Great Lessons From Dr. Yaw Nyarko’s Work

Wed, 8 Jan 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

The political economy of “foreign aid” is a controversially divisive subject for many individuals, lay and scholarly, across varied ideological leanings. However, in our opinion, three of the foremost authorities who have probably made the most impact, we think, at the international level, as far as the political economy of “foreign aid” is concerned, are Drs. Jeffrey Sachs, Dambisa Moyo, and William Easterly, the latter being one of Yaw Nyarko’s close colleagues and research associates at New York University. Sachs’ broad expertise spans globalization, debt cancellation, poverty alleviation, development economics, and environmentalism. On the other hand, there is a clear philosophical overlap between Sachs’ expertise and Dambisa’s and Easterly’s research interests. To begin with, what is Yaw Nyarko’s actual position on “foreign aid”?

The answer to the question above is not as straightforward as a linear question. In fact, the history of “foreign assistance” is a relatively long and meandering one. What is more, the impactful work of Dambisa has involved a depth of archeological excavation probably unparalleled in the works of her contemporaries, except, perhaps, Yaw Nyarko’s, the focus of our essay, from our part of the world, Africa. Indeed she is exceedingly passionate about the subject. Then also, the analytic depth of Dambisa’s understanding, particularly as it relates to how the political economy of “foreign aid” has contributed, if partially, to Africa’s overall “underdevelopment,” is provocatively intriguing, an otherwise radical reinterpretation of an aspect of development economics worth the focused attention of sociologists, politicians, development economists, and policy makers in the African world.

In this situation, her theoretical approach, a vigorous one, certainly, is a complete departure from the methodology which Walter Rodney, a historian, employed in developing his theoretical critique of capitalism in “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.” Contrarily, Molefi Kete Asante’s “Rooming in the Master’s House” takes a rather centrist approach, Afrocentric sociology, if you will, to the critique of leadership, of politics, of race politics, and of economics. Furthermore, Dambisa, much like Yaw Nyarko, is a cautious proponent of free market economics, while, the radical thinker, Walter Rodney, interestingly, was not. In fact, Rodney, who earned his doctorate at 24, applied a mixture of Marxian and Afrocentric critique to free market economics, especially as it affected post-colonial African economies.

Indeed, Rodney’s rigorous Afrocentric and Pan-Africanist approach to the study of indigenous African institutions, exemplified by his doctoral thesis, “A History of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545-1800,” as well as by his later writings, opened new methodological vistas into analyzing the African world generally, namely, by going beyond theoretical questions, which, heretofore, had concentrated mostly on claustrophobically narrowish philosophical and political considerations, Eurocentrically-derived. Meanwhile, Rodney, like George Ayittey, Cheikh Anta Diop, Molefi Kete Asante, did critically look at the political economy of indigenous African institutions as well, proposing if they could be resurrected to play their destined role in the social ecology of African modernity. Additionally, he also looked at how indigenous productive forces, progressive cultural beliefs and practices, traditional “educational” systems, and social stratification shaped local economies on the eve of colonialism. Finally, he continued to investigate these questions when he taught at Tanzania’s University of Dar Salaam.

However, focusing his, Rodney’s, intellectual energies on collectivizing disenfranchised, if disparate, ethnicities, under one rainbow political umbrella, to oppose bourgeois authoritarianism in partisan politics, multiparty democracy, that is, in his native Guyana would seem to define one of his greatest intellectual achievements! Likewise, Wole Soyinka has himself raved about the ideological, cultural, and theoretical limitations of Eurocentrism to address important questions related to the world, especially of Africa, as well as, among other things, even going to the World Bank to argue for debt cancellation on Africa’s behalf. Pointedly, the moral canvass upon which Soyinka splashed his pointillist arguments assumed a radical Rodneyite critique of imperialism, colonialism, and slavery, and their relationship, direct and indirect, to Africa’s supposed “underdevelopment.”

Yet, equally true is the fact that he, Wole Soyinka, an auctorial loudmouth of poetic imagism, has not ceased to lower his small axe of Zoilism on the big tree of corruption, running helter-skelter in his own dinosaurian Nigeria, as well as of Africa. On the other hand, Rev. Mensah Otabil has offered some useful advice to African politicians by telling them to concentrate moral expenditure on judicious use of Africa’s natural resources, on fighting corruption, on putting progressive institutional structures in place to underwrite the self-perpetuation of Africa’s internal economies, on human capacity building, and on divesting themselves of borrowing impulses. Yet, in the end, each of these creative individuals, all those we have been discussing in the foregoing, has demanded that Africa focuses instead on economic and political independence, as Kwame Nkrumah, Elijah Mohammed, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey, Patrice Lumumba, and Louis Farrakhan advocated.

This brings us back to the question of “foreign aid.” In fact, Dambisa’s work on the political economy of “foreign aid” builds on prior theoretical foundations laid down by two prominent American development economists, Profs. Hollis B. Chenery and Alan M. Short, many years ago. Essentially, both had advanced the seminal idea of “foreign assistance,” more technically “foreign aid,” in an influential paper, entitled “Foreign Assistance and Economic Development,” published in the 1966 edition of The American Economic Review. Yet again, both had fundamentally argued that capital flight had accompanied the demise of colonialism, en masse, and, therefore, there needed to be some form of fluid financial reserve from which former colonies could tap into for economic sustainability. Implicitly, related questions of improved health, education, and ergonomics; structural change; economic growth; and economic development constituted some of the principal ideological impetuses which drove their theoretical considerations.

Incidentally, Dr. Nyarko’s work on the political economy of “foreign aid,” for instance, has received comparable levels of positive recognition, from some important quarters, as the work of the Zambian-born, Oxford-trained international economist, Dambisa Moyo, though in more recent times part of her transformative work has gone crashing through severe clouds of private and public criticism, chiefly from Bill Gates and Jeffrey Sachs. In the main, William Easterly, Paul Kagame, Kofi Annan, Paul Collier, Wen Jiabao, Abdoulaye Wade, and Niall Ferguson, all seem to have endorsed her central thesis, which she comprehensively develops in her “New York Times” best-selling book “Dead Aid.” However, Yaw Nyarko, if our intense reading of his work on the political economy of “foreign aid” is contextually correct, instead looks askance at the question, necessarily, more so, because, among other pressing reasons, he approaches it from the viewpoint of the financial capitalism of remittances, human capacity building, brain drain and brain gain, technology acquisition, and empowerment of local economies, even while Dambisa closely studies the financialization of African national economies.

Indeed, Yaw Nyarko, alone, and, then, in collaboration with William Easterly, has demonstrated the net positive impact which accrues from brain drain, or brain gain, on African economies, this, in terms of knowledge, technology, and expertise transfer, as well as, more importantly, of improved image of Africa in the international community. Again, implicitly, scholars like himself, Yaw Nyarko, that is, Victor Lawrence, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Ashitey Trebi-Ollenu, Wole Soyinka, Ave Kludze, Thomas Mensah, Chimamanda Adichie, Chinua Achebe, Nuruddin Farah, Dambisa Moyo, Haile Debas, Douglas Osei-Hyiaman, Ama Ata Aidoo, Daniel Bentil, George Sefa Dei, Philip Emeagwali, Kofi Awoonor, Cheick Modiba Diarra, Adebisi Agboola, Ayi Kwei Armah, Emmanuel Acheampong, Gebisa Ejeta, Calestous Juma, Oheneba Boachie-Adjei, Abba Gumel, and Francis Allotey represent a few African-born thinkers whose academic and research works in America have impacted the world in significant ways.

Also important is the fact that time and space will not permit elaborate review of African-born students who studied in Asia, Europe, Australia, Canada, South Africa, and whose impactful leverage on the world is already public knowledge. Therefore, we will set the net positive impact of brain drain on Africa aside and proceed to the discourse on “foreign aid.” However, before we do that, let’s point out that Yaw Nyarko’s impactful contributions to the founding of Ashesi University, one of Ghana’s elite institutions, and of Labone New York University, Accra, inter alia, serve to nativize progressive knowledge as part of his broader vision to localize human capacity building via African institutions, which, to an extent, curtails brain drain. In fact, Ashesi University produces skilled technology, computer programming, and management students for the local economy of Ghana and for the general economy of West Africa! Finally, he and other economists have also shown how remittances, in more recent times, have outstripped “foreign aid” as the other important instrument of capital flow into Africa. More fundamentally, the issue for Africa now and for her institutions is to develop effective scientific methods to measure the econometric impact of remittances on Africa.

By and large, Prof. Dambisa is not intellectually against “foreign aid” per se, as she clearly distinguishes “economic aid” from “humanitarian aid” and “philanthropy” (charity, NGOs, etc). More pointedly, as we hinted previously, her work has primarily focused on the relationship between the political economy of “economic aid” and Africa’s development, a socioeconomic equation, which, in her well-informed opinion, exists in inverse proportionality. Among her well-placed criticisms, Dambisa has strongly rationalized that “’foreign aid’ stops governments from finding innovative solutions to problems.” Similarly, in an interview with Bill Maher not too long ago, she also said: “There are no countries that have achieved long-term economic growth and decreased poverty as dramatically as we have seen in China, India?in recent years that have been wholly dependent on the aid system.” However, other economists have confirmed the scientific “truth” of this provocatively-bold statement on political economy!

Summarily, therefore, Prof. Dambisa believes “foreign aid” does five essential things: First, it encourages African governments to abdicate their responsibility; two, it distorts local economies; three, it kills entrepreneurship; four, it undermines a need for a middle class; and, finally, it prevents African governments from representing the African people. Fortunately, she offers enough creative solutions in “Dead Aid.” More critically, Prof. Easterly, a development economist himself, has advanced similar theoretical sentiments, arguing that organizational ineptness of Western institutions is partly to blame for the glaring failure of “foreign aid” to impact “poor” countries positively (See his books “The Elusive Quest for Growth” and “The White Man’s Burden”).

Yet, the corruptibility of African institutions and of politicians is equally culpable as well, no doubt. Technically, another report, titled “Illicit Financial Flows From Africa: Hidden Resource For Development,” prepared by the Global Financial Integrity, sheds more light on our sustained critique on institutional corruptibility in Africa. Again, Yaw Nyarko and some of his colleagues have been rigorously pursuing the political economy of corruption, of how it affects Africa’s development, as well as of practical solutions to minimizing, if not ending, it from several angles, academic, social, and political. Among other approaches, he relies on the work of investigative journalists such as Anas Aremeyaw Anas to present his case (See “How To End Corruption At The Ports In Africa—A Picture Is Worth A Thousand”).

Interestingly, though, except perhaps South Africa and Botswana which have managed to avoid “foreign aid,” the rest of Africa is deeply drowned by and in it. Plus, Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan journalist and activist, once jailed by Yoweri Museveni, has eloquently made a similar case, as Dambisa’s and Easterly’s, in the essay “Foreign Aid and the Weakening of Democratic Accountability in Uganda.” Further, the UN, The Economist, the African Union, and the World Bank have revealed to the world, one way or the other, how the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Meles Zenawi, a corrupt dictator and darling of the West, used “foreign aid” as a leveraging tool, of sorts, to underwrite political repression in Ethiopia. That said, Jacqueline Novogratz, founding CEO of a non-profit venture capital concern, called Acumen Fund, disagrees, quite vehemently, rather arguing for an alternative formula, a more progressively efficient approach to “foreign aid” disbursement, for sure, but one still based on the old formula of Western aid to Africa, though she still thinks Western aid agencies should directly invest logistic support and financial resources in “Africa’s own solutions,” as she wants to put it.

Mwenda has said: “Let’s reframe the ‘African question’?to look beyond the media’s stories of poverty, civil war, helplessness, and see the opportunities for creating wealth and happiness throughout the continent.” Ideally, this Afrocentric approach to African development economics is the way forward. In fact, Yaw Nyarko’s heavy intellectual, scientific, and research investment in local African economies, call it “ethnic economics” if you must, is probably one of the innovative Mwendan approaches to revamping African economics. Yaw Nyarko hopes to make African “ethnic economies” more globally competitive via institutional internationalization. The late Dr. Amos Wilson, a psychologist, makes a rational defense of “ethnic economics” in “Blueprint For Black Power: A Moral, Political, and Economic Imperative For The Twenty-First Century.”

However, the entrenched oligarchization of “ethnic economics” by foreigners in African national economies can sometimes be hugely problematic for peaceful inter-racial socialization. Actually, this was what created serious institutional and social tension between native Africans and Indians, a process which came to a head in post-colonial Uganda, as well as in the heyday of political Hitlerism, a vampiric state of affairs presided over by the hijinks Catonism of Idi Amin. However, the competition has resurfaced in relative obscurantism since Yoweri Museveni accepted deported Idi Amin-era Indians back into Uganda. That is, total foreign ownership or control of African “ethnic economies” need be neutralized for the common good of Africa, for healthy inter-racial socialization, and for the future of African children. Simply put, we are not saying economic nativism should be actualized to the frigid exclusion of the business interests of foreign elements or of naturalized citizens in Africa. We are simply impressing upon African leadership, political, churchly, and business, to encourage highly competitive local entrepreneurship with native Africans taking leadership roles. The other point is if we can tailor our economies to needful considerations of ethical consumerism.

Now, coming back to the question of “foreign aid” and Africa’s international image, Prof. Dambisa has leveled the same critique, similar to Mwenda’s, against U2’s Bono for his role, however advertent or inadvertent, in media negativization of deplorable socioeconomic conditions in Africa. More importantly, Prof. Dambisa has a legion of international supporters from Paul Kagame, Kofi Annan, Paul Collier, her Oxford advisor and author of the influential work “The Plundered Planet,” Wen Jiabao to Niall Ferguson, all of whom seem to endorse “Dead Aid.” It’s, however, ironic that Kagame would offer her his full support even while seventy-percent of Rwandan’s GDP is dependent on “foreign aid.” In fact, we did communicate our reservations about Prof. Dambisa’s central thesis on “foreign aid” directly to Dr. Nyarko, who, it turned out, agreed in principle.

Yet, Dr. Nyarko’s methodological approach to economic theory, to the extent that it offers practical solutions, is, unlike Prof. George Ayittey’s, another US-based Ghanaian economist, in many respects. Prof. Ayittey is merely a hollow bundle of cheap talk, which, to say the least, is short on creative practicalities as far as effectual solutions to chronic national problems are concerned. What is the justification for our singularized critique of Prof. Ayittey? It’s because many conservative White-American individuals and research institutions, probably not directly through his own making, have uncritically used his work to attack the black world at every available opportunity, as though an incontrovertible link between economic determinism, on the one hand, and, sadly, black essentialism and black biological determinism, on the other hand, exists.

Indeed his diarrheal public utterances about the African world are sometimes what fuel misguided and wild claims made in publications such as Lynn’s and Vanhanen’s “IQ And The Wealth of Nations” and “IQ And Global Inequality,” Rushton’s “Race, Evolution, And Behavior,” and Herrnstein’s and Murray’s “The Bell Curve.” In effect, his intellectual and political association with the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution says it all. Quite controversially, though, Prof. Ayittey’s intellectual assault on Africa, is, probably, no different from Godfrey Mwakikagile’s. Some serious critics have even charged Mwakikagile as well as Peter Niggli, Christopher Blocher, R.W. Johnson, Ali Mazrui, and Mahmood Mamdani for advocating recolonization of Africa, allegedly due to Africa’s stifling inability to solve its problems as convincingly, as efficiently, and as competently as Asians and Westerners have done. Yet the West and Asia have the same chronic problems Africa has!

Having said all that, the most important question, it appears to us, at this juncture, to ask is: Why have socialism and capitalism seemingly failed to work in Africa? “The Mystery of Capitalism: Why Capitalism Triumphs In The West And Fails Everywhere Else,” a book by Hernando De Soto, one of South America’s world-famous economists from Peru, appears to provide some useful, if controversial, answers. Essentially, De Soto theorizes that it’s the structural legality of property and property rights, rather than cultural differences between societies, which determine success. But, aren’t property rights and the legal structures supposedly propping them up, by themselves, part of the definitional framework of culture? What is “culture” then? And what is “success”? For instance, wasn’t Ernest Hemmingway, one of the literary giants of the 20th century and a Nobel Laureate, a global and national (America) success before committing suicide? How have imperialism, colonialism, and neocolonialism contributed to Western financial and technological success? What has libertarian socialism got to say about the means of production and private property?

Haven’t some scholars demonstrated a direct link between profits made from slavery and Britain’s Industrial Revolution? What accounts for the abject poor in Western societies, as Cornel West and Tavis Smiley try to show in their book “The Rich and the Rest of Us”? What roles do pedigree, personal industry, chance, foresight, educational attainment, social class, political connections, adventurism, race, and kind of school an individual attends play in the social and political definition of “success”? Didn’t slavery build some of America’s most important universities, a controversial topic Craig Stephen Wilder explores in his book “Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities”? Actually, what accounts for the highest suicide rates among Scandinavian countries, mostly wealthy countries, a subject taken up by Maia Szalavitz in the essay, “Why The Happiest States Have The Highest Suicide Rates”?

Is Greenland, which topped a list of countries with highest suicide rates in 2011, not a financially successful Western country with all the legal structures De Soto talks about already in place? Didn’t South Korea, one of the wealthiest and successful societies in the world, come in third of countries with highest suicide rates? Technically, it appears we need to seriously look beyond the stifling particularities of De Soto’s sociological, historical, and contemporary arguments. Certainly, we are not saying he is entirely wrong, or, even wrong, at all, far from it. In other words, we need to seriously consider his sociological propositions and legal arguments in addition to cultural factors. Emphatically, why is it that capitalism and socialism have woefully failed in the African context? Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, and others invented African socialism, for instance, to address African problems, thinking that socialism and African communalism were ideological cognates. But they were entirely wrong!

In fact, Karl Marx’s and Friedrich Engels’ appraisal of the evolution of society, through the diagnostic prism of “dialectical materialism,” a phraseology whose primordial formulation is attributed to Joseph Dietzgen, made “matter” a primary mover of “change,” a concept, which, in turn, supposedly, derives from steady oppositional strain due, in large part, to interiorized incongruities, be it ideational, historical, and what have you. The idea itself is fundamentally Hegelian, so to speak, arising out of Marx’s measured critique of Hegelian dialectic, a philosophical concept which Hegel had previously analyzed in “The Phenomenology of Spirit” and “The Science of Logic.” However, Friedrich Hegel had no respect for African ingenuity and humanity. He said of Africa: “This is the land where men are children, a land lying beyond the daylight of self conscious history, and enveloped in the black color of night. At this point, let us forget Africa not to mention it again. Africa is no historical part of world… (See Asante’s essay “Locating A Text: Implications of Afrocentric Theory”).

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis