This post is somehow a follow-up on my early thoughts in The shrinking digital divide and other aid fairy tales.
I have been reading in "Dead Aid" by Dambisa Moyo, a book I have mentioned before.
First a common misunderstanding about this book: Moyo distinguishes three forms of aid:
- humanitarian aid, in the form of assistance in natural or man made disasters;
- charity aid, in the form of mostly smaller, localized and targeted assistance; and
- government aid.
In her book, she is only attacking "government aid", not the other two. Many misunderstood this.
I support her thoughts on the ineffectiveness of government aid even though it would be truly worth while to write a sequel to this book to also put the effectiveness of humanitarian aid and charity aid under the magnifying glass, but that is for another post.
Now, one of the points she makes is that in the past, aid to African governments (but I would generalize that to "any government") had political goals. She specifically mentions how aid was targeted to stop the hail of communism by the freshly independent African states in the 60ies and 70ies. And how the West poured aid money over any government as a form of financial assistance in exchange for their loyalty to the one and only true belief: Western Capitalism.
Little did the West care about the human rights abuses, the corruption or (God forgive) the inappropriate use of aid by the African governments. This grew to an institutionalized support of corrupt and often cruel dictators, for as long as they sang the song of the West, and not that of Moscow.
The fact that we also got cheap oil and minerals in exchange was definitively a good bonus. And the fact they were a good market for many of our cheap products (including Pepsi-Cola and Coca-Cola) and arms made us all sugar-happy. Hey, the other -Red- side did exactly the same too. Little did Moscow care how aid was used.
But this also made many African states aid dependent.
In my view, this is quite correct. And it was not only the anti-communist aid flavour which is worth to be mentioned, but we also clearly saw and still see an "anti-muslim aid flow" trying the stop the advances Islam made southwards through Africa.
Draw a horizontal line just north of the equator and you more or less have drawn the line between Muslim and Christian Africa. Check out those states on the border line. And see which have been able to count on the political, military and financial support from the West. South Sudan, Kenya, DRC, Uganda, CAR... (True the line goes a bit further North in the West). Interesting, no? So were all the secret US arms shipments stacked on Moyo Kenyatta airport in Nairobi and Entebbe airport in Uganda. And the tons of unlabeled cargo planes with registration numbers starting with "N". (which country has plane registrations starting with "N" again? Hmmmm.. the US, right?)
I always had -idealist as I am - an issue with the "politization" of aid. I have felt this first hand in Afghanistan and Iraq after both countries were invaded by the alliance of the willing (and their puppy dogs). As a humanitarian aid worker, not only did my conscience struggle, but I have seen the first hand consequences where the affiliation of aid agencies with 'occupying' powers made the former a target for hostilities. Many of us have died because of this alliance.
And what stopped us? Well.. we were not going to bite the hand that fed us, were we? Why would we, aid agencies and aid workers bite the hand of donors? Who are we to question the intentions of those who give us money? In the end, we are helping the poor, curing the sick, sheltering the homeless and feeding the starving masses, no? Would we question that many of these are caused by the same fraud political systems who donated us the money?
Yes, of course we realize that not everything was kosher, but shhht.. this is a well hidden secret, and not something to be talked about. The hand that feeds us, you know!
Now here is another thought: the same goes for the countries we work in. How much are we willing to compromise our conscience and work with corrupt and sometimes completely abusive or repressive governments because if we upset them, we 'might just as well be thrown out of the country'?
Asking the wrong questions is often already enough. Protesting loud enough for aid cargoes stuck at airports is enough reason to PNG. Pointing to corruption and syphoning off aid funds and goods is always a winner to get thrown out. That would not help the poor, we reason.
I am not cynical, I am realistic. We *have* to make compromises. We do have to close our eyes, bite our lip, and sit on our hands sometimes. But up to what point? Up to what point is this still ethical? As of what point are we becoming part of a corrupt system ourselves? We, the do-good-ers. We, the world changers. We, who mean well.
Sometimes the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Alertnet just published two excellent articles by Jan Kellett on this subject. Further food for thought: "Darfur: A humanitarian compromise too far?" Part 1 and Part 2. Enjoy!