Sunday, 21 November 2010

Does Aid Work?

Over the last 50 years, over $3trillion has been ploughed into Africa and its development. It remains the only continent to have become poorer in the last three decades. Based on this fact alone, it’d be easy to say ‘aid’ simply isn’t working.

We live in a culture dominated by theories that donating to Africa will help solve their problems and stop their plight. Western aid, given from a sense of pity, is very difficult to challenge. How can you fault someone who tries to help you, especially when our first experience of aid resulted in such a positive outcome (The Marshall Plan in 1945)? Unfortunately, when it comes to Africa, things are never as simplistic as they would be anywhere else – in fact, Zambian author Dambisa Moyo argues aid essentially disadvantages Africa, and with good reason too.

In her book ‘Dead Aid’ she essentially two major reasons aid in Africa doesn’t work.
Unlike other historically successful aid interventions like the Marshall Plan, aid in Africa will always be needed such is the extent of the problems, therefore its continually in need clearly making development unsustainable.

Perhaps most importantly is the fact aid money often doesn’t go into productive causes and consequently corrodes the incentives system in many African countries (Ethiopia and Uganda, for example). Aid is essentially "free money"; therefore, governments do not see the need to generate revenue by growing their economies. Why work with local entrepreneurs when you can always go cap-in-hand to beg the white man stemming sustainable development. As the old saying goes “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In this context, should you continue to feed African governments, they’ll continue to take, knowing they’ve got cod for dinner all week.

The aid-driven development model, as Ms. Moyo argues, has not and will not deliver economic growth. The money is simply misused by governments. Her solution? Stop donating. It seems like a shocking heartless response however it would teach many governments to become more self-reliant and use what money they have more sustainably. The major downfall of her solution is that the short-term consequences of this would simply be catastrophic. The effects would be that the less advantaged and most under privileged would certainly lose out and many deaths would occur across the whole of Africa.
Aid has created something of a vicious circle. Because governments simply assume there will be a continuous stream of aid trickling into their pockets, many chose to neglect developing and sustaining many social services – leaving charities to pick up the slack. Similarly to aid, this also can have a negative knock-on effect as governments won’t address this issues in the future a third party is attending them.

There are other solutions all of which have pros and cons. Donating to charities that directly do grass roots work in Africa is often a very productive use of funds, however, you often have to accept only a percentage of your money will go towards what you’ve donated to – and the rest might seep into the corrupts hands, the question is, is it worth accepting that so that someone disadvantaged might receive the majority of it? This again comes back to the ‘Dead Aid’’s solution to simple turn the tap to stop aid trickling into Africa. But then who really loses out?

A very complicated complex argument, which still has no flawed solution I’m sure you’ll agree!

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