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“Money for Nothing”: the West in Africa

African leaders flocking to Vladimir Putin’s 2019 Russia-Africa Summit. Alexei Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP/Getty

A little over 20 years ago, says Rod Liddle in The Sunday Times, I spent an “interminable journey” in the back of an expensive 4×4, being driven across Uganda with Boris Johnson. On one leg of the trip, up towards the then Sudanese border, “where various bands of psychopathic maniacs were murdering one another”, Johnson spent the entire time singing to himself the Dire Straits song Money for Nothing. Perhaps it was a “subconscious comment” on the hopeless state of British aid spending in its former colonies. As we learned yet again from African countries’ failure to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in a UN vote, the more aid we send to Africa, “the more it hates us”.

Every year Africa receives about £40bn in aid, much of it from the West and “pretty much none at all from Russia”, which tends to bung its donations in the direction of “Syria, North Korea and Tajikistan”. Africa’s real problems – “predatory and tyrannical elites, the lack of an entrepreneurial middle class, poor education, no democracy” – are nothing to do with imperialism. Just look at Singapore and Malaysia, colonised for almost 160 years and now affluent and thriving. And yet, such is the depth of Africans’ hatred for their former oppressors that many are “cheering from the sidelines” for Russia. In Uganda, the president’s son recently announced: “Putin is absolutely right!” In South Africa, one opposition MP declared: “We are with Russia … teach them a lesson.”