African business, politics and lifestyle
Time to stop aid for Africa? An argument against
Earlier this month, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo argued that Africa needs Western countries to cut long term aid that has brought dependency, distorted economies and fuelled bureaucracy and corruption. The comments on the blog posting suggested that many readers agreed. In a response, Savio Carvalho, Uganda country director for aid agency Oxfam GB, says that aid can help the continent escape poverty – if done in the right way:
In early January, I travelled to war-ravaged northern Uganda to a dusty village in Pobura and Kal parish in Kitgum District. We were there to see the completion of a 16km dirt road constructed by the community with support from Oxfam under an EU-funded programme.
The road is bringing benefits in the form of access to markets, education and health care. Some parents say their daughters feel safer walking to school on the road instead of through the bushes. Many families have used the wages earned from construction work to pay for school fees and medical treatment. This is the impact of aid.
Having lived and worked in east Africa, I have witnessed the positive effects of aid. But done badly, it can be very limiting and even has the potential to create more harm. To avoid this, it must be provided within an enabling environment in which it is used as a catalyst for change and not as an end in itself. Governments must show leadership through an accountable system.
For individuals, access to resources – including aid – is like an investment. Aid can build up poor people’s assets, support good governance and enhance skills and capacities to bring about transformation. But it can become a bane when it makes communities dependent, lazy and hopeless. Governments, aid agencies and the United Nations need to ensure the delivery of aid is well planned and coordinated, leading to higher self-reliance among poor communities.
Aid is also beneficial when trade is fair. There are several examples in Africa, like the case of coffee farmers in Uganda, where aid has been used effectively to improve the overall quality of the coffee seeds, thereby giving farmers better prices for their produce. When they have access to markets at home and abroad, they generate income which is ploughed back into increased output, better access to health and education, and overall improvement in the quality of their lives. To make this happen, developed countries need to stop procrastinating and put in place fair trade practices.
Aid works well if governments are accountable – in other words, when they are responsible and encourage active citizenship. On this continent, civil society is still weak and needs to be nourished. But stopping aid will not resolve frustrations about poor governance, which is partly a result of weak public scrutiny. Aid should be used to help fight corruption and promote accountability through active input from ordinary people.
As I have argued here, receiving aid is not just an act of charity. It should be understood as the right of poor communities to a life of dignity. As stated in international conventions, people have a right to good health, food, water and education. We all need to ensure the planet’s resources are equitably distributed. As Mahatma Gandhi said, you must be the change you want to see in the world.
So what do you think? Which argument is most convincing?