In the aid sector today, there is huge controversy regarding whether aid is a help or in fact a hindrance to the development of Africa. Governments and NGOs are being criticised for continuing to provide aid to African countries when statistics clearly show that it is not improving livelihoods in the long-term. As such, the effectiveness of aid is being increasingly questioned. It is, however, difficult to ignore the fact that the majority of the West hold the view that without aid, millions of Africans would not survive. Moreover, I find myself asking; should Africa be an agent of its own progress?
Since the 1940s, over a trillion dollars of aid has been shipped from foreign donors to Africa. Despite this vast sum of money, Africa is in fact poorer today than it was two decades ago. Dambisa Moyo, author of the book ‘Dead Aid’ believes that aid is at the root of keeping Africa in extreme poverty, she points out that “the more it infiltrates, the more it erodes, the greater the culture of aid-dependency”(Moyo, 2009, p.37). I believe that Africa is a continent that has a web of opportunities. However, it has been stripped of all self-initiative. Under the aid model, Africa is portrayed as a place of despair, hopelessness and in need of charity. The infiltration of aid will keep Africans reliant on handouts in order to survive. What is the purpose of aid if it is creating the exact thing that it is trying to eradicate? The population of Africa must be empowered to become entrepreneurs and create their own financial opportunities in order to create long term and sustainable development.
I cannot deny that some aid projects are fundamental to the development of Africa. However, as Andrew Mwenda states in his TED talk;
“The mistake of the international aid industry is to pick these isolated incidents of success, generalise them, pour billions and trillions of dollars into them and then spread them across the whole world, ignoring the specific and unique circumstances in a given village, the skills, the practices, the norms and habits that allow that small aid project to succeed” (Andrew Mwenda, TED talk).
The work of Akon, an international music star, is what I believe to be the type of ‘help’ that Africa both wants and needs. The project ‘Akon Lighting Africa’ has worked to provide rural areas with an affordable and renewable source of electricity. The scheme has also set up a solar academy in Mali in order to educate young Africans on how to set up and maintain the solar powered lights, therefore creating jobs. So far, the project has provided 14 African countries with a range of different solar equipment, including street lights, and has provided local jobs within these communities.
Another fundamental issue of aid is that foreign donors are not regulating how the money is spent when it arrives in Africa. Moyo believes that the transfer of aid makes good leaders bad and bad leaders worse. She points out that “A World Bank study found that as much as 85 per cent of aid flows were used for purposes other than that for which they were initially intended, very often diverted to unproductive, if not grotesque adventures.” Moyo uses the example of Zaire’s president who asked President Reagan for easier conditions to pay back the country’s US$5 billion dollar debt, however “he then promptly leased Concorde to fly his daughter to her wedding in the Ivory Coast”(Moyo, 2009, p.22). This is a prime example of aid not being regulated properly, therefore allowing corrupt African governments to use the money as and when they please. Moyo states that “African governments view aid as a permanent, reliable, consistent source of income and have no reason to believe that the flows won’t continue into the indefinite future” (Moyo, 2009, p.36).
African leaders are being given no motivation to put financial plans in place to create long term and sustainable development when money is continuously being handed over on a silver platter. Hancock points out that health services in Nicaragua improved significantly after the country’s aid was cut off. Moreover, this suggests that if aid into African countries was stopped, or even reduced, then governments would take initiative to create a financial plan for the development of their country.
In conclusion, I believe that aid, in most cases, is a hindrance to the development of Africa. Only organisations that help to create opportunities and jobs for local Africans, like the work of Akon, which in turn creates sustainability, will actually help to alleviate Africa from the extreme poverty which it is currently suffering. Therefore, I believe that, in most part, Africa should be an agent of its own progress.
Akon Lighting Africa, (2015) (Online) Available from: http://akonlightingafrica.com/our-activities/overview/
Hancock, G. (1989) ‘The Power, Prestige and Corruption of the International Aid Business’ Lords of poverty. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press.
Moyo, D. (2009). Dead aid. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Mwenda, A. (2007) TED talk ‘Let’s take a new look at African aid’ (Online) Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RfobLjsj230
Riddell, R. (2009) ‘Is aid working? Is this the right question to be asking?’ (Online) Available from: https://www.opendemocracy.net/roger-c-riddell/is-aid-working-is-this-right-question-to-be-asking
The Guardian. (2015) ‘Akon: “I don’t think charities in Africa work”’ (Online) Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/oct/05/akon-charities-africa-lighting-energy-access