Anthony King, Telegraph (London), June 4
The aid debate: Most people believe Africa’s problems are the fault of Africans, and any money donated is likely to be squandered or stolen
Bob Geldof has won the admiration of millions of Britons for his efforts to lift sub-Saharan Africa out of poverty — and a substantial majority applaud his initiative in organising the Live 8 concerts next month.
But the findings of YouGov’s survey for The Daily Telegraph also reveal the brutal truth that most people in this country believe that Africa’s problems are largely the fault of Africans. They also think that any money donated to Africa by richer countries stands a good chance of being either squandered or stolen.
The Live 8 concerts may make a difference, but only a small minority of Britons expect to increase the amount of money they give to charities working in Africa.
Most people say they would rather donate money to organisations working closer to home or on behalf of victims of natural disasters.
The survey’s findings show a stark contrast between people’s responses to last year’s tsunami disaster and their responses to Africa’s endemic poverty. No one could be blamed for the tsunami — and its victims’ needs for food and shelter were apparent immediately.
In contrast, Africa’s long-term problems appear to most Britons to be man-made and far more intractable.
For those concerned about the African continent, the only heartening feature of YouGov’s survey is the finding that a large majority of people agree with Gordon Brown that the governments of rich countries should cancel all or most of the large debts owed by African countries.
A large proportion of YouGov’s respondents, though by no means all, believe that debt reduction would represent a significant move towards helping to solve Africa’s problems. YouGov asked respondents to identify the three factors that they believe have contributed most to making so much of sub-Saharan Africa poor and wretched.
The findings — set out in the chart — show clearly that a majority of Britons are disinclined to point the finger of blame at the malefactions of previous colonial regimes, or the exploitation of African companies by multinational corporations, or Africa’s lack of natural resources and often hostile climate.
Instead, they believe that Africa’s problems are, to a large extent, home-grown. A huge 79 per cent are obviously contemptuous of “corrupt and incompetent African governments” and 51 per cent shake their heads at the constant “civil wars in Africa and fighting among African countries”. Almost the same proportion, 53 per cent, are aware that the HIV/Aids epidemic has also sapped Africa’s strength.
YouGov’s respondents not only think that Africa’s problems are mainly home-grown; they also believe that many of the solutions need to be home-grown. Asked whether they thought Africans and African governments were doing enough to help themselves, 80 per cent responded with an emphatic “No”. A minuscule four per cent were disposed to be more charitable.
Even so, a majority of Britons recognise that, even if Africans and African governments make greater efforts to help themselves, they can never solve the continent’s problems entirely on their own.
As the figures in section of the chart headed “Who can and should act?” indicate, roughly half of those questioned, 52 per cent, believe that Africans can solve their problems “but only if they receive financial and other assistance from rich countries”.
An even larger proportion, 70 per cent, believes that ultimate responsibility for solving the continent’s problems should rest not with Africans alone but with “a partnership between Africans and rich countries”.
A clear majority similarly believes that help from outside Africa would best come not from the governments of rich countries alone or from international aid agencies alone but from the two types of organisation acting together. However, whatever the sources of foreign assistance, most Britons clearly entertain profound suspicions of Africa’s ability to put the money to good use.
YouGov asked: “How confident are you that, if governments and people in richer countries donate more money to Africa, the money will be spent wisely rather than either being wasted or finding its way into the pockets of criminals and corrupt governments?”
The blunt answer is that an overwhelming majority of Britons, 83 per cent, are either “not very confident” (41 per cent) or “not at all confident” (42 per cent). Only about one person in 10 appears reasonably confident that foreign money shipped to Africa will not simply disappear down some plug-hole or other.
That in itself is probably enough to explain most people’s lack of enthusiasm for donating to Africa-related charitable organisations.
Despite the current appeals on Africa’s behalf, only 10 per cent of YouGov’s respondents appear ready to donate more than they already do to charities working in Africa. And, as the figures in the chart indicate, almost two thirds of people would prefer to donate any additional money they give to home-based and disaster relief charities.
More than half of British voters, 53 per cent, appear happy that the Government should assist African countries by cancelling the bulk of African debts owing to British debtors.
However, as the figures in the section of the chart headed “Britain’s role” also make clear, substantial minorities are resistant to both these ideas — with, for example, more than a third of people doubting whether debt cancellation would have any significant effect.
There is even greater resistance to the idea that European Union governments should abolish agricultural subsidies to improve the position of farmers in poor countries. If British farmers were to lose out, 44 per cent of Britons would be opposed to abolishing farm subsidies.
Although the bulk of YouGov’s findings show that helping Africa is far from the top of most people’s agendas, a majority clearly want to wish Geldof the best of luck. However, they are not persuaded of the merits of his cause.
A clear majority, 52 per cent, believes that Geldof is “genuine”, and roughly the same proportion welcomes the Live 8 concerts. A third of YouGov’s respondents say that they are positively looking forward to the concerts on July 2. That said, there are doubts about how much the concerts will achieve.
Exactly half of YouGov’s respondents believe that the concerts and the publicity they generate will succeed in improving the lot of ordinary Africans. But only 12 per cent think that the concerts will be “very successful” in this respect and another 50 per cent, remain unconvinced.
YouGov elicited the opinions of 1,673 adults across Great Britain online on June 2 and 3. The data have been weighted to conform to the demographic profile of British adults as a whole. YouGov abides by the rules of the British Polling Council.