Rethinking aid in Africa
Dems and Reps try to make aid actually helpful
Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo and journalist Lynn Sherr debate whether aid to Africa is helping that continent's growth. Then Congress responds with a bill for reform. We trim, blend, and append two 2009 articles via OneWorld, originally from (1) Oxfam America, Apr 29, on a bill before Congress, and (2) Public Radio International (PRI) and and WNYC's The Takeaway, Apr 17, on aid’s supposed effectiveness.
by Oxfam America and by The Takeaway
New bipartisan congressional bill
A new foreign assistance reform bill introduced by Congressman Howard L. Berman (D-CA), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL), takes great strides toward breathing new life into a US foreign assistance system in need of strategy and purpose, said international agency Oxfam America.
Raymond C. Offenheiser, President of Oxfam America, said, "With the right reforms, the US foreign assistance system can help poor people get the tools they need to lead their own development, spur economic growth, and create a more prosperous world for everyone."
The bill, the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009, focuses on three critical areas of foreign assistance reform: creating a US national strategy for global development, refocusing its monitoring and evaluation approach, and increasing transparency on where assistance dollars are going (into whose pockets).
"Creating a national strategy for global development will help coordinate our disjointed US foreign assistance system, establish poverty reduction as its primary goal and provide developing countries and their citizens more ownership over their own development agenda," said Offenheiser.
The monitoring and evaluation portion of the bill tries to change an antiquated model of gauging success. For too long, the US has focused on counting things like how many individuals went through a one-off agricultural training workshop rather than how much more food was produced locally to meet the needs of a community.
Rethinking aid in Africa
The Takeaway talked with Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, author of the controversial book Dead Aid, and Lynn Sherr, special correspondent for World Focus on PBS.
Moyo says the aid regime “is couched in pity rather than looking for new and innovative ways to raise financing to support development initiatives.”
She says the trillion dollars that has gone to Africa was aid not investment. At its extremes, the money has contributed to along history of corruption in Africa.
“More on the economic side, it's actually been very detrimental in terms of inflation and debt burdens. And then on the political side it disenfranchises Africans because the government spends a lot of time courting donors rather than being accountable to their people.”
Lyn Sherr agrees that the model for investment in Africa has to change but doesn’t think aid should be wiped out. “I've just been back Liberia. That country would not exist were it not for US money.”
Moyo doesn’t object to humanitarian aid from global society for emergencies such as natural disasters. In the same vein, NGOs and child support aid can be effective when narrow in scope.
But “a continent cannot expect to grow long term and alleviate poverty based on the charitable interventions from the international community. If international charities continue to provide education and healthcare, infrastructure and security, what exactly is the role of African governments?”
Rulers in Africa have arguably been discredited in recent times, skimming off the top of aid and natural resources or allowing charities to run health infrastructure rather than doing it themselves. Moyo argues that the reason for Africa’s wars and civil unrest in the 1990s was that capturing the state meant capturing the primary source of income.
JJS: Such violence is just another chapter in the history of the state which many anthropologists claim began with marauders attacking settlements to enjoy the output from land worked by others.
A remedy for the problem would be for Africa to wean itself of aid.
JJS: That’s part of the solution, but the bigger part is to inculcate property rights, the right of the individual to the fruit of her labor and the right of the community to the surplus economic value of the land, including natural resources. Donor nations could set a better example along those lines and teach by doing.
Moyo sees private sector investment on the part of China as a good thing. “They’re bringing jobs, they’re bringing opportunities.”
Sherr is more skeptical. China is pulling back because commodities’ prices are falling. But she has also witnessed significant Chinese investment in Liberia.
Sherr says, “the model has to change, but I think wean is more important than saying stop it.” She says humanitarian aid is still needed and the West can’t be held responsible for corruption.
Moyo prescribes in her book a five-year plan for weaning off aid. “I do not suggest that we turn off the taps immediately. I focus on the government to government aid that needs to be, I believe, dramatically and aggressively reduced. It’s been sixty years, a trillion dollars; it hasn’t worked.”
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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