Nothing has been better at producing power-expanding crises than foreign intervention. This should be unsurprising. When a government intervenes in the affairs of another country, it inevitably ventures into a complex and esoteric situationsuch as a religious or ethnic disputeof which it knows little. That is nearly guaranteed to create resentment, resistance, and crisis.
In Africa, Western powers in the nineteenth and twentieth century believed they could mold the continent to their liking. While their stated, and perhaps partly real, motive was to bring the benefits of civilization to primitive peoples, the unstated, more dominant motive was the quest for resources and an eventual outlet for exports. Imperialist hubris led to all the pitfalls that are associated with nation-building and central planning. The Great Powers drawing of boundaries on paper maps ignored real tribal and ethnic boundaries, leading to at least two time bombs: 1) single nations containing two or more adversarial groups, and 2) single ethic groups spread among two or more nations. The first led to civil war, as groups contested for the life-and-death power represented by the state. The second led to multiple secessionist movements, which often elicited bloody reactions by central governments wishing to hold their nations together and to maintain hold of natural resources.
These developments stifled progress toward prosperity and created crises that the colonial powers felt compelled to respond to. After World War II and with the advent of the Cold War, the cry for independence turned colonialism to more subtle forms, as the United States replaced Britain as the dominant international power. Nominally independent countries functioned as agents of the Great Powers. The United States and the Soviet Union supported various African rulers who were happy to accept the patronage and prestige while brutally repressing and robbing their populations and rewarding their cronies and themselves. (The paradigm case was Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire, who brutally ruled and exploited his country with U.S. backing.) The resulting unrest elicited further intervention, both financial (foreign aid) and at times military (covert and overt). The inner turmoil and the putative threat from outside rivals easily justified an expansion of interventionist power.
An alternative policy has never gotten serious consideration: genuine free trade achieved through the peaceful efforts of private traders without government backing. Such a policy would have effected a gradual and nonviolent transformation of Africa into a prosperous region while respecting the rights of allincluding the citizens of the developed countries. The returns African countries would reap from trade and foreign investment would dwarf any foreign aid received and avoid acting as a crutch to allow governing regimes to avoid needed reforms (as aid does).
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