Development aid: how can it work?
Ministers and officials from more than 100 countries, as well as representatives of multilateral development and financial agencies, are meeting in Accra, Ghana this week (Sept. 2-4) to discuss ways of making development aid more effective.
At its best, development aid from rich countries to help the world’s most needy can really touch the poor, giving them the means and the know-how to transform their lives and future in self-sustaining projects that profitably plug their labour and activities into the globalised world.
A project I visited in Senegal is helping Senegalese peasant farmers to become international exporters of melons.
But horror stories abound in the international aid community about wasteful proliferation, confusion and overlap of aid projects — the so-called “Tower of Babel” syndrome in which aid projects sometimes go ahead without the full collaboration of host governments and may even compete with each other.
If badly conceived and applied, aid projects can squander hundreds of millions of aid dollars in costly “white elephants” that end up providing uncontrolled funds and expensive SUVs to a handful of corrupt officials, while leaving the intended recipients as poor as they were before.
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal, the African country which has received one of the highest levels of aid per capita on the continent since independence, has criticised some aid NGOs as being “greedy gobblers of aid resources, absorbing the best part of this through all kinds of schemes, in administration, travel and luxury hotel costs for so-called experts — rather than spending on actions”. He recommends innovative aid initiatives that “help people to stand up”.
Some might ask what Senegal really has to show for this aid influx over the years, when we see an exodus of many young Senegalese risking their lives every year in rickety, open boats to try to reach Europe to seek a better life.
Many economists believe the stress should very much be put on trade rather than aid.
What do you think a “good” aid project should consist of? Do you know any examples of failed aid projects and why do you think they failed? What changes should be made in the way the rich world delivers aid to the poor?