they were deported right away. As you can guess petty (and not so petty) thievery was rampant as well.
When it was time for them to leave, everything they brought to Ethiopia left over (such as those ''acceptable'' trucks they had to buy) were also confiscated by the government.

In my previous comment, those starry-eyed volunteers that went to Africa were little more than mere tourists - their 'pay' was the 'African adventure' with a veneer of charity over it.
Though the producers of the ads (and the actor spokesperson) were indeed hired and paid by the organization.

M.G. said...


Indeed, I think this is one factor where the blame falls entirely on European shoulders. Ethnic groups are sliced through willy-nilly by non-sensical borders, while other groups are thrown together despite ancient mutual hatred. It's a recipe for disaster by any standard. Much of the Sahel has, in addition, a north-south ethno-religious divide that seems intractable. South Sudan's recent independence is a step in the right direction; Nigeria and the Ivory Coast may very well follow suit.

A lot of what today are called 'civil wars' in Africa would not be if borders had been drawn in a remotely reasonable way.

Finian said...

"Intensive oversight may be needed to avoid this money going up in a haze of Mercedes, Champagne, and Parisian villas."

In fairness, the Parisian villas make some kind of sense, as they might have to flee, or at least get some decent shopping in. Otherwise, yeah, pretty much spot on.

Quick question: the African continent has a lot of resources, some of which can only be found there and are vital to Western economic development. (That's why China, for instance, are so interested in the area.)

What are your suggestions for getting around that? Should we suck it up and accept it as the cost of doing business? Be more pragmatic and ruthless about it? Because we're almost certainly going to spend the next few years dealing with them, even assuming our technology can catch up at some point where we don't need their resources.

Finian said...


"A lot of what today are called 'civil wars' in Africa would not be if borders had been drawn in a remotely reasonable way."

What would you suggest? Are the Africans incapable of redrawing borders? Is it not more insulting to assume that they're automatons reacting to what white people do?

M.G. said...


Should we suck it up and accept it as the cost of doing business? Be more pragmatic and ruthless about it?

There is no real way around it, apart from formallly re-colonizing. Dealing with thieving, violent, feckless leaders is part of the cost of doing business in many parts of the world. The distinction is between charity and industry. The IMF's 'loans' (which often turn out to be grants) now come with many strings attached (good governance, etc.), which I think is sound policy. Private business is another kettle of fish. As long as S.S. Africa needs outsiders to pull their natural resources out of the ground, outsiders will be lining up to do it. Might as well fight to be at the head of the queue, no? Morality and commerce have always been uneasy bedfellows.

Are the Africans incapable of redrawing borders? Is it not more insulting to assume that they're automatons reacting to what white people do?

I don't know if that's entirely fair. Getting 'recognized' as a state by the int'l community (read U.S. + Europe) is not so easy. The post-colonialist and then post-Soviet consensus was that borders should stay where they are. Nobody wanted to see their sphere of influence tinkered with. Remember the hypocritical tit-for-tat with Kosovo and South Ossetia?

Consider Somaliland. Years ago it extracted itself from the anarchic Mogadishu orbit, set up its own army, currency, flag, and functioning democracy, has peaceful relations with its neighbors...Yet it's not a 'country.' Why? Because the U.N. won't recognize it. Libya shouldn't be a 'country;' Cyrenaica and Tripolitania have been separate entities since before the Roman empire...Yet the U.N. insisted they become one in 1951. Don't underestimate the weight of Western pressure on these countries; we hold an awful lot of carrots and sticks. One needn't be an 'automaton' to find it wiser to fold to this pressure than to boldly step out as the Somalilanders have.

This is why I think the separation of South Sudan is such a huge moment in the history of post-colonial S.S. Africa. Just momentous. I think it could open the way to a slew of new states in the years to come, mostly in West Africa.

Thanks for commenting.

Lin said...

"While we're on the subject of Africa, how much of their dysfunction can be blamed on the ethnic inhomogeneity of the countries?"

A lot and very little. Look at Lesotho and Swaziland. They were specifically set up for a certain tribe. They are dirt poor and extremely ill-educated. In Swaziland the people on average live on less than a dollar a day, but the king of Swaziland has a Maybach for each of his wives. Mish-mashing tribes together may cause friction, but even without that a strongman will trample everyone that is not in his family.

Thank you for a clear discussion of a thorny question. It corresponds to one I always ask Europeans who come to South Africa and condemn Segregation. What alternative solution would they suggest for interaction between the European colonists and the completely primitive tribes they found when they arrived in South Africa?

M.G. said...


Good points. Mono-ethnic African states may avoid the inter-group slaughter, but they still do suffer from so many other problems common to their continent.

Re: South Africa, the wisdom of apartheid should be more and more evident as the post-1994 system slowly implodes. But there seems to be a press black-out on the subject in the West. When the last Euros have finally been driven out and things truly melt down, one hopes our journalists will finally start to tell the truth about S.A.