Time for a Rethink Why Development Aid for Africa Has Failed


A commentary by Kurt Gerhardt

Part 2: The Question of Money

Aid given with no strings attached robs the recipient of competence. The method has resulted in a divorce from reality in Africa, at all levels of society. It's time to accustom our partners to normalcy -- those who want to initiate a project but lack the necessary funds to do so, must take out a loan and pay it back. Indeed, this is where aid from abroad can make a significant contribution: by seeing to it that everyone committed to development has access to loans, and particularly by supporting microcredit programs.

The urge of foreign aid workers to quickly produce results promotes quantitative thinking and gives short shrift to efforts aimed at helping locals learn how to develop themselves. One example of this erroneous notion is the goal among donor companies, adopted 40 years ago, to donate 0.7 percent of GDP in the form of development aid.

It makes no sense to establish amounts before discussing the projects that should be funded with that money. The worst thing about this discussion is that it, once again, is purely quantitative. It feeds the disastrous attitude that more money necessarily means more development. In this way, lessons learned over the past decades are completely ignored.

Instead, people like Bono and Bob Geldof are allowed open access to our governments, where they propagate the "more money" idea -- and where they become stumbling blocks to African development.

Nothing to Do with Development Aid

It is easier to evaluate numbers than the qualitative effects of development aid. We cannot develop others. Only endogenous development -- what people and societies achieve themselves with the power of their own minds and hands -- deserves the name. No one can be developed from the outside.

Many would argue that when development aid brings water pipes and roads to Africa, it stimulates and strengthens local efforts. But perhaps the opposite is true, and the more we do, the more likely it is that our partners will sit back, because foreign aid is taking care of things to their satisfaction. Although the latter has proven to be true a thousand times over, development aid functionaries still overlook it with astonishing consistency.

Pouring further billions into funds for the climate, AIDS and other issues may, in fact, be necessary. But it has nothing to do with development aid. These payments will not cause political leaders in the Sahel countries, for example, to make more of an effort to combat soil erosion on their own. These countries could long ago have begun doing something on this issue -- they could even have used their masses of unemployed youth for the job. But so far, in cases where something has been done, it generally was the product of foreign initiative and not endogenous.

Our development aid has not lent enough support to the efforts of people in Africa themselves. Often it has even been an impediment, because our aid was focused too much on the object and too little on the subject. Too often the project or program, not the people, was the focus. The aid passed the people by.

The result has placed Africa in an undignified position -- and no amount of money from the enormous, globally organized network of aid organizations will free them. Only Africans themselves can accomplish that.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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