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Honest Accounts? The real causes of global poverty

Honest Accounts? The real causes of global poverty

Health Poverty Action, July 2014. There is a story that governments of donor countries like to tell about the rich world’s relationship with Africa. It is a story of generosity, charity and benevolence. It is a story of selfless aid givers supporting the needy and impoverished people of Africa.   

While this is the story that governments like to tell, it is not the correct story. Our latest report, ‘Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses,’ released with a number of UK and African partners, shows that $192 billion a year is being taken out of Africa by the rest of the world – almost six and a half times the amount of ‘aid’ it receives. 

Our research examined outflows from Africa across a wide range of areas.  These include illicit financial flows, the repatriation of multinational company profits, debt repayments, loss of skills, illegal logging and fishing and the costs imposed as a result of climate change. We compared these to inflows – including aid, foreign investment and remittances.  

We found that Africa’s net loss is $58 billion a year. To put this amount into context, it is over one and a half times the amount of additional money that would be needed to deliver affordable health care to everyone in the world. 

Our research reveals that the emigration rate of skilled professionals from Africa is almost double the global rate. In five African countries (Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Mozambique, Angola and Liberia), over half of health workers have emigrated to OECD countries. These countries have some of the worst human development indicators in the world and have all suffered major conflicts. Sierra Leone only has two doctors and Tanzania only has one for every 100,000 people. The scarcity of health workers constitutes a major barrier to the provision of essential health services, such as safe delivery, childhood immunisation and the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
The financial cost of Africa’s emigration is estimated to be $6 billion a year, $2billion lost to the migration of health workers, plus a further $4billion to employ Northern experts to fill a range of skills gaps.  

Yet these facts are being lost amongst the aid propaganda. In many donor countries, the debate about our role in ending global poverty and improving health around the world tends to focus on how much aid we should give. As politicians line up to defend their ‘proud records’ as donors, for the purposes of political point scoring, the charity sector has tended to respond by applauding the aid budget – and in doing so has reinforced this aid-based perception of our relationship with Africa. 

In reality, Africa is not poor, but its people are being kept in poverty by a combination of inequitable policies, huge disparities in power, and criminal activities perpetuated and sustained by wealthy elites, both inside and outside of the continent.

The EU, with six of its members constituting tax havens, plus a further 10 under UK  jurisdiction, is at the heart of this theft from the African continent. Yet this truth is rarely told, while politicians and charities praise the rich world for being the saviours of the poor. This perverse portrayal allows wealthy governments to publically celebrate their ‘generosity’, while continuing to be party to the sustained looting of Africa – increasing inequality and creating the very poverty and poor health conditions they profess to be solving through aid.

Real progress towards ending global poverty requires governments, media and NGOs alike to end the misrepresentations of our financial relationships with Africa and tackle the failures of the current financial system and the systemic inequalities that underpin it. This includes taking urgent measures to close down the UK’s network of tax havens, curb the plundering of African resources by multinational companies and enact ambitious and far-reaching climate change targets. 

It is not the world that aids Africa, but Africa that aids the world.  It is time for us to communicate that truth.

For more information on the ‘Honest Accounts?’ report, visit the Health Poverty Action website.

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