Aid for Africa

This delightfully refreshing opinion piece from the BBC website:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20762278

has prompted me to write a post on the Western aid for Africa. First some juicy quotes from the linked article:

You are told £3 a month can save this child’s life. Sponsor a mosquito net. Give a meal to this orphan. Lonesome faces will stare at you from the newspaper page or the billboard. Guilt, shock and pity are the motivating impulses. But you have been donating to images like this since the 1980s. So why has nothing changed? And where did all the money go?

This is a fair enough question – how come all the “dollar-a-day” and other schemes have not made a dent in the problem? Will another 30 years of trying to help Africa the same way be more effective? While the author of the article, Georgie Fienberg, runs her own charity organisation and can be seen as a bit conflicted, the following suggestion is very poignant:

I’m going to do something unusual for a charity founder. Next time you see a pair of hungry eyes staring at you from the newspaper centrefold I’m going to suggest that you do not donate. Instead I suggest you write to your favourite charity and ask them three simple questions:

When will the project they are fundraising for stop?

How will they know when it stops that it was successful?

How will they share the information on its success or failure with you, the donor?

Is this not how we would look at any other venture we were requested to invest in? And, reading on:

I used to say that you’d never see a billboard for my charity at the train station, until 2011 when we were donated the whole platform of billboards in Canary Wharf station in London. It was too good an opportunity to miss. The slogans on our posters were “They can’t depend on us”, “Please help us walk away” and “Help us close down”.

Not bad. But it looks like the current crop of charities do everything they can to stay in Africa forever:

http://www.newstatesman.com/africa/2010/03/interview-aid-zambia-jobs

If aid were a private-sector business or a political system, it would definitely have gone by now. But here we have a system that has been going on and on and not delivering. (…) There is no evidence anywhere on earth that aid has delivered long-term growth. The countries that have moved hundreds and millions of people out of poverty in our lifetime – China, India, South Africa, Botswana – have not relied on aid to the extent that some African countries do.

This is a quote from Dambisa Moyo. Yes, she comes from Zambia, is black and so cannot be dismissed as another judgmental Westerner. As mentioned in Moyo’s interview available on youtube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyf2Cf5GkTY

the percentage of Africans living on a dollar a day has increased from 10% in 1970s to 70% now so something is not quite right. She also touches on another point which always puzzled me. It makes no sense for the West, which is already deep in debt, to borrow money from China and then pass it on to Africa as aid. Would you borrow money from the bank to donate to Oxfam?

But Moyo is not a right wing nut. She makes a distinction between three types of aid. Firstly the humanitarian aid in response to natural disasters which she believes is a moral obligation. Secondly the private aid channeled through NGO’s which has its place but cannot solve structural and governance problems of Africa. And then the state-to-state aid which, in her opinion, leads to corruption and distorts the African economies.

In particular she claims that foreign aid has caused political instability. Surprised? Her argument is that being in power in Africa gives automatic access to the Western aid money which can then be dished out to cronies tendering for public works contracts, misappropriated or simply stolen. This is why, in Moyo’s opinion, in 1990s Africa had more civil unrest than the rest of the World put together.

Moyo is absolutely brilliant – articulate and clear – so try to find 27 minutes this festive season to watch the linked interview. Honestly – it is that good.

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