Thirty years ago, Ethiopia was in the grip of a famine that only foreign aid could help stem. But today's reality is that the poor world needs less and less assistance as it is quickly developing by itself. In Africa, the proportion of people earning $1.25 or less a day has fallen from 60 per cent to 40 per cent in a generation; economic growth has doubled the global average for a decade; disease and war are down; democracy and life expectancy are up; and Africa is now home to 160.000 millionaires. A generation after Live Aid, Ethiopia's first yuppies are traders on Africa's first commodities exchange.
In that context, old-style foreign aid looks desperately out of date. What Africa needs, and what it is increasingly getting, is foreign investment. Even Live Aid organiser Bob Geldof now chairs an African investment fund.
But just as Africa needs ever less help, the aid world is giving it ever more, quadrupling foreign aid to Africa since the millennium. Why? Because aid has graduated from its origins in the 1940's as a kindly impulse to a global industry today worth $134.8 billion a year - $55.8 billion of that in Africa alone - and employing 600,000 people around the world. That's not charity anymore.
That's huge and institutionalised business. And aid's business is crisis. So it is that even as Africa's economies have soared, the aid industry has used its vast resources, and the unmatched power that comes from combining the UN, rich world governments, thousands of aid agencies and a sizeable slice of the world's wealthiest men, to convince us that the place has never been worse. In reality, economic growth is producing a bewildering Africa diversity.
~ Alex Perry.
Alex Perry is a former Africa bureau chief for Time magazine.