Death, Gabon, GDP figures and the Smidge of Moyo

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Omar is dead. And just before he passed away at a hospital in Spain, I went to the East Fjords. It’s is the place to be. Frú LúLú, the new restaurant in Neskaupstadur: delicious.

Or stay at hotel Aldan in Seydisfjördur. So silent, so beautiful. Seydisfjördur is one of my favorite places on this island. The whole town should be a world museum. Along With Óli the mayor.

And the people there seem to have lot of fun. No one talked about the economy. Even if we are seeing a smidge of light.

Look here:

June 8 (Reuters) - Iceland moved deeper into recession in the first quarter with the economy shrinking at an annual pace of 3.9 percent as the collapse of the North Atlantic island's main banks last year reverberated through the economy. Considering the scale of the island's financial meltdown, the GDP figures were rather upbeat, an analyst said.

"That's actually not that bad, relative to what has happened in Iceland," Danske Bank economist Lars Christensen.

"It is a reletively [sic] good number, in terms of what we're seeing in other meltdown economies."

By comparison, the economies in the Baltic region have suffered far greater contractions due to the global downturn with Latvian gross domestic product tumbling a full 18 percent year-on-year in the first three months of the year.

Yes, rather upbeat.

This is what to expect for this year, 2009:

Iceland GDP figure -3.9 percent

US GDP figure -2.8 percent

UK GDP figure -3.7 percent

Germany GDP figure -5.5 percent

Hungary GDP figure -6.0 percent

Poland GDP figure -0.8 percent

Sweden GDP figure -4.6 percent

India GDP figure +5.0 percent

Singapore GDP figure -8.8 percent

Denmark GDP figure -3.5 percent

China GDP figure +6.5 percent

And Mr. Omar Bongo is dead. This astute Gabon ruler, since 1967, is likely to be succeed by a family member. I’ve never been to Gabon, only to the northern border. Not to sneak in, though.

But Africa is on my mind. My favorite continent by far. The colors, the smell, the people. The laughter in the air. The darkness at night, the bright sun at noon. I’ve been there close to 20 times.

And the white Red Cross, Nissan Patrol and Land Cruiser trucks and other charity organizations driving around and around in their SUVs. Helping the continent’s people to make better lives for themselves.

It’s an industry, charity work. I’ve seen them everywhere and often thought: “This is not right. This is wrong.” In Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, everywhere, they are dining out in groups at posh hotels, thinking they are so good, spending a local worker’s annual salary on a bottle of French wine.

The national budgets of many of the African states are completely dependent on foreign aid from wealthy countries. And we Icelanders take a (big) part in this aid circus.

Then came Dambisa Moyo with her new book Dead Aid, a must-read for everyone interested in Africa, life and politics.

So I have to include a small promotion for her book. This quote is from her website:

Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa

In the past fifty years, more than $1 trillion in development-related aid has been transferred from rich countries to Africa. Has this assistance improved the lives of Africans? No. In fact, across the continent, the recipients of this aid are not better off as a result of it, but worse—much worse.

In Dead Aid, Dambisa Moyo describes the state of postwar development policy in Africa today and unflinchingly confronts one of the greatest myths of our time: that billions of dollars in aid sent from wealthy countries to developing African nations has helped to reduce poverty and increase growth.

In fact, poverty levels continue to escalate and growth rates have steadily declined—and millions continue to suffer. Provocatively drawing a sharp contrast between African countries that have rejected the aid route and prospered and others that have become aid-dependent and seen poverty increase, Moyo illuminates the way in which overreliance on aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.

Yes, Mr. Bongo is dead. And soon we will have to sign a deal with the UK and the Netherlands because of IceSave, Landsbanki’s savings mess in these countries. We have to pay, close to one trillion. A lot.

So in a week’s time, Iceland will be removed from the list of international terrorist organizations where Mr. Darling and Mr. Brown placed us. All of us were on that list, even the fishermen in Seydisfjördur. But never the dictator Mr. Bongo.

Páll Stefánsson – ps@icelandreview.com

Views expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Iceland Review.