It is often stated in arguments, that hand outs and foreign aid is what is ruining Africa; making the people dependent on the west. It is also common knowledge that the infrastructure of most African countries leaves much to be desired. According to The Economist, a shortage of roads, housing, water, sanitation and electricity reduces sub-Saharan output by about 40%.
Infrastructure is obviously key to the success of countries as far as citizen wellbeing is concerned, but is it the deciding factor? Despite the ongoing drought and famine suffered by the people in the horn of Africa, many African states have indeed risen out of the World Bank's poor category, and up into the middle income category. Even in this, we know that poor infrastructures are holding such countries (i.e. Nigeria) back from progress.
I think that an aid vs. infrastructure debate is utterly pointless as both of these things are swayed and influenced by one thing. The debate needs to focus much more heavily on Africa's leaders, without whom, no real structures can be built and maintained. Discussions should be had much more openly, harshly, and fairly about mismanagement and misgovernment. What African's need most, is everything they deserve; including food, infrastructures, schools and jobs. And it all starts with better governance.
Andrew Natsios, a former head of the United States Agency for International Development [USAID], does not overlook Government's role in the recently declared Africa Famine. He said, "If there was simply a crop failure and there was a competent government in the country (it) can provide food to the people who are affected as they do in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania..." The failing political system in the country caused the drought to have a much larger effect on the people than it should have. The government is not able to provide support for farmers or for food production.
In this case, aid is the obvious relief for starving people, but is by no means a long term solution. The Government failed in providing the proper infrastructural support for farmers and food production and so the drought is doing its damage. However, the building of infrastructures now will not stop thousands of people from dying, people who have urgent needs that need to be met now. Africa's problems, needless to say, cannot be solved by talking, but we are getting nowhere by talking about the wrong things.
Image from Oxfam.