Vague Targets: The Case of Aid in South Africa

Article excerpt

From Bono to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, humanitarians and politicians around the world are promoting a new era of foreign aid and development for Africa. Hoping to conquer today's greatest calamities, developed countries are attempting to help developing nations achieve sustainable economic growth and address famine, disaster relief, and other pressing issues. In South Africa half of the population lives below the poverty line, more than a quarter of its labor force is unemployed, and over a fifth of its population lives with HIV Foreign aid serves as an important source of capital for this floundering country, which receives US$487.5 million in aid annually. Sustained foreign aid exists as a response to global income disparities; South Africa, although one of Africa's wealthiest countries, has a per capita GDP about one quarter that of the United States. Yet the efficacy of foreign aid in South Africa is faltering due to a growing vagueness in its targets; the South African government and its donors must develop a policy with more concrete and immediate goals.

In South Africa, foreign aid has largely succeeded in promoting a stable society, most apparent during the five year transition period following the end of apartheid in 1994. At that time aid poured in from much of the developed world as donors hoped for South Africa to become a peaceful, prosperous state. According to a review by the South African Treasury, foreign aid was particularly effective during this time period when specifically applied to building a new system of governance and transforming existing institutions, while aid targeting poverty in general had less success. Donor countries chose very specific institutional targets for their aid, and a relatively low degree of corruption allowed the money to be used fairly effectively. The stable transition period can largely be attributed to a unified global effort and very specific goals.

Yet as the post-apartheid crisis period dwindled and international political resolve faded, aid money achieved fewer tangible results. …