Foreign Aid Does More Harm than Good to Africa

Published on 10th November 2009

James Shikwati’s notes when he was featured on Radio 4, BBC’s main news and current affairs network  as an AID Iconoclast on Saturday 19 September 2009.

World lending bodies: perpetuating poverty?

I come from Africa, a resource-rich continent which is depicted as poor by conventional development statistics – so as to justify foreign aid. Aid has driven Africans to lose confidence in their abilities and opportunities. It has promoted a culture of dependence - a culture of relying on other people’s help.

African children are born into a cycle of dependency. Imagine yourself as a child, growing up in a country where your parents have been reduced to mere procreators. They cannot feed you, because their indigenous foods have been crowded out by exotic foods that came from donors. They cannot choose the type of education you ought to get, because donors have supplied all sorts of “free education systems” that orient you to the West. You become an automatic candidate for the “brain drain”, for immigration to the developed world – but your education does not prepare you to solve Africa’s problems.

You grow up in a confused political environment. Donors’ direct funding of civil society cuts your government out of the picture and leaves it impotent. On the other hand if the donors give direct funding to your government, they breed political cronyism, corruption and the evils of ethnic division.

A mixture of both leads to political upheavals - as we saw in Kenya last year. Donors made Kenya into a country whose government does not pay attention to the electorate. At the same time they paid its civil society to organize citizens into agitators.

Attempts by donors to impose their organizational structures on Africa create confusion - and force people on the continent to focus on short term goals.

Although donors might brag about promoting education in Africa, they do not admit that they’re simply helping their own industry, by creating a supply of labour. Donors decry the dearth of leadership in Africa, but stop short of pointing out that the majority of the so-called “bad leaders” were educated in Western schools using donor funds.

We must question foreign aid’s embedded, corrupting system that takes people who reside in resource-rich countries and makes them poor.

Computer experts talk about malware – a short form for “malicious software” that infiltrates a computer without the owners’ informed consent. Foreign aid - like malware - harms a country’s operating system. The term “aid” in itself is corrupting. What is the justification for using such a term when Africans repay their debts, amounting to twenty billion dollars every year?

Let us take a moment to look at some examples of hostile and intrusive programs run by the aid industry, particularly in Africa. Since food aid was introduced in the ’60s, African eating-habits have changed - and agriculture has been re-oriented to produce exotic crops that demand far more input than indigenous ones. Over 120 million people on that continent are faced with starvation. The cause - though blamed on drought - has everything to do with this change of crops - as opposed to what could be done if we got science to work on the indigenous crops.

The “Food-aid-malware” has disorganized Africa’s food production and is currently giving wealthy nations the excuse to acquire land there, on the distorted assumption that people in Africa are incapable of producing food.

Here’s another hostile intrusion into Africa’s system.  Imagine an office that installs security cameras – but then one day finds it’s been robbed. The owners rush to the monitoring room and discover blank screens - because the cameras were faulty. Aid works very much like that. It’s a CCTV system, deliberately put in to mislead. Countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have vast amounts of geological resources; but donor countries parade this country among the poorest. Behind the scenes however, their companies are plundering minerals worth billions of dollars. Africa has been relying on a faulty CCTV system to gather data about itself. And all it gets is a frozen image in the monitoring room – the picture that shows the continent as poor.

Is Africa with its immense resources really poor? Japan with its limited territory imports and exports tons of goods to the global market; Switzerland produces the finest chocolate yet she has no cocoa plantations. The United States of America, Europe and China produce millions of cell phones and laptops by sourcing minerals such as Coltan from the so-called poor continent.

What donor nations really care about is immigration, dominating geological resources and growing markets for their products. There is no free lunch for Africa. 

Donor countries have high levels of political organization. The executive, the judiciary and the legislature all promote the rule of law and above all - property rights!  This has unleashed industrial ingenuity in the donor countries. Citizens in these countries pay for the upkeep of their own governments; why should Africans surrender their governments to donors?

Children growing up in Africa want to look into the eyes of their parents and draw inspiration to live. They need incentives to utilize their talents to confront their daily challenges. Foreign aid sustains the already skewed global market system and denies individuals and nations of the third world the ability to grow their economies.

It is wrong to perpetuate the notion that Africa is in a state of permanent emergency. A change of attitude and a new confidence among Africans will unchain the continent from poverty.

By James Shikwati

Mr. Shikwati [email protected] is Director, Inter Region Economic Network.


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