China's Foreign Aid to Africa; New Donors May Help Results

Article excerpt


There's a new class of members in the foreign-aid club, with China at the head. At this summer's fifth Conference of the Forum on Africa-China Cooperation, the red dragon pledged $20 billion of new aid to the developing continent. That is more than spare change.

The Chinese commitment is symbolic of the dramatic paradigm shift taking place in foreign aid in the past decade. The BRICS economies - Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa - are lending to countries that for decades relied on the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development-Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC), a group of Western and like-minded states commonly referred to as traditional donors. Increasingly, aid is emanating not only from the BRICS. A second tier of emerging donors - South Korea, Venezuela, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, to name a few - also are playing a more prominent role in foreign aid.

While the figures are hazy, a working paper by the Center for Global Development indicates that emerging powers contribute between $11 billion and $42 billion in aid each year. China, the largest emerging donor, gives out more money today than the World Bank, according to the Council on Foreign Relations' Elizabeth C. Economy. While the sheer volume is astounding, the reach of assistance also is expanding.

Many emerging donors have provided aid for decades, much in the form of technical cooperation and knowledge-sharing, often to countries in their own backyard. India, for instance, trained thousands of civilian and defense professionals through a technical and economic program since the early '60s. South Africa, Brazil and oil-rich Arab states have been channeling aid to projects and programs in Africa, South America and across the Middle East, respectively, for decades.

A new and fundamental transformation is taking shape. Emerging donors are becoming more tactical and organized. India, for decades the largest recipient of development aid, announced in 2011 that it would establish its own development agency and shell out about $11 billion over the next seven years. According to Indian officials, the new agency will be modeled around the U.S. Agency for International Development and will ensure that delivery is transparent and effective. Similarly, South Africa has proposed a development agency that promises to be efficient and flexible.

Among the new club of donors, China is the most watched and most criticized. Its disregard for good governance and environmental standards and continued relations with rogue and pariah states are widely condemned. It has been criticized for disorganization and irregular aid disbursements by both traditional donors and recipient nations. This is changing slowly as well. In April 2011, China released its first white paper on foreign aid, an unambiguous effort to outline its mission and showcase how its activities have been part of a concerted and thought-out national policy on aid.

Emerging powers are not shy about disclosing that their interest in foreign aid is both humanitarian and strategic. …