James Shikwati during his last visit to Frankfurt

Kenyan Causes Uproar in Frankfurt for Criticising Aid to Africa

James Shikwati during his last visit to Frankfurt © PATRICK WELTER
James Shikwati during his last visit to Frankfurt                                                                                              © PATRICK WELTER

He hit the headlines ten years ago with his demand to stop aid to Africa, that was back then before Dambisa Moyo and others had taken over the anti-aid activism. 

A Kenyan from humble beginnings shocked the world with his thesis on aid. Most were shocked that a “poor” African didn’t appreciate the “blessing” that came in form of aid from the West. James Shikwati, a self taught economist, liberal thinker; one of the 100 most influential Kenyans as named by the East African Standard Newspaper in Kenya in 2007 and one of the 250 Young Global Leaders as named by the World Economic Forum in 2008.

James was recently in Germany where he shared his views on aid during a public lecture and in an interview with the KfW, the German development bank.

Evidently, he hasn’t changed his opinion on aid ten years since his thesis. He mainly criticised the unequal relationship between Africa and the Europeans. The “development cooperation industry” has furthered the perception that Africans are “poor and needy”. While in reality the continent is very rich with its wealth of natural resources and fertile land. Yet the industrialised countries are the main beneficiaries of these riches; exploiting the raw materials and processing them for their own gain. Food aid as well, added Shikwati, benefits the American agricultural industry and “agribusiness”, giving them access to new markets.

The discussion participants agreed that the appearance of China and other new donors, such as Brazil and India, has added new dynamics to the field of development cooperation. At the same time, Shikwati views China’s role in Africa as positive. The relationship is much more balanced, since there is no common history of colonial dependency. Above all, the Chinese are keen to do business, and accept the conditions set by their African counterparts.

Shikwati countered that there is, on the whole, no “equal relationship” between “givers and takers” in Africa. The industrialised nations have their “own priorities” and are trying to implement them. They always force aspects such as “gender equality and environmental protection” in projects, even if the Africans are primarily interested in economic progress.

The solution to Africa is open markets and the possibility to set up companies and factories that will in turn create jobs.

Although he remains anti-aid, Shikwati is quick to point out that he’s not calling for all aid workers to pack up and leave Africa ASAP, but instead that Africans and their leaders begin to take responsibility for their own destiny. He added that although most of us think that the world today is a “Global Village” where we’re all working together towards the same goals, the reality is that the world is actually a “Global Jungle” where it is mainly survival for the fittest.

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