Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Time for a Rethink: Why Development Aid for Africa Has Failed

Development aid to Africa has been flowing for decades, but the results have been paltry. Instead, recipients have merely become dependent and initiative has been snuffed out. It is time to reform the system.

Development aid to Africa is a blessing for all those directly involved -- both on the giving end and on the receiving end. Functionaries on the donor side, at least those abroad, earn good money. Many of those on the receiving end, for their part, know how to organize things in such a way that their own personal interests don't get short shrift.
There is no reason for these two groups to be interested in changing the status quo. Yet even so, some within their ranks are starting to suggest the situation as it stands cannot continue. The development aid of the past 50 years, they say, is hardly justifiable given the disappointing results. Even individual donors, who know little about how development aid works in practice, increasingly sense that something might be amiss.
They're right. The aid has failed to a large extent.
Donors have taken on too much responsibility for solving African problems. They have essentially educated them to, when problems arise, call for foreign aid first rather than trying to find solutions themselves.
This attitude has become deeply rooted in Africa. This self-incapacitation is one of the most regrettable results of development cooperation thus far. Poorly designed development aid has made people dependent and accustomed them to a situation of perpetual assistance, preventing them from taking the initiative themselves. It is this situation which represents the greatest damage done, far worse than the enormous material losses engendered by failed aid projects. And there are many. Africa is strewn with idle tractors, ruined equipment and run-down buildings.

Deeply Rooted Misconceptions
Tthe view has taken hold that donors  are primarily responsible for developing Africa. At the 2nd Bonn Conference on International Development Policy in August 2009, then-German President Horst Köhler, an experienced and dedicated African development activist, spoke about an energy partnership established between Germany and Nigeria two years previously. His conclusion:
"I cannot discern that the amount of electricity in Nigeria has increased since then. And I find it shameful for the industrialized countries, as well as for those responsible in Nigeria, that this large country, rich as it is in resources essentially, can't advance its socio-economic development because it hasn't yet managed to bring electricity to its rural areas. I find this shameful for the entire development cooperation that has existed for decades."
Here, the fact that Köhler mentions the industrialized countries before Nigeria when discussing responsibility for the failure is notable. More notable, however, is that he mentions the industrialized countries at all.
Are industrialized countries to be ashamed that one of the world's largest oil exporters isn't capable of providing its rural areas with electricity? Simply asking the question is enough to show how absurd the thought is -- and how deeply rooted the misconception.
This mothering mindset, widespread in industrialized countries for decades, is in direct violation of the subsidiarity principle. This principle states that providers of aid, whether private or governmental, should not assume any duties that could be carried out by the receiver country itself. Furthermore, it mandates that aid be given such that those providing it can cease giving as soon as possible.

Or are they all EHI-Economic Hit Men?