Two aid workers kidnapped in Somalia

Two UN contract workers kidnapped in Somalia. Murray Watson and Patrick Amukhuma were kidnapped in Somalia yesterday. Patrick is Kenyan, and Murray is British. Murray Watson is an ecologist with a long history of work in Africa. I am praying for a quick release, like last time an expat was kidnapped in Somalia.

One thing I find interesting about the media coverage on this is how few outlets have gotten their jobs right. They were contractors for an Indian company which held a subcontract with FAO to do aerial survey work. Not all that unusual if you’re used to how the system works, but hard for an unfamiliar reporter to grasp.

“For God’s sake, please stop the aid!”

A Kenyan economist opposes foreign aid in Spiegel. James Shikwati is interviewed in Spiegel, and is firmly opposed to aid for Africa. He argues that it causes corruption, creates huge bureaucracies, and teaches Africans to be beggars.

On one hand, he makes some accurate points. Badly designed aid packages will indeed create a culture of dependency. It’s not just likely but certain that there will be some private sector leakage because of corruption, and foreign governments and NGOs do put distorting pressures on the English-speaking labor market. And he might be right that without food aid, African countries would develop trade relationships to compensate for shortages.

He’s also got some great quotes here:

“Currently, Africa is like a child that immediately cries for its babysitter when something goes wrong.”

“Unfortunately, the Europeans’ devastating urge to do good can no longer be countered with reason.”

However, I think his overall conclusion is weak and off-base. He blames the used-clothes markets in Africa on charity donations of old clothes, when in actuality they are generally bought by the pound in the US from thrift store and resold to African wholesalers. This is a pretty elementary mistake for an economist to make, and it implies he has an axe to grind and won’t let the facts get in his way. He also seems to think that aid goes directly to governments, when most goes through international NGOs with extensive networks of locally-hired staff. He also downplays the impact of HIV to an unreasonable degree.

It’s an article well worth reading for its contrarian view, but it’s not likely to change your perspective on the world.