Foreign Aid and Donor Fatigue: Who is Fooling Who?

Published on 19th September 2009

Dropping food aid  Photo courtesy
No wise military commander would attempt to feed a battalion or a brigade with food which is only sufficient to feed a platoon.Such a military commander will have a very hungry brigade or battalion. No intelligent farmer would attempt to feed 200, 000 chickens or 200, 000 cows, with the same amount of grains which would satiate just 100 chickens or 100 cows. The farmer would have malnourished livestock.


In foreign aid logic, more is given to platoon commanders and less is given to commanders of battalions and brigades. More is similarly given to farmers with fewer livestock while much less is given to the farmers with more livestock. Those given less are frequently required to do much more, and those given nothing at all are blamed for poor outcomes, nonetheless. Such is the nature of foreign aid.


Aid is never directed where the need is greatest. Foreign aid has a pattern of being directed at those who are connected; those with clouts and those with the requisite vehemence and cohesion to pepper donors with complaints when they are not offered aid.


National Public Radio’s (NPR) Gwen Thompson reporting from two countries in Africa, repeated for each the irrelevant fact that these countries are aid beneficiaries of USA. I have never heard any journalist/reporter say the same of Israel.


There are those who are completely ignorant of how foreign aid is allocated both in terms of size and what nations are recipients. Out of such ignorance, some have assumed that much foreign aid has been given to African nations.They therefore argue that foreign aid to Africans is ineffective and that it creates dependency. But by the time that you look at the tables and schedules of US Foreign Aid, you will see the lie about Foreign Aid. Ignorant people should stop using Africa as cover for the foreign aid which actually flows elsewhere, far from Africa.


There is a reason why Israel never was in a position to have to rely on Bono of U2 or the musicians and artistes who performed We Are the World, Live Aid in support for victims of drought and famine in Ethiopian and Somalia to advocate public charity as form of aid. It is the same reason why Israel never deals with the conditionalities that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund frequently impose on African nations and nations such as Argentina.


The World Bank and IMF are seen (in developing countries) as tools by which western nations control public policies and the lives of peoples in the developing world. Anyone who has heard of the “Structural Adjustment Program” understands the ruin it wrought in many developing countries worldwide. Israel receives more aid and more loan guarantees than all of Africa. So Israel does not need the scandalous fund raising theatrics. Israel was never subjected to controls and strictures of The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund or IMF. And why not?


In the metaphorical scheme of things, regarding foreign aid, it is as if African nations are the ones who must travel longest distances in the desert. They are the ones with a junk car, a broken radiator and burnt gasket. Before donors give Africans 8 ounces of radiator coolants, they first announce plans to donate gallons of radiator coolants two years in advance, but eventually only deliver mere 8 ounces of coolants.


These same donors are keenly aware of the fact that Israel does not have a lot of passengers to transport, and a great distance to travel, and yet, they will quietly and surreptitiously supply brand new Cadillac Escalades to Israel without ostentations announcements or even a whimper of donations of a brand new Cadillac and Lexus filled with high octane fuels to Israel, in the competition to drive through the desert, the outcome between both teams is slanted and predetermined.


Donors who donate junk cars to African nations are also quick to complain about African drivers of such junk cars. Donors are blaming African drivers for the fate of the junk cars when it should be clear to any observer that the best driver could not magically turn the junk pinto into a Cadillac or Lexus or some sort of engineering marvel. Even if the best efforts and intentions are invested into junk cars, a clunker is a clunker still.


It is so irritating to hear Western commentators wring their metaphorical hangs as they moan and bemoan "aid-fatigue" or "donor-fatigue"! How do you suffer fatigue from what you have not done? Is it possible to suffer "donor fatigue" in connection with Africa when 99% of your donor aid goes outside Africa?


Those who have probably heard of such terms as "donor-fatigue" and "aid-fatigue" are liable to think of Africa as they would upon hearing of war, chaos and a starving child. But those terms are marketing tools of disinformation to erroneously lead readers and listeners into thinking that so much or enough has been given or done for Africa already. Africa is therefore presented as an  irredeemable basket case.


It is critical to examine the role played by this erroneous portrayal of Africa, which in turn affects policy formulations and haphazard implementations, in particular reference to foreign aid.This is an effort to show how, even the best optimist, the most enthusiastic worker becomes discouraged by those who peddle disinformation and then pretend no amount of efforts will change Africa. The truth is, not enough has been done, let alone too much. Where then does the donor-fatigue and aid-fatigue arise from?


Foreign aid is determined by criterion which have nothing to do with where the need is greatest. What determines the destination and quantum of aid is rather mere ephemerals of friendship, lobby, clout and the quality or lack, in the leadership of a given aid donor country.


There is this astonishing discovery that successive American administration, regardless of whether it is led by social conservatives or liberal-progressives, tend to direct aid, to where aid was always directed.


When it comes to foreign aid to Africa, Western nations take the best friends or preferred non-African friends to Five Star Restaurants. Western nations treat these non-Africans to sumptuous forteen- course meals of caviars, champagne, wine, dessert and more. At the end, their “conscience” suggests photo opportunity of a feel good type with the Africans, and so, leftovers and doggie-bags are brought to the Africans in full glare of television cameras from CNN and BBC in tow. In the full glare of television cameras, Africans are portrayed in dire straits and genuflecting and picking up the leftovers with gratitude and appreciation with so much flourish.


Remember that the television cameras were conveniently out during the events of sumptuous dinners with foreign aid donors’ best friends. Africa is then splashed all over the news as if it  was actually the recipient of the 14 course sumptuous dinner! Africans are the ones everyone hears and sees being feted.


Someone could argue, that westerners are entitled to spent own money, however and whomever they prefer. True! But why lie about who the major recipients or beneficiaries are? They are not Africans! Let there be truth in charity, as we demand truth in advertising. Foreign Aid is not squandered on Africa as many have been made to believe.


Africa receives less than one percent of foreign aid. But discussions about foreign aid, frequently pretend that Africa is the epicenter of foreign aid and that Africa is the major beneficiary of foreign aid. I implore you to be the judges.


After slavery, after colonialism and after World Wars and After various economic meltdowns, what Marshall Plan or forms of financial bailouts and rescues were offered to Africans compared to the Marshall Plan, bailouts and rescue packages which were offered to the rest of the world over and over again? Africa has been made powerless since slavery and colonialism, hence the world says and does what it pleases regarding Africa, things which are clearly unacceptable elsewhere.


War and Peace” or “War What Is Good For”; were not written about Nigeria or Africa. The Medieval War was not fought in Africa or by Africans. The Hundred Years War was not about Africa. And yet, it has become fashionable for revisionists to pretend that the chaos theory came about, because of Africans.


The Balkans has brimmed with crises for a hundred years. The “troubles” in Northern Ireland is known to Dubliners and everyone else on earth. The World Wars, I and II, were not caused by Africans. Oliver Cromwell was not an African. Adolf Hitler and Nazis were not Africans. Napoleon Bonaparte was not an African. The Balkans is not in Africa. And despite all these, revisionists have been convinced a good segment of the world populations that war and chaos is of origin and still resides there? That would make Chechen Africans? Ditto Afghans and Pakistanis? That would have made Tamil Tigers Africans?


The fallacy which is repeated about Africa as the center of war and chaos is simply nonsense. A major factor and huge contributor of the challenges which Africa has faced, is the image devastation inflicted upon Africa by Western media and press. It is either out of inertia, intellectual laziness, dishonesty or outright racism that Western journalists do this in matters concerning Africa; whatever the case is, it is plainly unacceptable and rather voyeuristic.


Western journalists will amaze you with how they are quick to become some pseudo experts on Africa. They will also kill your joy with a strain of ineptitude which allows them to always address African matters in the singular.


Often, you will hear, “This is John Doe, reporting from Africa.” If the same journalist will not say, “This is John Doe, reporting from North America” or “This is John Doe, reporting from Europe” why is the treatment for countries, and cities in African nations grouped together? Why is the treatment reserved for Africans always warped, twisted and inconsistent with treatment of everywhere else?


Western journalists report from Afghanistan, Myanmar-Burma, Tibet, Japan or Vietnam or Pakistan, with accompanying sounds of local music, atmospherics and flavors, and never reporting from South East Asia or Central Asia for instance. But, you must have heard, this year, that "This is John Doe reporting with the Pope in Africa" or "This is John Doe, reporting with Hilary Clinton in Africa."


Western media are more focused on Britney Spears, Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton, and most recently, on the life and death of Michael Jackson, than on coverage of substantive issues concerning the African continent during the past ten years.


In the news, politics, chaos, war, foreign aid, AIDS are portrayed as phenomena peculiarly African. I have observed over time that only African writers, singers, and sundry which are critical of Africa would get publicity or a mention in the Western media.If all you write or crow about is war, crises, chaos, bad leadership, diseases, Ebola, AIDS, and genital circumcision, you will get a mention in the Western press and may even be showered with publicity! But whatever you do, never lay any of the blames at the doorstep of Western interlopers and intermeddlers in African affairs.


Westerners always seem to be in the business of selecting and imposing their preference of leadership on developing nations. These are frequently persons who are unpopular with the local populace in their own nations, fine with Western nations because they are pliable and can be manipulated by Western nations.


Think about Pervez Musharaf of Pakistan; Hamid Kharzai in Afghanistan; Mahmoud Abbas in Palestine and Chalabi in Iraq. I reckon that in a hundred years, there will be Westerners blaming poor people in these countries for being such basket cases.These countries are being engineered now for future failure, and when the results become apparent, the entire world will have forgotten how Western nations are engineering these failures. Engineered, it seems to me to, be mere expansion of consumer base or markets for products from western nations, or suppliers of energy or other materials which propel the engines of western nations’ economies.


Such is the history of Africa too. Africa is a case of “Planned Obsolescence” planned by Westerners. Think about slavery;  colonialism; Berlin Conference (1884-1885) and the meddling in African affairs ever since! And yet, in the face of paucity of foreign aid from Western nations, Africa is presented in humiliating terms, as the recipient of the bulk of foreign aid. Westerners proclaim loudly, that they have poured aid into Africa, but it has not changed Africa’s lot.


The Truth about Foreign Aid is that, Africa is not where foreign Aid really goes. The bulk of foreign aid, in reality, flows elsewhere and not Africa. How come then, those westerners and their journalists are always screaming about donor or aid fatigue?


By Paul I. Adujie, New York

First published in the New Liberian


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