A bucket is a handy tool. What other tool makes transporting and storing liquids and other materials so easy? And it is so low-tech that it can be crafted easily from different materials, but it seems that every one I see these days is being made out of plastic. Arguably, the five-gallon bucket is a major workhorse at home and in businesses.

But there is a dark side to the useful five-gallon bucket — each year a certain number of infants and toddlers fall face-down into these buckets and drown. The loss of just one child is heart-breaking, and buckets now come with a warning label reminding parents to keep them out of the reach of children. Yet even the best of warning labels may be ignored, and it takes only a short moment of inattention to lead to the tragic loss of life.

Many different solutions have been proposed to prevent this loss. Lid designers have produced bucket lids that are more difficult for children to remove, but these designs don’t matter if a lid has already been removed by an adult. Some people brainstormed the idea of punching holes in the bottom of the bucket to let the liquid drain out — the idea is that with no liquid in the bucket, no child will drown. While this idea would prevent loss of life, it would also completely invalidate the primary usefulness of a bucket — to move and store liquid.

Imagine living on the American frontier and needing to lug water by bucket from the stream a quarter-mile away. That would be hard enough work without adding a hole to the bucket to make most of the effort dribble away. But we see good efforts being dribbled away in many other aspects of life, including aid to Africa.

Live 8 was organized to help Africa. “We don’t want your money – we want you!” Specifically, the organizers and participants of Live 8 wanted the people of the world to tell the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union to “double aid, drop the debt and make the trade laws fair” for Africa. That is their solution — pressure other people to do something to fix the problem. It makes me wonder how much money these artists have personally put up toward relief in Africa, or if they feel their work ends with “raising awareness” of the problem. Issues of fundraising hypocrisy aside, is Live 8 really the best way to aid Africa? Will doubling aid, dropping Africa’s debts, and removing all trade barriers fix Africa’s poverty problems?

When making any charitable donation, you should ask what percentage of the money you give will actually go to the intended recipient. In the U.S., less than a quarter of every dollar taxed from you and me for welfare actually makes it into the hands of a needy person. The rest is consumed by the process of transferring the money; portions are given to people in between. Sending aid money to Africa is much like transporting water over a long distance in a leaky bucket — you will have to do a sizable amount of work to get only a small amount of aid to the person at the end.

The continent of Africa is rich in resources and labor, so why are the African nations so very poor? Writer P.J. O’Rourke wrote a chapter in his book Eat the Rich titled “How to Make Nothing from Everything,” detailing how and why Tanzania doesn’t work. The nation of Tanzania, and Africans as a whole, are poor and suffering — not because the people are lazy, not because there are no resources, and not because the West is keeping them poor. Africa is poor because there is corruption at all levels of government and a woeful lack of freedoms.

Anthony Daniels of the Telegraph wrote an excellent article explaining the problems with aid to Africa. It is well worth the full read, but here are three paragraphs of special interest:

However, aid can do harm as well as good, and this truth is much harder to grasp or depict in a few simple, emotional images. The balance, in fact, is on the side of harm. Civil wars in Africa – in Somalia, Ethiopia and the Sudan, for example – have been kept going by food and medical assistance, which puts tremendous power in the hands of both governments and insurgents. In conditions of famine brought about by war, he who controls the distribution of food aid is king.

Even in countries at peace, aid on a large scale fosters patronage and corruption. The Nordic countries now admit that it was their aid to Tanzania that allowed the late Julius Nyerere forcibly to remove three quarters of the rural population into semi-collectivised villages: in other words, that the billions of aid quite unnecessarily impoverished Tanzania for decades and produced an economic disaster from which the country is still recovering.

Charity is therefore not what Africa needs. No country grows rich by the grace and favour of another. What Africa needs is good – which is to say limited – government, as well as more trade. It is likely to get neither, and no number of rock concerts will help to bring them about.

The corruption of African governments consumes 80% of the aid given to Africa. 80%! In that case the bucket is mighty leaky, indeed!

I am pleased to see some people giving President Bush credit for trying to help Africa, even if this news is buried deep in the newspaper when it is reported at all. Much more aid has been sent to that beleaguered continent by the U.S. during the years of President Bush than the so-called “first black President” ever did, even though the Left credits President Clinton with doing more because he could feel their pain. Actually doing something isn’t as well-favored by the Left as appearing publicly sympathetic and crafting the proper sound bites.

So we are sending money, food, medicine and condoms to Africa, and most of it will simply leak away. It would be much more efficient to stop trying to fill a leaky bucket and fix it properly, but to do so would be to deny the African people the 20% of our aid that actually reaches them, and to deny them aid even for a short time would be to deny that which makes us human.

What can be done to stop rampant corruption by governments in Africa? Well, we could do our own distribution of the aid, but that would require increased infrastructure in the area, which in turn would consume some of the aid monies.

We could also inspire the governments not to plunder their own people, but once officials have gotten a taste of government graft, how hard will it be to wean them off the gravy train? It seems more likely that to do the job properly, we may need to intercede in a more direct fashion. But with the War on Terror still being waged, many people are understandably concerned about committing U.S. troops willy-nilly. I doubt we have the will as a nation to intervene in Africa in a way that would bring about lasting relief from corruption and tyranny.

What Africans need most is to be free — free from corrupt leaders, free from oppression, and free to live their lives as they see fit. We have brought this freedom to Iraq, and the people are freer now than they were for thirty years under Saddam. Do we have the strength and the courage of our convictions to help bring freedom to Africa? I’m afraid we don’t. And while we dither and debate, Africa will continue to groan under the thumb of its oppressors.

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