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Aid in Africa and my little size fives

May 31, 2009
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I don’t have big feet, and to caveat the content of this post I will admit that I don’t have any experience in the world of aid, aid management or aid disbursement. What I do have experience of is being an African, who has experience of Africa, who lives in the west and has to put up with the general hoarde of patronising, generalist, misrepresentative, racist (yes my dears!) and intentionally negative and degrading opinions held on Africa.

You may or may not have heard about the major slanging match started by Dambisa Moyo’s book Dead Aid. In it she claims that Aid has never benefited Africa and has only set it back. She has a rally of supporters including William Easterly, NYU professor and blogger behind Aid Watch. On the opposite side you have Jeffrey Sachs, major fund-raiser and all-round, all American goody-two shoes.. Jeffrey wrote an article in the Huffington Post which was not very friendly about Moyo or Easterly called Aid Ironies.

I shall summarise his points in my words and not his;
1. Don’t ruin aid for the millions of people who it actually helps.
2. Moyo and Easterly were themselves benefactors of aid in some form so are chatting s**t.
3. Aid is the only way to give access to opportunity for all those little flies in their eyes children (please excuse my flippant tone)
4. Rich people always have a problem with aid i.e. Moyo and Easterly are capitalism personified.

He also provides some clarifications on America’s actual commitment to aid which is interesting, namely:

Out of every $100 of US national income, our government currently provides the grand sum of 5 cents in aid to all of Africa. Out of that same $100, we have found around $10 for the stimulus package and bank bailouts and another $5 for the military. It is not wonderful that what has caught the public’s eye are proposals to cut today’s 5 cents to 4 or 3 cents or perhaps zero.

I haven’t read Moyo’s book (waiting for delivery), but I have to say I’m pretty sure I will agree with her and not Sachs. Africa DOES NOT NEED FOREIGN AID! What Africa needs is to be left alone. Pure and simple. Since when did it make sense to have trade agreements, political treaties and umbrella bodies that ravage resources and line the pockets of the rich, while pouring in aid to give a single malaria net each to the poor?! It just doesn’t.

Let’s discuss Nigeria (Therein lies my expertise!). I know Nigeria is a very rich country. The wealthy classes in Nigeria make the rich in the west look like peasants. So why are these people so rich? Because Nigeria has amazing resources in oil, because these resources have created a labyrinth of convolution and process around which many have lined their pockets, because this has in turn created a group of people who have access to investment capital and foreign contacts, because that in turn has generated an income stream for those who provide peripheral services etc etc. You get my drift. I’m not accusing all the wealthy people in Nigeria of exploitation or criminality, but I’d guess that most established moneyed families can trace their wealth to somewhere along this chain.

(Speaking of which, you should read up on the lawsuit in New York against Shell regarding the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other activists from the Delta state region in Nigeria. UPDATE: Also this short documentary posted on Africa is a Country)

This was all faciliated by the west. Nigeria as an ex colony was not allowed to make choices on its initial trade agreements. Neither was it allowed to make choices on its political leadership (read my post on the Naij documentary).

And yet despite this great wealth, Nigeria receives foregin aid for rural irrigation projects, emergency aid, social health projects, education and vaccination (which gave us such disastrous results like the Pfizer scam using Nigerian children as guinea pigs for untested products. Lawsuit and criminal charges were filed, but I can’t seem to find anything on the outcome?!)

Now, on the face of it, western countries made moves to give Africa independance, they did their best many would say. In the face of corruption and famine and civil wars. The west will say Africa needs them to keep it’s stability in check. It’s an attempt at reparation (I use this term very loosely) as well as a structure to ensure that every child gets a chance, every mouth is fed, every disease is stamped out..bla bla bla bla bla.

Hang on though, if you cancelled all those historical and very cleverly hidden trade agreements so Africans were in a position to actually control their own produce, exports, income, expedinture and governance…..I wonder what would happen then?!

But that’s not the debate. People like Jeffrey Sachs have a clear role in the populist conscience of western nations. WHO, UN, Global Fund, World Bank, The IMF (and a gazillion more) all have their role to play in the laundering …oops..sorry I mean diversion of money from public pockets into administrative vacuums with pin-size holes for pennies to trickle out of to the poor. You can’t give these people cause and effect or history dictates the present, because when it comes to Africa, they cleverly forget those linear facts.

I won’t apologise to anyone who works in aid. I expect you to be fully aware of this. Don’t defend things for the sake of it, acknowledge failings and lets all get real about this.

So, I’ll actually take the time to read Moyo’s book as well as The Bottom Billion: Why the poorest countries are failing and what can be done about it by Paul Collier and then I’ll let you know if it means I change my mind about all the above!

UPDATE: Check out this post from Aid Watch on a day in the life of an Aid worker Jeffrey Barnes in Lagos. Case in point my dears, case in point!

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. akaBagucci permalink
    May 31, 2009 5:19 pm

    i think there is a middle ground. And Okonji-Iweala hammwered it down exactly as I would at TED 2007. On one hand, AID to Africa fuels the cap-in-hand beggar stance, but on the other hand it actually saves lives. The work that the likes of COmapssion INternational and WordVision does is a case in point. Perhaps the argument should be that aid to africa should not be in cash, but should be channeled towards providing infrastructure entirely out of the hands of the african governments.

    Nigeria is rich, wealthy enough to solve all its problems – unfortunately the ingrained corruption will not allow the gains filter down. A SHORT term strategy would be to properly channel aid to where its needed – infrastructure and people empowerment, while engaging the governments for more transparency in the LONG term.

    I was never particularly enthused with the whole wiping out debt thing.. The governments should still have made the payments -but the it should have been re-routed to such projects……

    Oops — long comment….

  2. webround permalink
    June 1, 2009 4:10 am

    I agree with some of Dambisa’s points but I don’t believe developing countries can do totally without aids. Instead of just cash, I think aid should be in the form of developing ‘tangible’ assets in the target country like helping set up an industry or company and allowing it to grow, something similar to the way ‘Google Ventures’works

  3. LoloBloggs permalink
    June 2, 2009 3:31 pm

    @Bagucci I agree that AID saves lives and yes some organisations are providing good wholesome support (on the face of it anyway). My point is that the reliance on AID is perpetuated by the economic crippling of African countries. Let’s start there and have a discussion about how these countries simply cannot be effective in delivering or even graduating from AID dependency.

    @Webround The quagmyre of aid funding social enterprise in Africa is already afoot. Besides, ultimately I believe their real agenda is to limit African development not to nurture independance on foreign aid in any form.

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