Nairobi at night. I am passing along Moi Avenue to reach home. The way is familiar to me. Everything is as usual. My companion and I are having a cheerful chat. All of a sudden, he stops. A child is holding us. We cannot identify whether it is a girl or boy.
“Mzungu, please, I am hungry. Give me some money! Mzungu, please!” The child pleads.
“Hapana!” (“No!”), I answer automatically and want to move on. My friend holds me back.
“Today, I’d like to buy food for the child. We had such a nice evening and I cannot stand going home now leaving that child here without anything,” says my friend.
I do not know why I acted without discussing. Determined, we went to “Kentucky Inn”, bought Chicken and Chips and walked home afterwards.
“You need to go to school. You cannot live on asking Mzungu for money!” I told the child before we left.
This situation made me to reflect on our actions, direct aid and the effort to change structures. Of course, this child may be around Moi Avenue every following evening asking strangers for money. Moreover, all over the world, there are children that starve and need help.1 There are children that do not have the possibility to go to school, children that do not have parents anymore.
It is Mother Teresa who said: “Do not wait for someone who gives you instructions, or for a leader. Do good, out of yourself, from person to person.” The question is whether people that try to drive forward the stop of development aid or me who thinks about the change in structures forget about acting from person to person. What happens if there are not enough “Mzungus” anymore that buy food for street children? Will the governors of our world rise up to the occasion?
“Within the developed world always the impression is given that Africa would perish without development aid. […] If aid is stopped, the political elites will be the first victim as their structures of power will be destroyed thereby. Then question of an independent African solution would be up. […] A suspend of development aid would show that most international agencies used the African plight to collect donations and to get a humanitarian face."2
Every year a lot of money reaches Africa. For instance in 2009, around 13000 million USD were given by Germany. Fourty percent of this money went to countries South of Sahara.3 Looking at the current situation of this region, we need to ask where all this aid is going to. Does it go to the populations or it is used to finance the lives of political elites?
In my opinion, James Shikwati's observation that political elites would be the first victims if aid stopped is right. If schools and hospitals are not supported by the west any longer and the infrastructure as well is not supplied from outside, an internal state budget needs to fill the gap. African governments ought not to depend on donations from outside. They need to embark on wealth creation avenues for their electorate.
Of course, this is a long process and may bring upheavals to the individuals. Will the African states pay attention to the hospitals, schools and children’s homes? Will they search for ways out of hunger and poverty? Or is it more pain following for the populations?
It is not possible to say what might happen. James Shikwati and Dambisa Moyo among others are right in demanding the stop of aid cash flow from outside. They are right in searching for African solutions and independence. It is through this that the continent will be able to develop its potential; become a strong and independent global player and guarantee that African interests direct African countries.
However seeking for the big change, does not help in the present emergency. Therefore within the moment, it is necessary that international aid organizations engage in problem areas and regions and help on site. It is still important that people assist directly and at the very moment although the overall problem is not solved by these actions.
Seeking for a structural change, must not lead to an end of direct action from person to person. Probably it is good to classify the direct assistance from person to person not as development aid but as help under neighbors. At this point it does not matter whether the “Mzungu” reaches into his or her wallet. The white skin colour does not make the 100 KSH development aid for the street child but is the opportunity to end the starving in the evening.
Seeking the structural change and acting does not exclude each other but can and need to exist together. It is desirable to match up both and to pay attention that both parts do not blockade each other. In fact it is necessary that the human potential of the African continent can develop independently and fully. However having an empty stomach makes it difficult to think!
By Dorothea E. Müller.
The author is a student of Political Science and Sociology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.
2Quotation in Seitz, Volker, 2009: Afrika wird armregiert oder Wie man Afrika wirklich helfen kann, Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Muenchen, S. 24