Arrested Development: How Foreign Aid undermines Africa's Growth Process

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A look at aid ineffectiveness in Africa.

Submitted: June 30, 2015

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Submitted: June 30, 2015

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Arrested Development: How Foreign Aid Undermines Africa’s Growth Process

By Nwachukwu Lawson Luke

Aid essentially means rescue or relief from economic, political, military, or developmental misery. Indeed, there are several forms of aid, but Foreign Aid and Democracy in Africa lists two kinds that are principal to a country’s growth: 1.) Development Aid, which refers to resources distributed for the goal of furthering social welfare, 2.) Democracy Aid, which aims at promoting greater political liberation.[1] While democracy aid comprises support for decentralization, democratic participation, elections, legislatures and political parties, media, human rights, women’s equality, national, regional and international NGOs, development aid involves the sustenance of these democratic values.

Since the world’s rich countries agreed to give an annual 0.7 per cent of their Gross National Income as official international development aid in 1970, much of Africa have come to rely on foreign assistance.[2] Nigeria, For instance, which sits on crude oil reserves estimated at about 35 billion barrels (enough to fuel the entire world for more than a year), has since its independence in 1960 receive £257 billion in aid—six times more than what the United States pumped into reconstructing the whole Western Europe after World War II.[3] Yet, 70 per cent of its population live below £1.29 a day.[4]

Despite its huge oil reserves, the country still experiences fatal fuel shortages. The oil industry is evidently the most corrupt of all sectors, with 136 million barrels of crude oil worth £7.79 billion illegally siphoned in just two years, 2009-2011.[5] The acceptance of kola and the blatant spread of the wetin you carry syndrome has greatly undermined international assistance.[6] In fact, the Nigerian system ridicules not only the ordinary citizens but the bourgeois international communities that are committed to aid donations. A country endowed with such vast human and natural resources, has developed a thriving space program that has launched up to four satellites, and whose lawmakers are one of the highest paid in the world, requires very little financial donations.

Reports show that about £245 billion of government money has been stolen since 1960. This missing amount almost equates the amount the country has received in aid. As one aggrieved foreign blogger stated, “A country so corrupt it would be better to burn our aid money.”[7]

Nigeria is just one of those cases of aid ineffectiveness. Recent reports have shown that Sub-Saharan Africa has received over US$1 trillion in foreign aid over the last 60 years, but these donations have poorly reflected in the lives of its inhabitants.[8] The region is still grappling with poverty, disease and frequent violent confrontations.

Nevertheless, very few people believe that aid has failed in Africa. Some argue that it is necessary to fill an investment chasm so as to lift the third world countries out of the poverty trap. But still reports show that more than a quarter of the countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are poorer now than in 1960.[9] More often than not, aid has become an impediment that is unhelpful to Africa’s development. It has placed Africa in an undignified position and has encouraged the governments of such countries to rely on foreign handouts for development other than themselves. The more people receive things they didn’t work for, the more they are likely to sit back in complacency—of course because foreign aid takes care of their every need. It is not just a question of whether or not aid should be given to poor African countries, but whether such assistance will influence good political and economic decisions. Decisions decide a country’s growth, not necessarily aid. Of course, pouring billions into the African economy to combat disease and other societal maladies is commendable, but it will not free them from bad decision making. Only Africans can free themselves from their problems.

The noticeable failure of aid is not just peculiar to the African continent alone. Haiti, an island country with about 10 million people, is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with a GNI per capita of US$760 as at 2012. More than half of its population live on less than US$1 per day.[10] Over the years, it has received billons in foreign aid. No thanks to earthquakes, coup d’ etats or failed policies. About 25,000 children work as unpaid serfs in homes placed there by their biological parents, and an estimated 2,000 children annually are victims of human trafficking. Its private sector comprises mostly of subsistence farmers and micro-businesses, and also a small elite of organized family groups, who control all exports and imports, tourism, construction and manufacturing. This means that about 4 per cent of the population own 66 per cent of the country’s wealth.[11]

Prior to the devastating 7.0 magnitude earthquake which struck the country in 2010, Haiti has received four times as much per capita as the Europeans received under the post-war Marshall plan. In fact, reports show that there were more charities in Haiti—about 12,000—on ground per head of population than on any other place on earth.[12] Their presence was seen but seldom felt. When the earthquake eventually occurred, the country was further humiliated when pledges and assistances were made out of ego and reputation other than a sincere need to alleviate suffering. The process was highly uncoordinated—many countries and organizations never lived up to their expectations, and those who were supposedly there to help ended up either vacationing on the beaches, driving huge white trucks around the debris site, or taking selfies and uploading them on the internet. That’s what the charity organizations did in Haiti—they took selfies and posed with unfortunate victims to mirror compassion. Despite the billions of dollars donated, their compassion could only build six homes. At least something is better than nothing. Or so they thought. Much was pledged, less was done.

Also, most foreign aids carry with them a psychological favor bank. Recipients feel compelled to return the favor by doing anything that is asked of them by their donors, even if it is against their political and economic policies. This favor could be anything from using overpriced goods and services from donor countries to opening up market access to such rich donor nations, while denying market access the products of the poor recipient countries[13]. And until the beneficiaries of foreign donations begin to see that constantly relegating themselves to this beggarly position makes them vulnerable to manipulations, all local plans for sustainable development is nothing short of an ill-spent assiduity.

Over the years, foreign aid has been the source of serious disagreements in most African countries. Of course, the huge influx of free money makes rebel movements attractive. But we have to look past that now. There has to a shift in focus; we need to look at what is best for Africa’s future rather than what can momentarily make the continent happy. Unfortunately, Africa has blatantly arrogated to itself the dignity of a poignant recipient of international assistance. We must quit playing the victims of colonial unscrupulousness and nerve ourselves for a sustainable progress. A continent that continues year after year to incautiously rely on the donations of foreign countries and organizations for its development and sustainability has lost all its sense of responsibility.

 

 Endnotes

[1] Resnick, D., 2011. Foreign Aid and Democracy in Africa. [Online] Available at: http://unu.edu/publications/articles/foreign-aid-and-democracy-in-africa.html [Accessed 4 March 2014].

[2] Shah, A., 2012. Foreign Aid for Development Assistance. [Online] Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/35/foreign-aid-development-assistance [Accessed 4 March 2014].

[3] Burleigh, M., 2013. Nigeria, a country so corrupt it would be better to burn our aid money. [Online] Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2387359/Nigeria-country-corrupt-better-burn-aid-money.html [Accessed 4 March 2014].

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Kolaand wetin you carry are polite euphemisms for bribery.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ugwueze, S., 2012. Aid to Africa: Is It Harmful or Helpful? [Online] Available at: http://www.rizzarr.com/the-particulars/global-travel-insights/2012/01/03/aid-to-africa-is-it-harmful-or-helpful/ [Accessed 4 March 2014].

[9] Daron, A. & James, R. A., 2014. Why Foreign aid fails – and how to really help Africa. [Online] Available at: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9121361/why-aid-fails/ [Accessed 4 March 2014].

[10] Birrell, I., 2012. Haiti and the shaming of the aid zealots: How donated billions have increased poverty and corruption. [Online] Available at: http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2092425/Haiti-earthquake-How-donated-billions-INCREASED-poverty-corruption.html [Accessed 8 March 2014].

[11] Ibid.

[12]Ibid.

[13] Op.cit., Shah A.

 

Sources cited

Birrell, I., 2012. Haiti and the shaming of the aid zealots: How donated billions have increased poverty and corruption. [Online]
Available at: http://dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2092425/Haiti-earthquake-How-donated-billions-INCREASED-poverty-corruption.html
[Accessed 8 March 2014].

Burleigh, M., 2013. Nigeria, a country so corrupt it would be better to burn our aid money. [Online]
Available at: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2387359/Nigeria-country-corrupt-better-burn-aid-money.html
[Accessed 4 March 2014].

Daron, A. & James, R. A., 2014. Why foreign aid fails - and how to really help Africa. [Online]
Available at: http://www.spectator.co.uk/features/9121361/why-aid-fails/
[Accessed 4 March 2014].

Resnick, D., 2011. Foreign Aid and Democracy in Africa. [Online]
Available at: http://unu.edu/publications/articles/foreign-aid-and-democracy-in-africa.html
[Accessed 4 March 2014].

Shah, A., 2012. Foreign Aid for Development Assistance. [Online]
Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/article/35/foreign-aid-development-assistance
[Accessed 4 March 2014].

Ugwueze, S., 2012. Aid to Africa: Is It Harmful or Helpful?. [Online]
Available at: http://www.rizzarr.com/the-particulars/global-travel-insights/2012/01/03/aid-to-africa-is-it-harmful-or-helpful/
[Accessed 4 March 2014].

 

 


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