At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square

Doing Development Right In Africa

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I have noticed something peculiar during my time as a visiting professor at the African Bible University (ABU). On several visits I noticed that  the Western media covered a parade of celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, Angelina Jolie, Bono, and Bob Geldoff as they went about their charity work.

I do not question the motives of any of these people. Some of them have done good things, but the media’s coverage largely reminds me of the sort of charity that Jesus warned us against. The Pharisees paraded in the streets with trumpets; today, movie and rock stars parade in the streets with the media.

I want to tell you about some other very positive activities going on in Africa at ABU, activities that are making a difference in the right way, at the street level, out of the glare of the western media circus.

African Bible University: Doing Development Right

ABU is a three-campus university with campuses in Liberia, Uganda, and Malawi. They are accredited colleges with the purpose of providing African men and women a Christian-based liberal arts education. ABU’s model of development is something to emulate in a number of ways: their efforts are local, long-term, and require responsibility on the part of the recipients, in this case students.

  • First, ABU is located in the countries of the populations it serves. This is not an operation that flies in, stays for a few weeks, dumps some money and goes home. The ABU campuses are real, tangible locations; the faculty lives on campus and interacts with the students. There is a much higher level of commitment involved and a much better knowledge of the people who attend the school or work for it. This is a biblical model of stewardship and charity.
  • Second, this help is long term. Long-term prospects come from long-term investments, and education is an intergenerational investment. The key to wealth is humans using their God-given talents to create new opportunities to serve others and make life better for many.
  • Third, the aid is not free. While external support is available, it is not plentiful. Students are expected to pay what they can for the education they are getting. This introduces an element of responsibility into the situation.

The results of this sort of education can be best demonstrated in what alums accomplish. The story of Peter Y. from Malawi is but one example.

A Personal Case Study

Peter wanted to come to the States for graduate school, but being from a country where the per capita GDP is $857, money for studying abroad is not very plentiful. So Peter found a way to earn $500 through some writing and work with a group called Students for Liberty, and invested it in a chicken raising operation. He now has several hundred chickens and is about to expand. He will later add a much-needed grain mill operation. He already has one employee and several clients, and expects to turn a profit within four months, if not sooner.

This is what real development and economic growth looks like. I am pleased to say that when I conducted an economics seminar at ABU, I had Peter as a student and have stayed in touch with him. I have been able to watch him handle the disappointment of being unable to come to the States, and, instead of lamenting his loss, turn to something else and make that a budding business triumph. He saw opportunity and found a way to start improving the lives of his town.

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