Magazine article New Internationalist

Does Aid Matter? North and South All Agree There's a Crisis, but the Diagnoses Differ Widely

Magazine article New Internationalist

Does Aid Matter? North and South All Agree There's a Crisis, but the Diagnoses Differ Widely

Article excerpt

Does aid matter?


No but

Aid is essentially a Western, Anglo - Saxon model of charitable endeavour that's being imposed on the rest of the world. It goes back to Elizabethan times when Queen Elizabeth's Privy Councillors - wise, cynical souls that they were - saw the dissolution of the monasteries as creating unrest, even famine. They realized that the best way to keep a lid on unrest is to promote charitable endeavour. The truth of that insight echoes down the centuries, reinforced by the 1961 court judgement on Amnesty International which said: 'Justice is political, justice is not charitable. Amnesty cannot be a charity.'

The reality is that if you look at major problems - such as civil war and famine - around the world, the way they are solved is not through charitable action, it's through political action. The more resources - financial, political and intellectual - that are put into the charitable/technical model, the more the political discourse withers on the vine.

What's happening is that international law is being rewritten by the UN Security Council to take any element of criminality or moral deviance out of famine and invert it, so that the only moral issue is: Are Medecins sans Frontieres or Oxfam allowed to operate? Which of course is completely beside the point. What we need to do is put back culpability and guilt - up to and including criminal guilt - into these situations, which is an act of solidarity with the victims. There are all sorts of public, transparent processes to go through to find out who's guilty, who's innocent, who behaved heroically, what mechanical procedures were at fault. In provincial India, if there's a massive food shortage, Members of Parliament or senior civil servants lose their jobs. If there's a famine in Africa international civil servants get promoted.

Alex de Waal works for African Rights.


Not much

Aid is decreasing and perhaps it does not matter, if one considers the way it is used. I don't think it is effective in terms of reaching the poor. All I do know is that very, very few people benefit from it. The poor remain poor.

If aid ended, life would still go on. It would only change for the people who benefit from aid. They are driven in huge cars and without it they would be forced to ride bicycles and would definitely lose weight.

Resources benefit those people who are better placed to exploit them. Who, in the first place, negotiates aid? Who defines what are considered the 'development needs' of a country? People in powerful positions also happen to be men, and it is not always true to say that they represent the poor. Some have lived in positions of power so long that they have forgotten what it means to be poor. There are many people who are getting poorer despite aid, and because of aid. It is as if there is some kind of strategic silence about the fate of the extremely poor: 'Let them pull their socks up! If they do not have any, let them borrow from the non - governmental organizations!'

Take the example of aid and the conditions that are imposed before it is given, like democracy and human rights in the receiving country. What is meant by democracy? Who defines it? To most people 'democracy' means one man, one vote. The man who casts that one vote is as much a tyrant at home with his family as the one he votes for. Both are in their sixties. Are they going to learn democratic values in the afternoon of their lives? No. Democracy starts at home and in other institutions such as schools and churches. Yet when one raises issues of the family, gender relations, patriarchy, one is told that these are 'cultural' issues. We are talking about power relations here. Where does 'culture' come in?

Poor people should be able to have a say. In fact they have said many times over that they know what their problems are. They want food, schools, hospitals. …

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