There has always been a moral imperative for developed nations and humanitarian organizations to get involved in crisis situations that affect the lives of people. This is seen how the world collectively turned to humanitarian societies and developed nations to provide assistance to Haiti after the earthquake, and how the world is asking developed nations and UN to find a lasting solution to the Syrian crisis. Morally, people do not like watching the suffering of another and will be moved to charity as a solution on witnessing the suffering of another. A curious case of this is the Rwandan genocide of 1994 (Adedokun). In the 3 months that it lasted, near a million people lost their lives, the world watched helplessly and after it was over the world did point, an accusing finger to the USA, Belgium, and the UN for doing nothing to aid the situation. This dilemma concerning foreign aid to Africa will be the topic of this paper. While there is goodwill and a humanitarian angle in provision of aid, it is rather heartbreaking that despite all the aid Africa still remains a case study for poverty. Is Foreign Aid aiding or Hurting Africa?
Economic and humanitarian aid is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a good thing which when employed effectively has the capacity to change the lives of many. This was witnessed in the rehabilitation of Europe and Japan after the aftermath of the destructive World War 2. However, when it comes to Africa; in particular sub-Saharan Africa, aid has done little of anything to aid in its development. This is despite Africa on aggregate receiving more aid than Asia and Europe ever did (Adedokun). The state of underdevelopment remains embarrassing and there seems to be no end in sight towards the situation.
The intriguing aspect about Africa is that it is a continent of vast resources. There are minerals that earn governments a lot of money but still the nations seem unable to pull themselves out of poverty. A strong reason for this can be found in the multiplier theory (Adedokun). In this theory, injections into an economy such as aid and mineral resources can be a blessing or a curse. It can only be a blessing where there is sound economic management, good public policy and a determination to end poverty. Should these lack the revenue derived from them only ends up being taken up by a greedy political class and endless corruption with no tangible benefit to the people that it was meant to help (Bueno de Mesquita, and Smith). This is the situation in Africa. But one may wonder; how did Africa get there?
During the scramble and partitioning of Africa, the imperial European powers met and shared up Africa. Through conquest, the entire continent would later be under European domination. This was largely due to the fact that European nations were vastly ahead in terms of technology and their military ability. The result of this partitioning of Africa was that new nations were created. In these nations, communities which had little in common with each other were forced into one nation; it is common for African nations in sub-Saharan Africa to have over 40 tribes such as Kenya, Nigeria, and Ghana. In other instances, communities got divided into different nations a good example being the Maasai community that was divided into Kenya and Tanzania.
While the imperialists had cited ‘civilizing of Africans, commerce and spread of Christianity, as the reasons for why they wanted to colonize Africa; the reality was radically different. These powers developed systems that were aimed at exploiting the resources and people in Africa without any development in return (Werlin). An example of this can be derived in the exploitation of Congo by King Leopold and Belgium. During the time that Belgium was in the resource filled nation, it resulted in the maiming and killing of millions of Africans. Despite the millions of dollars that were made from the exploitation, few if any development was done. Infrastructure was only created to serve the economic needs of the colonizer. It was common for railway and electricity lines to only run to a mine, or a rubber collection center, and nowhere else! Educational development was also limited for its economic purpose. Token Africans could be taught how to speak Belgian and simple arithmetic for the purpose of speaking to the Belgian regarding rubber and mineral collection and counting if the day’s quota had been achieved (Werlin). The situation was no different with other colonial powers such as the British. They took up and forced Africans into settlements. They also created fantastically corrupted systems and token of African collaborators to aid them in maintaining the systems.
All systems of colonization were not aimed at the development of the African; rather at their exploitation. The economic devastation of the Second World War in Europe made it difficult for the colonial governments to continue directly ruling Africa. This resulted in them giving self-determination and independence to African nations. However, the economic interests that they had in Africa could not only be left idle. This meant that they did not withdraw from the nations (Asongu, and Nwachukwu).
African leaders after colonization found themselves in states of dilemma. They had nations to run; but lacked the political and institutional structures to do so. They did not have technology exploit resource hence which made them dependent on companies that could do so. The human resource available was plagued by lack of education and poverty. This made it impossible to collect any meaningful revenue from them. As they would quickly come to learn, they were still dependent on their colonial masters as they lacked the revenue to run their governments (Asongu, and Nwachukwu). This was where aid would come in. However, this foreign aid was always tethered with exploitative demands, but the African head of states had little they could do.
The intensity of the state of desperation that African nations were left in depended on the colonial master. Belgium literary left Congo with little to speak of in terms of infrastructure and few Africans had any education. That made it impossible to create a viable laborforce that would drive the economy forward. There were also little schools in which competent training could be done. The French had a scorch earth policy in which they either charged the new nation for ‘benefits of colonization’ such as infrastructure they had built and people they had trained. The British on the otherhand insisted on having a military presence in nations they colonized. This was mainly to protect their economic interest. Interestingly, as compared to other European powers, the British did to some levels provide schools and some level of infrastructural development. In fact, in British colonies, the British did train the new armies and provide for experts who trained in schools and universities. This allowed a level of transition in terms of knowledge which would come too beneficial to beneficial to the new nations in providing for continuity.
As mentioned earlier, the aid provided to Africa always came with exploitative conditions to be met. That meant that in the long-run, the benefit drawn from the aid would be meager as compared to the costs that it had on the nation. On top of this, European nations always meddled in African politics and had no problem with either over-throwing a government or killing a leader who refused to abide by their rules (Asongu, and Nwachukwu). The perfect examples of this were Thomas Sankara who refused to have Burkina Faso in aid but ended up killed in a coup and Patrice Lumumba who was brutally executed in Congo. The lesson that this created to other African leaders was that politics was unstable and they had to use any means necessary to remain in power.
As expressed in earlier parts of this paper, aid is a multiplier. In a situation that there are institutions in place with good policy and governance, then aid is powerful in socioeconomic improvements. However, if they lack then it amplifies the desperation of the situation. Another fact is that for aid to be effective, it should not be the solution; it should only be a part of the solution. That means that changes should come internally but not externally (Asongu, and Nwachukwu). Aid should not be the entire money that is dependent upon when undertaking socioeconomic change; it should only be a part of it.
African nations lacked the political maturity, institutions, and framework to effectively handle aid. The corrupt systems left meant that the person at the top had unchecked power to do as they wished. Institutions that could affect transparency and accountability were non-existent (Asongu). That meant that once the political class received the aid, it could do whatever it wanted to do with it with little accountability to anyone. Often, this money would be diverted towards the consolidation of power and personal enrichment.
To understand aid, and the effect that it had on politics, one ought to understand how politics works. In a democracy, the president is voted by the majority. That means that for their political survival, the president must institute policy that positively affects their voting bloc. Should they fail to do so, then their voting bloc will give their vote to their rival who is in the opposition. The resulting checks and balances is good in taking the nation forwards (Bueno de Mesquita, and Smith). In Africa however, most governments at the time were held by their military and backing by foreign powers. That meant that the African head of state who complied with the wishes of the foreign power could keep their position. If they refused, then the European power would back another person and they would be disposed and killed (Bueno de Mesquita, and Smith). This happened with Thomas Sankara who was replaced with Blaise Campoure and Patrice Lumumba who was replaced with Mobutu Sese Seko.
An African head of state who kept key supporters happy and their foreign backers happy could remain in power despite the situation that their citizens were in or their level of misery. When such a leader received foreign aid, they could use it to consolidate their political and economic power by diverting it to their accounts and those of their key supporters in the military or politics (Bueno de Mesquita, and Smith). They could buy rivals and use the money for their own political survival. In his 32 year rule of Congo, Mobutu Sese Seko had created a one-man rule in Congo and had amassed personal wealth that made him arguably among the richest men on earth however, majority of Congo remained destitute with poverty and disease. By keeping the army happy and buying politicians and rivals, Mobutu had been able to consolidate power to himself.
The thing however, is that foreign aid is a debt. As any debt, the unit borrowed should be invested in a project that will be able to finance its repayment. A capital project such as infrastructure leads to economic development and increased commerce that allows the government to collect higher revenue. The construction of schools and improvement of healthcare allows for a robust citizenry that will be workable and taxable. What happens then when aid is used for personal gain?
Well, aid is a debt. However, the political class is exempt from paying it. That means that while they enjoy the perks that come with that money, the final cost will be footed by the taxpayer who is the citizen (Bueno de Mesquita, and Smith). This is a very serious situation. The money that is collected from the taxpayers goes to paying off debts that had no benefit to them. This is putting into consideration that the money does accrue interests. The result is always a downwards spiral in which the government must borrow more aid to finance its services to the citizens. Again keep in mind that a substantial portion of this money will be lost through corruption. In the end, there is no development and the African citizen is subjected to lower quality of life paying for the debt and maintaining a struggling government (Asongu).
The situation is no better in nations with minerals. The people of Nigeria have one of the biggest economic gaps with a large section of the population being so poor, despite the nation being a major oil exporter. The reason for this was in the high level of borrowing that the governments of Nigeria have done over the years (Asongu). With no developments undertaken, revenues from oil sales are used to pay the debts and enrich a few at the cost of the entire population. This cumulative effect has led to a net underdevelopment of Africa despite the large volume of aid that it has received.
From the evidence presented in this paper, one can say that it is hurting Africa. However, the answer is not that straightforward. Humanitarian aid has indeed helped Africa (Asongu). A keen example of this is seen through how humanitarian aid has allowed African nations such as Kenya be able to combat disease epidemics such as AIDS and malaria. At the height of the AIDS scourge in Africa, the Kenyan government invited non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as USAID to aid the nation’s ministry of health in fighting the disease. The result was a massive educational program against AIDS, a condom distribution program, and the availing of ARV drugs to infected person’s at no costs. The results were evident in the decline in both morbidity and mortality rates of HIVAIDS.
Aid has also being used as a political tool to remove dictators from power (Asongu). By denying aid to an African nation, sufficient pressure has been placed on the government, and the president to step down and allow for political reforms which have led to sweeping changes in the nation. An example of this was the retiring of long-time Kenyan president Daniel Arap Moi after donor nations refused to support his government. His retirement brought about sweeping political changes in the nation such as a new constitution that was instrumental in the socioeconomic development and transformation of the people of Kenya such as the promulgation of a new constitution in the nation.
Despite the bad history that Africa has had with foreign aid, one cannot simply vilify it as something bad. On the contrary, one should look at the political, institutional and economic frameworks that are in the nation. When a nation has a good policy and governance, then aid becomes an economic multiplier that is very useful. However, should this lack, then aid becomes a curse (Adedokun). Africa needs a revolution in its governance structure; only then can aid become helpful to it.