By Nomazulu Thata
We need to ask ourselves critical questions; is foreign aid good for Africa? What purpose is it intended for? Is aid helping the people it is intended to assist in alleviating hunger and poverty in African communities? When did foreign aid to Africa start? Why is there still abject poverty of unimaginable levels existing in our societies especially in the Sub-Saharan Africa?
Dr. Dambisa Moyo calls foreign aid to Africa “dead aid” because it has made the continent poorer. Why do we continue to cling on to foreign aid that does not benefit African communities?
The same question should be asked: why donor institutions are dishing out aid to African countries even though the aid, since its inception, has done truly little to show for it. Who is benefitting on the other end of the donor-recipient equation?
It is not the poor African communities but the elite within African top governments. To play the blame game: the African elite benefit immensely from aid. Aid is used prop up despotic governments by buying arms; instruments to supress the common population. This fact is not a secret, but it is well known even the donors themselves.
Taking a closer look at the current situation on the African continent regarding the economic prospects; massive corruption, broken down infrastructure, still the same left behind by the colonial masters and mass exodus of social capital to better other countries in the developed world, there are no democratic spaces in some African countries; none credible elections but window dressing elections to give a false face to the donor institutions they are democratic, a prerequisite to receiving aid, leaves little hope to call African countries emerging countries. In retrospect, a lot of African countries are failed states, they are regressing.
As if it is not enough, we have diseases such as HIV/AIDS pandemic, malaria, waterborne diseases such as cholera: diseases that devastate the African continent more than other countries in the world.
We had ebola experienced only in Africa, now it is the global SARS-Covid19. This current pandemic is the final nail in the coffin in African. It sounds pessimistic but the reality on the ground must be faced head-on especially today.
Are donor countries going to continue to give Aid to Africa under these debilitating conditions of SARSA-Covid 19? It appears every country globally is putting together financial resources to survive the once in every 100 years global pandemic: they are left with little themselves to help the poor neighbours south of them. Very few African countries including South Africa are busy mobilizing resources and distributing to its marginalized and vulnerable citizens. But most African countries are again seeking Aid; AGAIN to buy the much-needed vaccine: There is no end to begging of Africans; like children it does not embarrass governments to beg from the West. To once more, play blame game and judgement: it is the laziness Africans that prefer to receiving billions of US dollars annually. Africans are used to free money and are comfortable to be allocated annually so much at every opportunity.
Africa’s natural resources are much of a curse as the foreign Aid to Africa is a curse. We live in a culture of Aid, says Dambisa Moyo. Africans have conditioned themselves for years that they are entitled to Aid from the West. We are entitled to receiving billions of dollars foreign aid annually because “we cannot subsist without Aid.” The tag “poor countries” is irritating, but it does not irritate us African brothers and sisters anymore, instead, has become normal to declare ourselves poor to get the Aid we want. On the other side of the coin, rich countries in the north have a profound sense of giving Aid as a moral obligation to help the poor: help in the form of Aid.
We all remember in the mid-1980s when Ethiopia was struck by hunger and famine whose victims were a staggering 8 million, one million of which died of famine. Michael Buerk described that period as a biblical famine closest to hell on earth. It was also during that period of UK’s leadership of Tony Blair, he remarked Africa as a scar in the conscience of the world. It was the duty of western countries to provide even more aid. Really, it is the duty of western countries! Are Africans children to be fed with unending foreign Aid? The Blair mantra: “Let’s make poverty history” was what characterized Tony Blair’s premiership and made him a popular world leader. Indeed poverty and famine also characterized African governments incapable of lifting themselves out of poverty without a begging bowl in the form of foreign Aid. This is where we Africans got it all wrong to think we can beg forever, unendingly?
African poverty and famine was hijacked by the entertainment industry of the mid-1980s. The media figures, film stars rock legends embraced Africa Aid unequivocally: We still remember those famous songs; “We are the world, we are its children, we ones who make the brighter day so let’s start giving. African poverty and famine turned into a pop culture overnight. Bob Geldof and Bono mobilized millions of dollars through Live Aid to assist African communities mostly affected by hunger and famine, Aid targeting Ethiopia as the single country to record over a million of deaths in a single period. The idea itself was noble and a good because their actions were a response to famine that had cost millions of lives evident in our social media including television coverages that were depressing the world.
Looking closely into the reasons why Ethiopia was more affected than other countries are partly human errors. Despite the failed harvests that led to food scarcity, mass relocation of communities to other areas, continuous conflicts kept aid away from the very niche Aid was intended. Aid was syphoned to purchase military arms to combat existing domestic conflicts, thereby neglecting the fact that the population was in dire food insecurities because of failed rains and poor harvest. The government of Ethiopia receives annual Aid, 95% of it goes to domestic budgets spending including the military. This practice of diverting aid from initial contract agreement is a common practice in most African countries, and this practice does not subscribe to Ethiopia alone. Dambisa says the notion that Aid can alleviate poverty in Africa is a myth, I agree with her fully because it is not the intention of most African countries to alleviate poverty but to maintain their hold on power possible, hence money, some of it is diverted to buy military equipment’s.
Dambisa continues her argument that Aid in Africa has made Africa poor, she called foreign Aid dead Aid. “Dead Aid is the story of the failure of post-war developments: she says. “Aid has made the recipients of it worse off, has made the por poorer, resulting in slow economic growth, yet Aid remains a centrepiece of today’s development policy and one of the biggest ideas of our time.”
I concur completely with Dambisa’s provoking thoughts that Africa should see a day when the Aid tap of billions of US dollars will be switched off, giving African countries 120 months to adjust their economies without Aid. This, Africa must see it coming because we cannot continue with this failed trajectory as if Aid is free. African governments have this inherent habit of borrowing with the hope that Africa foreign debt will be collectively cancelled if they made multiple defaults. For some reasons, implicit, Aid has been understood as free easy money that western institutions must give to African governments.
Let me make it clear that Aid outsourced by non-governmental organisations in Africa to combat hunger induced by climate change and other natural disasters is not part of this discourse at all. These NGO organisations respond to humanitarian or emergencies Aid which is mobilized and dispensed in response to global calamities and catastrophises: a noble cause. Here we are talking about bilateral Aid between an African country and the Western country, and multilateral Aid from World Bank, World Bank Groups, and other interested donor agencies, this very Aid is the one that disguises the fundamental mindset that pervades the West that Aid, whatever its form is is a good thing.
Let us go together down the memory line and understand how foreign Aid came to being. It started well back in 1896 when the US provided overseas assistance in the form of food Aid. Aid was given under the Colonial Development Act of 1929 the British government granted Infrastructure Developmental Aid to poorer countries in the colonies, Aid that financed the Kariba Dam Project. In the 1940s Aid was about donor largesse to maintain stronghold of their colonies overseas. Later there was British Colonial Development and Welfare Act, whose Aid was to fund social sector activities.
The Bretton Woods was born at the ashes of the WW2. Then came the Marshall Plan after in the 1950s: European countries were struggling with their economies: Europe was heavily industrializing but with many difficulties. To avoid a repeat of the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Marshall Plan was to lift European countries to restructure their economies without risking fascist forces that took advantage of failing economies: as was the case with Hitler rise to power. There are two distinct differences between Bretton Woods and the Marshall Plan. Bretton woods was meant to regain social, economic, and political stability. European countries wanted to bring back their social and economic glories of the past. The Marshall Plan was mainly to uplift infrastructure development in Europe, a benevolence coming from USA.
The Bretton Woods was a great success, and the Marshall was eloquently successful. At the inception of the World Bank: WB, World Trade Organisation: WTO, and International Monetary Funds: IMF, the purpose of the WB was designed to facilitate capital development for reconstruction. The IMF was to control and manage global financial systems.
How does Africa come into the equation of foreign AID? It is not possible to establish the reasons why colonial masters and USA decided to extend AID to its former colonies. The feasible reason may be the cold war that was played out in African countries. Superpowers gave their all to persuade African countries not to be part of the Soviet influence. To keep then in a subject position Aid was given: already in 1960s, a staggering Aid of 100 million US dollars reached the shores of Africa. Aid was meant to fund large scale industrial projects such as roads and railways, power infrastructure such as the hydro-electric power plants. (It is this Aid that completed the Kariba Hydro Electric Power Plant: a beneficiary of two countries: Zambia and Rhodesia now Zimbabwe.)
By the beginning of the 1970s, Aid to Africa had reached exponential levels: fifty countries had become independent and automatically became beneficiaries of Aid mostly from their colonial masters. Whereas Aid to independent African states were meant for infrastructure development, it later changed to poverty focus: alleviation and its elimination. Independent African countries were not able to manage their economies and suddenly was awash with Aid to alleviate poverty.
The part two of my article will deal with questions: what is it that Africa is failing dismally. The continent of Africa is difunctionally locked up in poverty and destitution. There is corruption, leaders who have no ideas are in power but ruthless, venal and corrupt are on the path of destruction. What is holding this continent back: these are questions that interested Dambisa Moyo. Equally, to me these questions form the guidelines for further discussion including the EU Marshall Plan with Africa that is supposed to replace foreign Aid to Africa.