Over on EURef I pursued this theme in a rather desultory fashion in the past but it is clear that more attention should be paid to the subject and to the somewhat dire role played by transnational organizations, NGOs and foreign aid in the destruction of African economies; it is equally clear that this blog is a far more suitable outlet.
Today I attended a talk my Moeletsi Mbeki, South African businessman and political writer at the IPN. Mr Mbeki is promoting his latest book, "Architects of Poverty: Why Africa's Capitalism Needs Changing". In fact, as he cheerfully admitted in reply to the first question, it is not capitalism that needs changing but the government and the political elite.
Mr Mbeki is a controversial figure in South Africa, not least because of his attacks on the ANC government, run until last year by his brother. He has been banned from SABC, the state controlled main media station but, luckily, there is some private broadcasting in South Africa. His voice is heard.
He is also a successful businessman who owns a number of firms that include a TV station. This is not, on the whole, seen as a positive either by the political elite or by the transnational aid organizations.
Above all, he is controversial because he does not bow to the accepted African and transnational ideology that insists on putting the blame, however stupid that is after all these decades, on Western colonialism. Mr Mbeki has been known to express the view that African countries were better governed by the colonial powers than they are now by African politicians.
He was equally outspoken today. Without actually defending apartheid, he made it clear that the post-apartheid political system is impoverishing and de-industrializing South Africa, as well as increasing massively the gap between the rich and the poor, a situation that is clearly fraught with difficulties for the future.
The reason for all this is clear. There were, he said, two nationalist groups in South Africa, which made it unusual for Sub-Saharan Africa. Apart from African nationalists, there were the Afrikaners, who were the ruling elite from the country's de facto independence in 1909 until the democratic change in 1994.
The difference between that ruling nationalist elite and the present one was their economic activity. The Afrikaners were property owners, entrepreneurs, industrialists and farmers. Their interest lay in developing the country industrially and in strengthening its infrastructure, such as roads and railways, many of which are still there with no new ones having been built.
The new political elite, on the other hand, is interested in consumption of state revenue. The country's ills: de-industrialization, lack of investment, growing gap between rich and poor, lack of economic growth, lack of proper education and health care and the overwhelming corruption all grow out of that simple distinction.
How one overcomes that problem is the question people are trying to solve. There was little Mr Mbeki could contribute though he did put forward one or two ideas, which I shall blog about separately. But the vicious circle is extremely strong: the only way a political elite's grasp or power can be weakened is by encouraging the growth of a civil society; on the other hand, while that strong grip on political and economic existence is there, civil societies cannot grow and entrepreneurship, an essential part of it, dies.