How the Aid Industry Promotes Poverty

How the Aid Industry Promotes Poverty June 8, 2007
Filed under: CODAC, Exploitation, NGOs, poverty, Africa — yeebo @ 4:26 pm
A new book, “The White man’s Burden” by professor of Economics at New York University, and a former employee of the World Bank argues that international development aid has become part of the problem of global poverty and not the solution. Care International, one of the global leaders of the aid industry, has also released a report, ‘Living on the Edge of Emergency — An Agenda for Change’ which also argues that “More than 120-million Africans face starvation because much of the £3-billion ($5,6-billion) in aid spent each year to help them is wasted.” According to Care International, “aid arrives too late, is targeted at the wrong things and is usually only a short term measure that doesn’t tackle the root cause of hunger…It is a disgrace that money is still given too late and for such short periods, then spent on the wrong things to truly fight emergencies … There is no excuse, when by spending money more intelligently, we can bring an end to all but the most unpredictable food crises” said Geoffrey Dennis, CARE’s chief executive. The statistics are quite disturbing. In the last 50 years, more than $2.3 trillion has been spent as development aid. So why are African children dying for lack of medicine costing less than $2? There are those who insist that contrary to the facts, history is not the cause of our poverty, but I am not one of them. Colonialism, neo-colonialism and now, globalisation, are the causes of this disturbing trend. The problem is that any attempts to take an independent path, free of this aid strings that tie us into other people cesspits, is always frowned upon by our new crop of leaders, and sabotaged by the international system led by the United States. Why has aid not helped to transform African economies? Why is it that the more aid a country gets, the more impoverished the people become. I ask these questions as someone which has worked in the aid industry for over 30 years. My first job after my post graduate studies was at the Upper Regional Agricultural Development Programme (URADEP), a World Bank-DFID programme for farmers in the Upper east region. Does anybody in the region remember FASCOM? In essence, we go back to the question posed by William Easterly in his book: that, “the West’s efforts to aid have done so much ill and so little good.” He gives examples like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose stated goal is to halve word poverty by 2015. However, his conclusions, are as porous as his attempts to be radical. It is true that the aid industry is full of grandiose policies and costly, and sometimes ineffectual campaigns like the MDGs, but what do they actually achieve? One of such western liberal projects is the Millennium Villages idea. What does this mean? In essence, what some western practitioners do is to plagiarise African initiatives, redress them in grandiose terms, sell them to donors, and make them sound as though this will solve the world’s problems. In the end, they don’t. Western NGOs, like their state-led development organisations, refuse to learn from their mistakes. Donor-led initiatives have a very short life span – they begin and end with donor money. When the funding comes to an end, the project dies with it. Secondly, in the last 20 years in Africa, development aid has been limited to workshops, workshops and workshops, led by the new NGO elites. Most of this has no practical relevance to poverty reduction. African NGOs are not blame. The priorities for aid and donor support are set in Washington, London, The Hague, and other western capitals. Africans are only invited to consultation meetings where what is discussed hardly features in the final reports. This is because aid is tied to the foreign policy interests of western donor nations. Organisations which call themselves non-governmental, receive more than 80%of their funding from the state: UK government, the US State Department, or the Danish Foreign Ministry, etc, etc. So even though some western NGOs may pretend to be ‘non-governmental’, they are governmental in practice. The Oxfams, Care International, International Rescue Committees, etc, etc, are closer to their governments than most African NGOs will ever be. Yet, I have been in meetings where African NGOs are derided and patronised by the their international counterparts because these African NGOs are supposedly close to their governments. At any rate, what is wrong with being close to a government? Look at the priorities of most donor organisations, and you will not fail to notice that building schools, health centres, day care centres, or social centres do not top the list of their priorities. Since September 11, US aid has tended to favour organisations working to eliminate ‘terrorism’, but what about the causes of terrorism? What this implies is that western donors have the money, and they together with their cohorts, dictate how this money is spent. Governments such as that of the NPP follow suit, and behave as though poverty is not the reason why they sign the Millennium Challenge Accounts. If this is the case, northern Ghana will receive more than 60%of this grant, but what has happened?

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