Intelligence, international aid workers, and reality

Yesterday evening I wrote an article titled ‘Aid workers in Africa learn brutal lessons yet again‘.  In it, I described the experience of aid workers who’d been assaulted, gang-raped, etc. in South Sudan, and pointed out that this was reality in Africa, whether they liked it or not.

The article appears to have ‘gone viral’, with literally thousands of extra visitors to my blog today.  Vox Day linked it on his blog, Mike Cernovich tweeted a link, and a Trump supporters forum also referenced it.  I’m very grateful for all the attention.  Welcome, new readers!  I hope you like it here, and stick around.

However, it’s also elicited some hate e-mails, complaining that I’m racist and/or ‘elitist’ and/or not politically correct (shame, that) for making such claims.  Too bad.  I’m not responsible for the facts – and in the light of such reactions, I’d like to post some additional food for thought about the situation in the Third World.  My experience has been largely limited to Africa, so I’ll concentrate on that continent.

I agree with the thesis that average intelligence is a primary factor in the success and/or failure of a society, or a nation, or a culture.  See this Wikipedia article for an overall discussion of the subject.  The thesis was codified by Richard Lynn and Tatu Vanhanen in their seminal 2002 book, ‘IQ and the Wealth of Nations‘, and further developed in their 2006 book, ‘IQ and Global Inequality‘.  In brief, they argue that the economic and developmental success of nations is directly correlated with the average intelligence of the nation’s population.  I find their reasoning convincing, based on my own experience in Africa.

Before going any further, let me provide some additional information.  If you’d like to know what IQ signifies, see this short article.  Briefly, from that article, the ranges are:

Over 140 – Genius or almost genius
120 – 140 – Very superior intelligence
110 – 119 – Superior intelligence
90 – 109 – Average or normal intelligence
80 – 89 – Dullness
70 – 79 – Borderline deficiency in intelligence
Under 70 – Feeble-mindedness

Next, how do countries compare in their level of intelligence?

Based on all the above sources, here are the top 10 entries in country listings by IQ:

  1. Hong Kong (Not a country but listed for examination) – 107
  2. South Korea – 106
  3. Japan – 105
  4. Taiwan – 104
  5. Singapore – 103
  6. Austria/Germany/Italy/Netherlands – 102
  7. Sweden/Switzerland – 101
  8. Belgium/China/New Zealand/United Kingdom – 100
  9. Hungary/Poland/Spain – 99
  10. Australia/Denmark/France/Mongolia/Norway/United States – 98

And, also based on all the above sources, here are the bottom 10 entries in country listings by IQ, from lowest to highest score (some are estimated figures, based on a limited dataset):

  • Equatorial Guinea – 59
  • St. Lucia – 62
  • Ethiopia – 63
  • Cameroon/Central African Republic/Gabon/Mozambique/Sierra Leone – 64
  • Democratic Republic of the Congo – 65
  • Guinea/Zimbabwe – 66
  • Nigeria – 67
  • Ghana – 71
  • Jamaica/Kenya/South Africa/Sudan/Tanzania – 72
  • Congo/Uganda – 73

Notice anything about the bottom 10 entries?  With only two exceptions out of twenty countries listed, they’re almost all (90%) in Africa.  The two exceptions (St. Lucia and Jamaica) are populated almost exclusively by people of African extraction (i.e. former slaves).

Are you still wondering why Africa is such a mess?  Does political correctness prevent you from making the obvious correlation?  If it does, the truth is not in you.

Let me say at once that I don’t blame this on African genetic ancestry.  I blame it largely on lack of education.  If you look at Europe as it came out of the Middle Ages and entered the Renaissance, I daresay the average IQ in that continent was probably very similar to what we see in Africa today.  Several centuries of education, plus political, social and economic development and evolution, have produced the higher intelligence levels we see today.  I have little doubt that given the same opportunities, over the same length of time, the average intelligence in Africa would have exhibited precisely the same growth.  This is where colonialism really short-changed Africa.  The colonial powers generally weren’t interested in investing in their colonies;  instead, they wanted them as sources of raw materials for their own industries, and markets for their own finished goods.  Educating the locals was a waste of time and resources that could be better spent on exploiting them.  For example, I’m informed that in a major Portuguese colony, when it gained independence after the ‘Carnation Revolution‘, there was precisely one university graduate among its newly free citizens.

(As evidence that intelligence has more to do with education and environment than genetics, consider children adopted into First World families from Third World countries.  In most cases of which I have personal knowledge, provided they join their new families early enough (i.e. during the first year or two of their lives), they generally seem to grow up exhibiting the average education and intelligence levels of the culture and society within which their adoptive families live.  Their blood relatives may have a low IQ, but they will exhibit a substantially higher one, in line with their adoptive relatives.  I think that settles the genes-versus-environment argument as regards IQ.)

Be that as it may, Africa today is a living example of what the lack of education, and the lack of intelligence, can do to peoples and cultures.  I’ve seen this in action so many times I’ve lost count of it.  It reveals itself in many, many ways.

  • Armed tribes/militias/groups will set up roadblocks, or take over transport hubs, in order to hijack and steal as much aid as possible for their own benefit, even though they know (based on previous experience) that aid will dry up in the face of their depredations, as providers look for more secure routes.
  • Armed dittos will terrorize, persecute and exploit local populations, wringing out of them every last cent and everything of value that they can, ignoring the reality that trying to exploit those in the last extremity of poverty (to which they’ve driven them) is pointless – because there isn’t anything worth exploiting.  They can’t see that reality, so they go right on acting like rabid animals.  It’s usually necessary to stop them by killing them.  Nothing else works.
  • Aid workers will try to teach villages, or tribes, or entire regions, how to use better agricultural methods, or how to operate machinery such as well pumps, or how to improve hygiene and personal medical care, ignoring the reality that the locals simply don’t have the intelligence or the mental ‘equipment’ to be self-reliant after the aid workers have moved on.  Several years later, when the aid workers return, they’re invariably astonished and depressed to find that their ‘good work’, and the infrastructure they left behind, has collapsed.  Everything has to be done all over again, starting from scratch.
  • Aid organizations will often take a few brighter locals and teach them how to do certain technical or administrative tasks, hoping they’ll become leaders in their communities.  They’re almost invariably disappointed when those individuals use their new-found knowledge for their own benefit, making themselves indispensable to their people and charging money (or kickbacks in kind) to use that knowledge to help them.  Some become tyrants;  others, warlords.
  • I’ve seen some aid organizations recruit, train and arm guards to protect their installations and programs.  So far, so good . . . but when the aid organizations move on, in every single instance of which I’m aware, the newly trained and armed guards turned into a local gang, terrorizing everyone in the area and using their weapons to benefit themselves alone.  “Might makes right” isn’t just a Western concept.

Based on my extensive experience of Africa, I suggest there are two – and only two – ways in which Western aid should be focused in the short term.  The first is education.  Teach people the basics of how to think, how to use their brains – and do so in a way that is tailored to their current levels of intelligence.  Don’t expect a teenager with an IQ of 70 to function at the same level as someone with an IQ of 100.  He must be taught things he can do – and at which he can succeed – that are commensurate with where he’s at right now.  That way, he won’t get discouraged and abandon his studies.  He can be set tasks that grow progressively more complex and more difficult, but not at a level he can’t master.  His children will go further, and his children’s children further still . . . but he won’t.  He can’t.  That’s the brutal reality of the situation.

The second way in which aid can be useful is in providing basic infrastructure that is operable, and maintainable, and sustainable, by people in the IQ range we’ve discussed.  Examples:

  • It’s pointless giving them a complex engine-powered pump to bring up water from a well if they aren’t capable of maintaining it.  Rather give them a hand-operated pump, one they can understand, and which they can repair themselves if it breaks down.  It’s more and harder work to use it, but it’s also more practicable for them.  When it comes to health care, providing mosquito nets and clean water and hygiene education is far more important than providing anti-AIDS drug cocktails.  Sure, without the latter, people will die;  but without the former, many more people will die. Invest limited resources where they’ll do the most good for the greatest number.  Yes, that means some people will be condemned to die.  That’s economic and cultural reality in Africa.  Live with it.
  • I’ve seen several entrepreneurs in Africa take discarded Western high technology, ‘dumb it down’, and use it with great success.  Example:  pedal-powered washing machines (which we’ve discussed here before).  Old, broken-down automatic washing machines are connected to good old-fashioned bicycles mounted on frames, using drive belts made from locally-produced leather or cloth.  Result;  the pedalers earn a living, local women can wash their clothes much faster and more conveniently than taking them down to the nearest river (where they’re frequently preyed on by crocodiles), and the entrepreneur who put the whole idea together becomes a Big Man in the local economy – and is able to use his profits for other useful economic ideas.  Moral of the story:  find individuals with that sort of entrepreneurial drive, and help them.  That aid will ‘trickle down’ into the local community and benefit everyone.
  • The corollary to the above is that aid must not – repeat, must not – be given to government officials and bureaucrats who’ll siphon it off into their own pockets.  Corruption, nepotism and dishonesty are not just rife in Africa – they’re a way of life.  Tragically, too many agencies and large aid organizations (all of which should know better) are willing to let dishonest governments and bureaucrats handle aid money, so as not to offend local sensibilities or be seen as ‘neo-colonial’ in their attitudes.  Worse, some of them openly bribe governments and bureaucrats, figuring that it’s better to do that in order to ensure that at least some of the aid they provide reaches those for whom it’s intended.  Often that proportion is ten per cent or less – the rest lines venal pockets further up the food chain.
  • Finally, aid must be distributed in a way that is accountable.  Money and supplies must be accounted for when they arrive, while being sent to their final destination, and upon delivery.  The way they’re used must be monitored, and any discrepancy must result in disciplinary action – i.e. the withholding of further aid from the miscreant(s) involved.  There can be no blind acceptance of someone’s bona fides unless their actions match their words.  There can be no resigned, shoulder-shrugging acceptance of ‘shrinkage’ without a major effort to minimize losses.  If that isn’t done, the venality of Africa will soon ensure that most (if not all) of the aid sent is diverted into fat-cat pockets.  (How do you think Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire, managed to embezzle between $4 billion and $15 billion during his time in power?  It sure wasn’t his salary!)

There is a third way in which aid might be profitably spent – but it’ll never fly, because it’s 100% politically incorrect.  That way would be to hire mercenaries – probably former servicemen from Western armies and their allies – to pacify an area, ensuring that aid workers can operate safely and without coercion.  They can raise and train a local militia if responsible individuals can be found, but that’s unlikely at first.  It’ll be more important for them to proactively attack local thugs and gangs.  That’ll be an object lesson to everybody – “Get with the program, or get dead!”  In an environment where life is so cheap, and atrocities are everyday occurrences, that’s probably the only way in which this could work.  However, the reaction to that by liberals and progressives would be so outraged that, as I said, this idea will never fly.  That’s a pity, because it’s feasible, practical and necessary.  Anyone who’s been in the thick of things in Africa will probably agree.  (Witness the very effective intervention by Executive Outcomes in Sierra Leone.  It worked – but was shut down by international pressure.  More recently, as already discussed in these pages, former EO personnel assisted Nigeria to deal with the Islamic terrorists of Boko Haram.)

That’s my $0.02 worth, as one who’s been there.  Others are free to contribute their own experiences and ideas in Comments.



  1. probably the most rational analysis of the situation I've seen. My question is can anything but tribal rule last long enough to start the cultural change necessary? By that I mean tribal nations instead of the mish-mash of tribal groups in European imposed boundaries.

  2. excellent food for thought, Peter. Reframing the problem as can't vs won't in regard to ability opens up a whole new spectrum of strategies to deal with the misery and atrocities taking place in Africa and other third world countries.

    One of the biggest hurdles is getting people to even look at it this way. Too many people want simple, linear answers when humanity is anything but simple and linear. The other hurdle would be getting people to look at things as they are–and meeting people where they actually are–rather than expecting everyone's needs and abilities to be the same as our own. Western culture has been warped by people who demand that reality conform to people's preferred ideological Utopias or else (see: SJWs and the ruling elites) that they can't properly address the problems because their perceptions aren't even on the same planet. In a lot of ways, the emperor is not only naked, but stark raving mad.

    It's frustrating that the answers are there to at least mitigate a lot of human suffering that goes on, but those that have the power to actually do something to address the problem, as opposed to simply throwing money into a bottomless pit so they can pat themselves on the back for Doing Something, refuse to take of their rainbow colored blinders and actually look at what's there.

  3. I think Mike Hoare is still above ground, I wonder if he would get involved?

    Kim du Toit wrote a paper some years back called "Let Africa Sink", which is along the lines of what you've written but rather more pessimistic. It's out there on the Internet, have you read it, Peter?

  4. I can remember reading some of Kim's more trenchant comments on the state of Africa, as well as some of Lawdog's remarks as well.

    Like our esteemed host, I think the problem is baked into the culture, and only through a cultural shift are the issues going to be fixed. That applies to both Africa AND here.

    It amuses me that Vox Day linked to your post, as VD became somewhat ornery when I asked in a comment on his blog, 'Is it race or is it culture?'. Ol' Voxalicious just doesn't handle being questioned very well, judging from his response. The irony was that I admitted that it didn't matter in the short term — any fixes were going to have to be drastic and probably brutal, regardless of what the causes were.

  5. Well, I am sure I'll be called racist for this, but don't some of America's inner cities mirror what you've said about Africa?

  6. I want to commend your clear statement "To bad, I'm not responsible for the facts." Facts are facts, and prevailing political correctness can't change them and denying them only makes the world more dangerous.

  7. This is a great article and no need to comment except for your view that it is not genetic:

    "Let me say at once that I don't blame this on African genetic ancestry. I blame it largely on lack of education. If you look at Europe as it came out of the Middle Ages and entered the Renaissance, I daresay the average IQ in that continent was probably very similar to what we see in Africa today."

    If you've read the literature you must know that most scholars in psychometric believe the divergences in IQ happened thousand of years before the Middle Ages. I don't doubt that as evolution speeded up(Cochran & Harpending) that the Middle Ages and after helped give some IQ points to Europeans. However I think it is misguided to compare the Middle Ages with Africa today and use that as a benchmark. The medieval period produced many inventions, discoveries, philosophical break throughs as well as scientific advancements. In contrast Africa was even more backward before Europeans came. If anything, colonization speeded up the social evolution of Africa. The many conservative minded people who pleaded that Africa was not ready for decolonization in the post-WWII were completely correct in retrospect and any casual acceptance of IQ research would have predicted the immediate civilizational collapse that happened afterwards.

    Nonetheless, I think many of your solutions will are very sensible and the first step in coming to grips with what the IQ difference means and how to handle it. I would only add that contraceptives and a campaign against too much procreation is paramount.

  8. @Sam: I'm aware that 'most scholars in psychometric' differ from my opinion. However, if they're right, why do adopted kids from the Third World show similar IQ levels to their First World families when they grow up? That can't possibly be genetic – it's got to be educational and environmental.

    1. Because IQ statistics apply to the population and aren't probative for individuals, and because IQ reflects lots of factors. The average IQ for a country doesn't mean the highest and lowest IQs are similarly displaced from global averages, just that the distribution curve peaks lower or higher. There are African geniuses and Hong Kong Chinese morons, you just don't run into as many of either as the global curve would suggest, and when compiling anecdotal evidence of individual performance, I doubt you'd even notice the disparity

  9. I think you are describing two different phenomena.

    Intelligence is different than being able to defer gratification.

    Inability to defer gratification is the default we are born with and has a long history of failed results. Gen 25:29-33 comes to mind.

    From what I have seen, people with ADHD have a very hard time delaying gratification.

    From what I have seen, people living in chaotic environments where private property is not protected also do not delay gratification. What is the point of deferring consumption? It only gives bullies and sneaks more time to steal it.

    1. Which fits Tuchman's observation that during the Middle Ages, the ruling class displayed a great lack of impulse control and ability to delay gratification, and that class supplied the violence in medieval society but not much of the innovation and invention.

  10. Intelligence, Canadian First Nations Indians and Reality a change of words but it sure works same thing going on. Very good article all need to read this is happening in our own countries!!

  11. Peter, the difference in the Swedish study of the adopted children verses their non-adopted siblings was of 5 points, not even a full standard deviation. So while adoption has a minimal effect in potentially boosting IQ scores a little higher, IQ is still mainly determined by the genetic mother's IQ. So adopting a 70 IQ kid from Africa will make them 75 at best…still mentally retarded in comparison to a White or Asian population.

    Education isn't enough and won't fix things in the short term. They need a long period of eugenic evolution to raise the average IQ to something similar to that of Euros and NE Asians.

  12. As a professional in the field of Psychometrics I would just say that IQ is largely, but not totally, genetic. The literature is clear that adopted children's IQ will be much more closely correlated with their biological parents than with their adoptive parents. However, environment does play a part.

    The basic concept is called "reaction range". In short this means that you are born with a genetic maximum IQ. If everything goes right in your life and all the circumstances align you can go that high, but no higher. But, if anything goes wrong you can only go down from the maximum. Also, the effects of several different bad circumstances are additive, meaning that the more insults a person experiences the lower the effective IQ.

    What this means is that if a child is adopted into a stable, loving, and economically viable situation, they are more likely to end up in the higher end of their personal reaction range.

  13. Well, as long as we're talking about educational/cultural issues and are not afraid of shooting sacred horses, don't forget the culture that so many follow. Boko haram transliterates as "learning is forbidden". I know many will change that to "western learning", but if memorization of the Quran is the only learning that's permissible, it doesn't seem to matter much.

  14. There is a huge environmental/cultural component.

    But anyone who ignores the genetic component in measured intelligence needs to explain why it's OK to note genetic differences in things like disease resistance or susceptibility, muscle type (slow/fast twitch), bone density, etc – but even considering possible intellectual differences is beyond the pale of consideration.

    Oddly, DNA analysis has already found at least some genetic markers that correlate with measured intelligence and educational attainment. And they have noted that high- vs average- IQ variants occur with differing frequencies in different populations. Yet pointing this out, and that differing IQ levels on a population-wide basis appears to correlate with the frequencies of these markers is regarded as racist pseudo-science.

    This is not an argument for despair, giving up trying to improve conditions, or anything but treating individuals AS individuals rather than members of a group. It IS an argument for looking at things as they exist rather than ideology.

    I, personally, think that schools *should* track students by demonstrated ability rather than the current lockstep model. And, specifically, ignore any racial differences in who ends up in what track except to ensure that the academic selection criteria are applied in a race-blind manner.

    I apply the same criteria to the problems in Africa – deal with the situation and people as they are, not as your theory says they should be. I've heard of vegans trying to force their pets – including cats, which are obligate carnivores – to eat a vegan diet. I see the same mindset in how idealists have attempted to set social policy.

  15. Another problem is how different cultures approach things. Castalia House's "The Missionaries" does an excellent job of pointing that out. An example would be that when mosquito nets have been donated to a tribe, they have instead been used to fish with, devastating the fish in the area.

    Oops! Malaria is something the people don't think about much, and hunger is there always. Overfishing and poisoning the water with a permethrin-impregnated net are long-term problems, food now is what they're after.

  16. Working in the Middle East the points raised here in my experience equally apply there as well. I spent considerable effort forcing simplicity and "sustainability " as an aid project criteria as anything fancy did not last and was unused or abandoned.

  17. IQ is also greatly affected by nutrition at an early age. As in a lack of food or a lack of nutritive food greatly depresses the IQ and often that is a permanent depression. Same thing with inner city and Appalachia here.

  18. My own observation is kids adopted from Africa will rise somewhat in IQ most likely because of diet. Genetics, however, will dictate the limit with nurture making up the rest. Nurture simply allows one to rise within their genetic limit. I've seen a number of African imports raised by US families, and they tend to track their parents when it comes IQ and as well as the traits we normally expect.

  19. "Economists used to focus on the “hardware” of the economy, such as factories and equipment. More recently, we have come to realize that intangible factors, such as social norms and cumulative innovation, are the important determinants of economic outcomes."

    Arnold Kling. Specialization and Trade: A Re-Introduction to Economics (Kindle Locations 116-118). CATO Institute.

    The aid agencies and other seem to want to dump "hardware" on Africa and have it all work. It is not unlike how the same type of "aid" people look to a college education and home ownership magically making people middle class out of historically poor people.

    Just this side of using mercs in acceptability is a suggestion to work to change the intangible factors of social norms and as Peter indicated, lower-tech to start an indigenous innovation cycle as the locals build up skills. Dumping sophisticated engines and such is not only to high up the technology chain, they are also to specialized and require a complex trade infrastructure that just isn't in place.

  20. Interesting stuff, especially the stuff about Executive Outcomes.

    Can anybody recommend any books to read (or films, etc) about those 20th century African wars? Border war, bush war, etc… I poked around a bit online, but between the Cold War politics and the tribal enmities and everything else, it's absurdly complicated. But fascinating. I'd love to know more.

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