Adonis Diaries

Archive for January 25th, 2013

Does foreign aid work?

The answer to this question mostly depends on:

1. How you define aid

2. How you quantify what exactly constitutes foreign aid, and

3. Where you stand in the ongoing debate about the effectiveness — or the lack of it — of foreign aid.

Do you define “Foreign aid is a transfer of money from one country’s government (mostly a developed western country) to another country’s government (mostly a developing country in the global south – Africa, Asia and Latin America), or basically a financial transaction between nations…?”

In this case, the aid is an official bribe to secure “colonial” interests in the underdeveloped States

Is foreign aid an exchange in kind of exporting modern skills and equipment in order to obtain higher “added values” from cheaper labor…?

Is foreign aid a mechanism of funding NGO, indirectly paid by governments, in order to facilitate exchange of skills and setting up programs tailor-made to the mentality of the developed culture…?

Is foreign aid what the international institutions lend to developing countries, such as IMF and World Bank…? Under unbearable restrictions…

Is foreign aid what is directly extended to specific communities at their own initiatives…?

Can we categorize the work extended by UN peace keeping forces as foreign aid?

The-under-developed-countries-are-plagued-with-common-disease, should medical aid and facilities be given priorities? (Read note 1)

Evidences point that development-programs-in-Africa-are-planned-poverty (Read note 2)

There are those who strongly believe that it works, like Bill Gates and Jeffrey Sachs.

And there are those who wholeheartedly believe it simply does not work and actually harms those it seeks to help, like William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo.


If “Foreign aid is a transfer of money from one developed country’s government to a developing country’s government…” then there has been an enormous amount of data lately, which is gaining popularity, proving that aid might actually not work.

Dambisa Moyo, in her famous Dead Aid book about foreign aid in Africa, forcefully argued that aid perpetuates dependency and is unhelpful for accountability in recipient countries since it’s free. She recommended shutting it off and heading to financial markets for capital for those countries in need – and to do it within 10 years!

Recently, the criticism has even spread to the work of NGOs mushrooming in developing countries. In a recent informative and now popular TED talk, Ernesto Sirolli, an Italian former do-gooder, reflected on what he did in Zambia.

In what sounds like confession, Sirolli offers details of the white elephants they built. He puts it bluntly this way:

‘Every single project we set up in Africa failed …… everything we touched we killed’

And offers this advice to prospective do-gooders:

‘Best shut up when you arrive in a community: Never begin with any ideas …. Just learn to first listen’

Some are even going further and questioning the effectiveness and impact of aid in emergency situations, an area long thought to be the only where aid works among its detractors. Take Haiti for example.

The catastrophic earthquake in 2010 struck the island,  killed 316,000 people, injured 300,000 others, and left a million people homeless.

After such a disaster from Mother Nature, whether in poor or rich countries, you would only expect support for aid and solidarity.  Not so.

Haiti, nicknamed the republic of NGOs, attracted a lot of emergency aid immediately after the disaster, but things just don’t seem to improve. Despite billions of dollars in pledges (most of it still unfulfilled – a problem of free gifts), a recent article in The Economist noted:

‘And yet more than 350,000 Haitians are still living in tents in scattered camps; many of those who have moved out have returned to substandard housing in hillside shanties and seaside slums.

A cholera outbreak that has killed more than 7,500 people since October 2010 remains a threat, with cases spiking after each tropical storm. Epidemiologists blame poor hygiene at a military base of the UN peacekeeping mission for the outbreak, though the UN has denied responsibility’.

Another recent article in the Wall Street Journal reckoned the same thing, that charity has not done much for Haiti and charges:

‘…Foreign aid—whether it goes through the governments or NGOs—distorts both politics and commerce, undermining the evolution of market economics. Free resources reduce the pressure on politicians to make the reforms necessary to attract capital. When food and services are given away, entrepreneurs who might serve those markets are shut out’.

Could the lack of improvement be blamed on aid?

Is aid in itself bad or is it the way it’s delivered?

The jury is still out.

Responding to those who are struck by emergencies, and finding the best way to help those in need remains a human imperative to which we must find adequate solutions.

Obadias Ndaba is President of World Youth Alliance

This entry was posted on January 20, 2013, in Global

Note 1:

Note 2:

Note 3: Apparently, Obadias Ndaba, claims that this article or part of it is his, and want it removed. Why? . If there are corrections or changes, why not update the article? /




January 2013

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