Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Aid Trap ...

I'm interested to see that The Spectator has, as its cover story this week, "The Aid Delusion." In my view, this is a prime example of how a generally good idea can go horribly wrong. The whole thing has become a very difficult and expensive issue. When one looks at the history of the last half of the last century and at the impact of "aid" on the recipient nations, some rather unpleasant things begin to surface.

Of course, some of the "aid" does reach the people it is intended to help, but a lot doesn't. Figures I saw recently suggest that only some 20% of the amounts raised by various charities is actually spent on the things it is supposed to have been raised for. The rest vanishes into administration, salaries, travel expenses, hotels, rental of warehouses and so on. A substantial amount of what does reach the intended group is still lost through corruption, theft and other 'fiddles'. Government "aid" is probably even worse, since it goes to "government" organisations, and we all know exactly how "efficient" they are at making money vanish for no return.

One does have to ask why the UK is still giving "development aid" to India, a nation now rivalling the UK in industrial output, rich in natural resources, a nuclear power with an advanced space programme (which the UK does not have) and a navy - once a "squadron" owned and operated by the Honourable East India Company - that is larger than the Royal Navy which became its model. How much of the "aid" the UK handed out to Mugabe during his "struggle" is now sitting in his Swiss Bank account? Or how much of the "aid" we are still paying South Africa, is now lining the vaults of the same banks under the names of various ANC "Ministers" - or vanished into Mr Zuma's massive "compound" and his personal Boeings?

As I see it, the problem with all "aid" programmes is two fold. The first is that it creates an "industry" of fund raisers, administrators and field workers, many of whom have wonderful ideas, but only vaguely understand the cultures and peoples they are attempting to help. This costs money, the days of the well heeled and well meaning 'amateur' wandering off to the ends of the earth to do "good works" are long over. So a lot of money goes on travel, luxury hotels or compounds for the 'staff' and fleets of 'all-terrain' vehicles, light aircraft and so on. The second part of the problem is that, as long as people in, say, the UK, are prepared to put up the money to build schools, roads and hospitals in BoputiKosweti or wherever, why should the local politicians? Instead they have a golden opportunity to set up a company to 'contract' for the work, cream off the profit by providing the absolute minimum on everything and loading their own bank accounts.

The most successful "aid" schemes are small scale and "self-help" types which provide the means for small local improvements that really encourage the beneficiaries to improve their own circumstances and demand more of their leaders. The old principle (ironically found in the Bible in Exodus) of, "if I do nothing and you feed me, why should I do anything at all for myself?"applies in spades here.

I have no idea how much money the west throws at Aid. I do know that a lot of it never actually leaves the country of origin, and much of what does ends up coming back in different hands anyway. What it does seems to do is create a "dependence culture" among the recipients and it doesn't seem to have the impact its proponents claim - which is to improve the lives of the receivers and "lift them out of poverty." The problem with that last is that for many of those who insist we "owe it" to developing nations is that their idea of "poverty" is most assuredly not what an African subsistence farmer considers "poverty."

One thing is for certain, the whole concept of "aid" needs to be reconsidered and probably totally rearranged. That will not be welcomed by those employed in perpetuating the industry. I shall read The Spectator's article with great interest.

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