Tuesday, May 13, 2003

AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT AID
Today, I read an article in The East African*. The paper is run by the same group that publishes Kenya's prestigious Daily Nation. The piece opened, "Japan and the United States, the two countries providing the largest sums of development aid, rank last in the actual helpfulness of their aid policies, according to a new index+ measuring rich nations’ generosity toward Africa and other poor parts of the world." This fascinated me because it considered not only how much aid countries were spending, but also the impact of other policies on development.

Anti-aid campaigners argue that aid is ineffective because governments receiving it are corrupt. There is certainly an element of truth to this charge and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Those campaigning for more transparency from recepient governments are correct to do so. Everyone agrees on the importance that aid actually benefit the people it's intended to help. Some of the continent's more enlightened leaders have realized that fundamental change can not take place without improved self-governance. That is why three leaders (Abdolaye Wade of Senegal, Olesegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and South Africa's Thabo Mbeki) are pushing the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) plan which envisions a new relationship between Africa and the west, along with continental self-policing on issues of transparency and good governance.

However, it's equally disingenuous to argue that corruption and bad governance are the ONLY factors in Africa's underdevelopment (and let's be frank: even an Africophile like myself has to concede that the continent's problems dwarf those of any other region).

Botswana, for example, is almost universally acknowledged as a political and development model student in Africa. It has a decent economic system. A free and fair political system where the losers gracefully concede defeat, an achievement quite rare on the continent. And it has been that way since independence in the 1960s Yet in the UN's Human Development Index, Botswana ranks only 126th. Just ahead of rogue state Myanmar (Burma). Behind states that not long ago suffered devastating civil wars like Guatemala and El Salvador.

The bottom 27 states on the index are all African. Several of those bottom 27 have democratized (to varying degrees), as pressured by the west, and scrupulously followed the International Monetary Fund's economic fiats. Such countries include Mozambique, Senegal, Zambia and Uganda. They've done what they're told but they're not seeing much in the way results. Sure, it's easy from a macro-economic perspective to say "be patient." It's even easier if you're well-fed and work in a nice air-conditioned office in Washington, New York or London. Macro-economics is not an edible commodity, nor will it protect you from the weather.

The article points out some of the hurdles that even the relatively well-governed states have to face. And it also shows that while increasing foreign development (non-military) is a good idea, it will achieve very little progress without systematic reform to the outside structural obstacles faced by even well-intentioned leaders of developing countries. Specifically, the biggest one being the imposition of homogenized fundamentalist free trade policies (with loopholes only for Europe and North America).

More aid money would help. But if given the choice, I think most developing countries would rather have the same amount of aid (or even less) with much fairer trade policies.

--
+-"In addition to the amounts of foreign aid they provide, countries are evaluated in terms of their trade, environmental, investment, migration and peacekeeping policies. The index rewards hospitable immigration policies, generous contributions to peacekeeping operations, and sizable direct investments in poor countries.The index penalises financial assistance to corrupt regimes, prohibitive barriers to imports from developing countries, and policies harmful to the global environment."

*-If the link has expired by the time you read this, go to the paper's archives, go to 5 May '03, click on the features' section and look for the article, "Japan, US ranked 'least helpful' to poor countries.

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