New Internationalist Issue 285

Development (Aid)

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 285

Does aid matter?

[image, unknown]

It's tempting to sanctify aid and stifle the open discussion it needs to survive.

North and South, all agree there's a crisis - but the diagnoses differ widely. David Ransom samples opinion.


No, but

Aid is essentially a Western, Anglo-Saxon model of charitable endeavour that's being imposed on the rest of the world. It goes back to Elizabethan times when Queen Elizabeth's Privy Councillors - wise, cynical souls that they were - saw the dissolution of the monasteries as creating unrest, even famine. They realized that the best way to keep a lid on unrest is to promote charitable endeavour. The truth of that insight echoes down the centuries, reinforced by the 1961 court judgement on Amnesty International which said: 'Justice is political, justice is not charitable. Amnesty cannot be a charity.'

The reality is that if you look at major problems - such as civil war and famine - around the world, the way they are solved is not through charitable action, it's through political action. The more resources - financial, political and intellectual - that are put into the charitable/technical model, the more the political discourse withers on the vine.

What's happening is that international law is being rewritten by the UN Security Council to take any element of criminality or moral deviance out of famine and invert it, so that the only moral issue is: Are Médécins sans Frontières or Oxfam allowed to operate? Which of course is completely beside the point. What we need to do is put back culpability and guilt - up to and including criminal guilt - into these situations, which is an act of solidarity with the victims. There are all sorts of public, transparent processes to go through to find out who's guilty, who's innocent, who behaved heroically, what mechanical procedures were at fault. In provincial India, if there's a massive food shortage, Members of Parliament or senior civil servants lose their jobs. If there's a famine in Africa international civil servants get promoted.

Alex de Waal
works for African Rights.

Not much

Aid is decreasing and perhaps it does not matter, if one considers the way it is used. I don't think it is effective in terms of reaching the poor. All I do know is that very, very few people benefit from it. The poor remain poor.

If aid ended, life would still go on. It would only change for the people who benefit from aid. They are driven in huge cars and without it they would be forced to ride bicycles and would definitely lose weight.

Resources benefit those people who are better placed to exploit them. Who, in the first place, negotiates aid? Who defines what are considered the 'development needs' of a country?

People in powerful positions also happen to be men, and it is not always true to say that they represent the poor. Some have lived in positions of power so long that they have forgotten what it means to be poor. There are many people who are getting poorer despite aid, and because of aid. It is as if there is some kind of strategic silence about the fate of the extremely poor: 'Let them pull their socks up! If they do not have any, let them borrow from the non-governmental organizations!'

Take the example of aid and the conditions that are imposed before it is given, like democracy and human rights in the receiving country. What is meant by democracy? Who defines it? To most people 'democracy' means one man, one vote. The man who casts that one vote is as much a tyrant at home with his family as the one he votes for. Both are in their sixties. Are they going to learn democratic values in the afternoon of their lives? No. Democracy starts at home and in other institutions such as schools and churches. Yet when one raises issues of the family, gender relations, patriarchy, one is told that these are 'cultural' issues. We are talking about power relations here. Where does 'culture' come in?

Poor people should be able to have a say. In fact they have said many times over that they know what their problems are. They want food, schools, hospitals. But beyond that they want to build a strong, democratic society.

Hope Chigudu
works for the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network, Harare.


A lot of us who were very much for aid as a tool for development have become a bit disillusioned about how effectively it has been used.

Along with the move to private enterprise, it is non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which have been identified as healthy, rather than the state. Everyone is very critical of the Government of India, say, for its failure to deliver effectively to the poorest of the poor, to low-caste people and to women. The reason they are so critical is because it has been documented - it's out there in the public domain, it's published. When we come to NGO evaluation - nothing. Absolutely nothing!

'Gender' has served a lot of these organizations in the same way as 'empowerment' and 'participation', as a trendy label. Women, as long as they suffer from gender subordination, are not going to be a politically volatile category to work with. 'You need people to do free community healthcare for you? Right! We'll get the women. You need people to plant trees for you for free? We'll get the women.'

We do not want aid to be an accepted feature of North/South relationships into the indefinite future. We would like a world where aid is limited to humanitarian crisis, conflict situations, rather than an integral aspect of development. Because aid does breed dependency, it is always on the terms of the giver. But if you were to pull aid out of Africa or Bangladesh completely tomorrow, I don't know if anyone on the Left would be prepared to take on the responsibility for what might happen. The Left got it wrong because they forgot that issues around basic needs don't take care of themselves in very poor countries.

Naila Kabeer
has written extensively on gender and development and is a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex.


Aid that builds, that is responsive to national processes, enhances local, collective and democratic processes. Aid - sitting where I am sitting - is more than a supplement. It is the bulk of our resources. It is the thing that determines how economies evolve, how policies nationally are made.

Changes in the global system have suddenly abandoned the processes that created support for Africans. During the past 15 years, as Africa remained a candidate for aid, there was nonetheless a massive outflow of capital from the continent; there is still a massive outflow of capital. Commitments were made between Africa and the rest of the world to undertake economic restructuring. In exchange our so-called global partners undertook to resolve the debt problem and reduce net transfers. That didn't happen. Those promises were not kept.

It would be a sad thing to put the blame on aid, despite the callousness of transnational companies who have influenced aid policies in their own interests. We'd be backing the wrong horse if we put too much weight on the idea that aid has failed Africa.

Charles Abugre works for the Integrated Social Development Centre (ISODEC) in Accra, Ghana and, with Yao Graham, is also head of Third World Network, Africa.

Yes, but

The secret of development is now seen in prudent fiscal and monetary policies, control of inflation and increasing savings. A lot is left to the market. This is known as the 'Washington Consensus'. But while such liberalization may raise world income as a whole it creates greater inequalities, both between and within countries. The World Bank and the IMF are very worried about these inequalities and the way Africa, for instance, is left out.

Aid will only work if it is a genuine contract, with obligations on both donors and recipients. What happens is that the countries do not accept the structural-adjustment programme that the World Bank or the IMF imposes on them, but they say they agree with it in order to get the money. At the first occasion they drop the programme, or it breaks down - it may have been unrealistic from the beginning.

Just think of it. You have a three-week IMF or World Bank mission consisting of monetary macro-economists from Washington, most of them with a PhD from Chicago. The group goes into a country that they know nothing about for three weeks and they sit together with people from the Central Bank and the Ministry of Finance, who are also monetary macro-economists - in fact many of them will have been former staff members of the IMF and World Bank. The real economy of the country is not represented at all. There's nobody there who looks after the interests of agriculture or industry. There's not much discussion of social problems, of employment, of income distribution and no data on poverty. It is, to my mind, a very unsatisfactory way of evolving these programmes.

Five or six years ago I was pretty desperate about the kind of thing I've been saying today. Everything was in vain. But now I'm much more hopeful again. The drawbacks of the 'Washington Consensus' are much more visible now, and more widely accepted.

Sir Hans Singer was present at the Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 and is now Emeritus Professor at the University of Sussex.


Christian Aid still has to take very seriously our relationship with lots and lots of very local communities across the world. Whilst they ask us to stand by them and support them I think we must do our best to do so. When I talk about 'walking on two legs' that's one of them. The other is campaigning on the structures that seem to go on maintaining and indeed creating poverty. There's been a considerable shift in this direction in the last few years. But we mustn't just shout to fulfil our own needs. We must ask: 'Is this really making a difference?' I think, in some cases, it is.

As a Christian who fulminates against religious fundamentalists I have a right to fulminate against economic fundamentalists. Questioning the economic order seems to be out for them - they really do have a passionate or fundamentalist faith in it. But the evidence grows that structural-adjustment programmes
- not least in Africa - are not working, and that despite or because of this economic system poverty persists.

We used to think that the problem was in the South and the resources for tackling it were in the North. We now have to accept that the problem is everywhere. We have to create instruments - international, global, lobbying, research, policy networks - where the North and the South work together. Of course, sitting here as Christian Aid, one thing I'm very concerned to do is to maximize the huge potential of the churches network around the world.

If people see governments cutting aid, at the very least they should be asking loud questions. Are you cutting it because you think the reality of world poverty is less than it was? Are you cutting it because you think governments of the Western world don't have responsibilities towards the poor? What is your alternative strategy? Is it really a better way of fulfilling your responsibilities - and ours as part of the people you govern - towards the poor of the world?

Michael Taylor is Director of Christian Aid.
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New Internationalist issue 285 magazine cover This article is from the November 1996 issue of New Internationalist.
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