Don't ask me why, but occasionally my mind turns to the problem of Africa, of people living in poverty, dying of starvation or disease, people who seem to perpetually need our help. And therein lies the rub, because despite the billions we've poured into Africa we seem no closer to solving the problems.
My theory has been that we need to pick a nation, one with a stable and open-minded government, then attack the problems in that country as a showcase to the rest. The help would mainly be through advice and expertise. The first issue is feeding the country, aside from the obvious issue that you can't achieve anything if your people are starving, it avoids the need for handouts and frees up money used to buy in food for other things.
So you look at improving farming techniques, run schools for farmers on how to improve crop yields, simple stuff, tailored to their environment and crops, but enough so the country is capable not just of feeding itself, but also generating a surplus to sell.
Next you'd want to look at getting the country to create revenue streams. At the moment this is largely done from selling whatever natural resources they have, but you make more money from manufactured goods. So you bring in advisers and experts in relative industries based on their available resources and you setup manufacturing to supply products to the region and reduce the reliance on imports.
Once you have money coming in from goods and crops, you can turn to focus on infrastructure; things like roads to improve trade, water supplies to improve health and education. Slowly the cycle can build and slowly you drag the country out of poverty.
All of this is a long-term plan, not something you could setup overnight, or with just a handful people, it needs government-level buy-in, though probably not that many experts, you teach the locals, they teach each other. But how exactly do you decide on what to do in which order or which industries are appropriate? The answer is no one knows. So I'm thinking we could try and use a computer game, partly to help understand the consequences of decisions. Partly to educate people on the issues in Africa, partly to learn what could work.
What I'm talking about is something like SimCity or Civilization, something where you have a map of Africa with generated political situations (for fear of offending anyone). They could be randomly generated, but in an effort to see how different strategies work they may be better standardised so you can see how competing players fare, plus it generates competition. They you let players pick a country with the end goal of becoming a developed nation with a self-sustaining economy.
The variable factors would be anything from political regime (dictators and war lords through to democracy), differing levels of corruption (which would adapt as the game progressed), different natural resources, climates, amount of cultivatable land, local demand, warring neighbours. Then you have curve balls like natural disasters, coups, disease and cash flow. You'd have to decide what to do or invest in at each point and poor decisions could set you back or even bring you down.
The underlying programming would be interesting, just how do you predict the outcome of turning the Sahara into a solar energy scheme or decide whether clearing rainforest for agriculture has benefits or drawbacks?
Still, I think it'd make an interesting game to play and, who knows, it might lead to some ideas for helping Africa in a sustainable way rather than just throwing money at the problem and thinking our job is over.