ANDILE KHUMALO: Asia shows Africa that investment works, aid doesn't
Ashort visit to Lesotho this week served as a stark reminder of just how much work we still need to do to reduce Africa's reliance on foreign aid.
The somewhat forgotten kingdom of 30,000km² and two million people serves as a real-life microcosm of the reality that aid does not develop nations - only investment does.
According to Mosotho journalist Ntsoaki Nkoe, who penned a piece entitled "Foreign Aid Not the Answer for Africa", research indicates that the African continent as a whole receives roughly $50bn of international aid each year - yet, instead of drastically improving the living conditions of those below the poverty line, this aid often makes the rich richer, the poor poorer and hinders economic growth, not to mention catalysing the vicious cycle of corruption.
Economist Dr Moeketsi Majoro - former minister of economic planning in Lesotho, who has worked at the International Monetary Fund - believes that after the many mistakes made in aid operations, donor countries have now learnt lessons about how their generosity can undermine domestic economic activity and create dependency.
I was a guest of Metropolitan Lesotho during its launch of a progressive investment philosophy aimed at giving more retirement options to those fortunate enough to be gainfully employed in the kingdom.
Mingling with clients of the country's largest insurer, many of them human resource managers and financial managers, I was taken aback by just how many of them were in some shape or form involved with a foreign-aid organisation.
One woman spent a large part of her evening explaining to me how her boss, the country manager for an aid organisation, barged into her office recently, expressing deep concern about the number of "confirmations of employment" requests she receives as a result of employees raising property bonds and car finance.
The key donor has only committed for three years to the organisation, and the boss is worried for the employees should the aid dry up.
The one struggle that is apparent for our generation is the struggle to create meaningful economic empowerment for all Africans.
The biggest challenge facing us all today is not ending wars and fighting for peace. Yes, there are still isolated incidents of such in parts of the continent, but by far the biggest challenge facing Africa is how to get all Africans involved in economic activity; how do we meaningfully empower all its people and reverse the scourge of a rich Africa with poor Africans?
The president of the African Development Bank, Akinwumi Adesina, is popular for his slogan: "I do not seek aid, I seek investment". But what is the actual difference between aid and investment - and why does Adesina feel the need to differentiate between the two?
The synonyms of aid include words such as "help", "support" or "assist" - whereas investment is defined as "an act of devoting time, effort or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result" or, as another dictionary defines it, "a thing that is worth buying because it may be profitable or useful in the future".
It is this altruism or benevolence attached to aid versus the commercial and capitalist nature of investment that makes the difference between development and dependency.
After decades of looking overseas for financial assistance, foreign aid has become an "acceptable norm", and this has exposed the continent to the challenging dangers of always being on the receiving end of the begging bowl.
The general belief has been that foreign aid can remedy poverty. The truth is that foreign aid has little to do with moving people out of abject poverty.
If one looks at the economic miracle of our time, Asia, it is clear that only investment develops countries - not aid.
But that investment only comes with a very clear, focused and consistent application of investment-friendly policy. Africa is already home to some of the world's fastest-growing economies, so it doesn't lack opportunity.
The trick is for us to make their investment case - not our aid case - stronger than ever before.
• Khumalo is an entrepreneur and a CA (SA).