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Monday, November 02, 2009

To aid or not to aid...

In the latest issue of Saint Mary's University student newspaper The Journal, the age old feel-good issue of sending aid to Africa appears to be alive and well:

So what should Canada be doing to keep its promise? ... to increase and provide more effective aid to developing countries, implement debt relief, and fairer trade rules in advance of 2015... In order for Canada to do its part and provide effective foreign aid, the government must reach the UN target of giving 0.7% of the national income (GNI) to foreign aid, and enact BillC-293 to make ending poverty the exclusive goal of Canadian foreign aid.

The issue normally brought up is whether or not this aid will actually work. According to some, aid sent to Africa will not only fail to work, but will actually make things worse:

[E]vidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment.

Government corruption and the existence of totalitarian regimes in Africa are the root cause:

The most obvious criticism of aid is its links to rampant corruption. Aid flows destined to help the average African end up supporting bloated bureaucracies in the form of the poor-country governments and donor-funded non-governmental organizations.

The article lists many disturbing examples of corruption and failure, and I urge everybody to read them all. Unfortunately there are too many to list without copy-and-pasting the entire article.

On a side note, does anyone remember the One Laptop Per Child campaign? Yuck. The Dalhousie University student newspaper The Gazette recently had an opinion editorial on the campaign and its failure:

I imagine that brightly coloured laptops sit in a small closet in rural Africa and slowly collect dust as the days pass. The school that owns them cannot secure power to recharge their batteries, the broken dreams of a grand philanthropist idea that was supposed to revolutionize the world.

[Cross-posted at The Right Coast]

Posted by Dane Richard on November 2, 2009 in International Affairs | Permalink


It's not just corruption, it's creating a dependency, and that creates a whole slew of unforseen consequences.

One other thing: suppose H1N1 or some other disease starts wiping out white North Americans; who will help us? Who will send aid? Try: nobody. It doesn't make sense to help one's enemies, and that is precisely what they are. They hate us; the wounds of colonialism run deep in the third world. So I ask again: why help someone who hates your guts and would never help you in time of need? And believe you me, white people are hated all around the world.

Posted by: Hello? | 2009-11-02 5:32:59 PM

Conspicuous compassion may leave some feeling warm and fuzzy and morally superior, but it usually does more harm than good. There are others who actually go there to assist with specific required skills, and who for the most part go unnoticed. I admire the latter but have no time for the first lot.

As for government and international aid programs, the majority only make matters worse. The most effective aid comes from small private charities providing hands-on contact and training.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-11-02 6:13:22 PM

I remember being made to feel guilty about Africa, 45 years ago. There were stories in my grade 4 reader about the poor, hungry children, who absolutely needed me to send them my lunch money. Now, two generations later, they've been breeding so fast they need more than just lunch money.

Screw it. Give them nothing. Not one dime. They need to help themselves, but if they don't, I couldn't care less.

Posted by: dp | 2009-11-02 9:43:09 PM

What people don't realize is that Africa is as close as the world comes to humanity in its natural state—huge juvenile mortality, frequent epidemics, warring tribes. Africa's population pyramid actually resembles a pyramid. Look at North America's and it's more like Alfred Hitchcock's profile.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-11-02 10:30:06 PM

As I've said many times in the past: aid should be voluntary.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-11-03 5:13:09 AM

If Oprah Winfrey cut out lunch that alone would probably feed all of Africa and maybe even North Korea.

Posted by: The Stig | 2009-11-03 9:19:51 AM

I bought a OLPC laptop off of eBay. Once I replaced the kid-centric desktop with a more generic one, I love the thing. Small, light, with good battery life. Basically I use it as an oversized PDA. The keyboard's too small of course, since it was designed for childrens' fingers, but it cost me way less than a new Netbook would have. Methinks the target market for this thing was misguided. Instead of children, the technology could have been marketed for adults who need a small, lightweight, ruggedized computer in challenging environments. I bet aid workers and field scientists would love this sort of device.

Posted by: Anonymouse | 2009-11-03 10:48:41 AM

Aid to African countries - or any other country for that matter -, delivered by UN or NGOs, provides lucrative employment to a few expats and jobs for a handful of local people. I've heard this "capacity building" BS too often. If developing the capacity of the locals were really their main objective, it wouldn't take the UN and NGOs all this time. Some organizations have been in any given country for over 25 years, and counting. But what the UN is really good at is producing 200-page reports littered with buzz words.

Posted by: Nothing New Under the Sun | 2009-11-04 9:54:14 AM

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