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An NGO in Africa Goes Awry

5:40 PM, Oct 1, 2012 • By ARMIN ROSEN
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Sachs’s attitude towards accountability is troubling for another reason as well. He has cultivated a close relationship with some of the worst tyrants in Africa, leaders who, not surprisingly, have embraced a Western-funded pro-development agenda that makes no demands for political reform.

In the acknowledgements to The End of Poverty, Sachs thanked “Africa’s new generation of democratic leaders that are pointing the way,” a list that notoriously included Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. Zenawi, who died on August 20, had ruled Ethiopia since 1991; his government imprisoned journalists and opposition figures, and effectively banned civil society groups and NGOs in 2009. Kibaki is most famous for declaring himself president in the midst of Kenya’s disputed 2007 elections, an act that triggered some of the worst ethnic violence in the country’s history. Sachs is especially admiring of Zenawi: In a 2004 speech, Sachs described the dictator, along with Ugandan president-for-life Yoweri Museveni, as “ingenious, deeply knowledgeable, and bold.”

Sachs gives the impression of being unbothered by leaders who steal elections, imprison dissidents, and meddle in their neighbors’ affairs. Just as importantly, these leaders seem unbothered by him. Sachs’s brand of development doesn’t require systemic political reform—just pliant authority figures who can foster the kind of stability and cooperation that an undertaking like the MVP requires. Considering Sachs and the MVP’s prominence, these are appallingly low expectations.

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