The problem with aid in Africa: Part One

This debate has been carried out in many places and most recently in Arusha, Tanzania for the TED conference: "Africa, the next Chapter". The conversation picked up steam when The Vanity Fair Africa Issue came out featuring many celebrities on the cover but not many Africans. So What is the problem with international aid today ?
My sister weighs in this post but first, a link to must-read articles related to the subject:
-Faking Africa and stories of vanity (blacklooks.0rg)
"the emphasis is on these two rock stars with diamond studs + a bunch of grey suits talking about us as if we are children - worse actually talking about us in our presence as if we are not there."

-showcasing africa or its glamorous patrons ? (Tony Karon):
"Only three of those featured are actual Africans: the actor (and editor’s consultant) Djimon Hounsou, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Iman. (Three and a half, if you count U.S. presidential longshot Barack Obama, another cover model, by virtue of being the son of a Kenyan economist.) Not exactly a new brand of Africa: Hounsou is largely a product of Hollywood; Tutu, with respect, has retired from his life as an activist cleric; and Iman’s only qualification is that she was a well-known model in 1980s."

-Judging a magazine by its cover: (Ethan Zuckerman)
"If you want to understand why so many Africans are upset about how they’re portrayed in the northern media, this issue wouldn’t be a bad place to start."

le symdrome Bono (en Francais sur soblogue.com):
"La première étape est de changer l'objectif au coeur de la croisade en faveur de l'Afrique. Ce n'est pas pour de l'aide qu'il faut faire des concerts à travers le monde, c'est pour la liberté et le respect des droits et de la démocratie."

Here is Randiana's take on aid in Africa:

Have you ever thought about what a glossy magazine can trigger? Last Vanity Cover wit Bono and 21 celebrities provoked a web-wide wave of protests, ranging from indignation with the shocking instrumentalisation of extreme poverty to the participation in reinforcing afro-pessimism with its predictable consequences on brain drain, investment, and …aid. Precisely, is more aid needed for Africa? Or is the real question: which aid for which Africa? Is, as Nobel Prize Yunus once said, “charity, the hidden face of contempt”? How aid can become detrimental to sustainable development, and paradoxically trigger the opposite of its goals?
To us public opinion, which includes tax payers who finance international aid, charity sponsors and citizen-donors alike, needs to have a clear view of accountability: that of African leaders, G8 decisions makers, Bretton Woods institutions, NGOs, African citizens and their own. Can and should Bono and his friends help?

Part ONE

1. Aid in Africa status: is more aid needed for Africa?
a. Poverty in 2006, defined. To avoid confusion, let’s agree on what is poverty. The Human Development Indicator (HDI), a composite of various indicators o is used by the UN and Bretton Woods institutions to . So bluntly and briefly described, extreme poverty is, as described in UN Human Development report in 2006. lacking access to clean water , living without sanitation on less than $2 a day.
b. Three Major issues: According to the same report, there are 3 major pressing challenges when it comes to tackling poverty.
i. Few developing countries have put infrastructure and particularly access to water and sanitation as a priority
ii. Second, the poorest are often paying the highest price to basic sanitation, reflecting the state of the slums they live in
iii. Third, the international community has failed to tackle the above issue and treat them as priority in the development partnership they have settled with the countries in need.
Underlying these three issues, the report adds, is the lack of political voices of poor people to asset their claims on basic infrastructure, if and when they exist.
c. Where Aid failed: The last challenge, the failure of international aid to reach its poverty ending goal, has triggered many criticisms, well before Bono called the world’s attention on a persistent state of poverty. Among them, and the most virulent one was Graham Hancock, author of “Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business” in 1989. He writes, p190:
“the ugly reality is that most poor people in most poor countries most of the time never receive or even make contact with aid in any tangible shape or form: whether it is present or absent, increased or decreased, are thus issues that are simply irrelevant to the ways is which they conduct their daily lives. After the multi-billion-dollar 'financial flows' involved have been shaken through the sieve of overpriced and irrelevant goods that must be bought in the donor countries, filtered again in the deep pockets of hundreds of thousands of foreign experts and aid agency staff, skimmed off by dishonest commission agents, and stolen by corrupt Ministers and Presidents, there is really very little left to go around. This little, furthermore, is then used thoughtlessly, or maliciously, or irresponsibly by those in power -- who have no mandate from the poor, who do not consult with them and who are utterly indifferent to their fate."
d. Not that Hancock is an absolute authority in the debate over aid, but his comments reflect most of western tax payers’ fatigue in paying for development, yet not seeing tangible results of their efforts. The very recent complain deposited by a French NGO againt President Bongo of Gabon and President Sassou N’Guesso of Congo is illustrating this exasperation. If the allegation proves right, then international aid would have financed the purchase of luxury “hotels particuliers” in fancy residential Paris for the personal use of these two presidents. The list is unfortunately not exhaustive.
e. The rush to alternate ways of “doing good” has benefited NGOs industry, where the citizen donor feels his money lies in safer hands, and above all, will land on the intended target. But, there, NGOs suffer from scarcity of resources, lack of political voices to get government and international support.
So should AID stop?

To be continued.....
PS: As Harinjaka pointed out, the TED conference was a bit lacking in African french-speakers. I am working on a French translation of this post; It's really too bad if African french-speakers were left out of this conversation.


  1. Oh noooooo

    I was about to steal her comment and publish it at my place (so everyone would think I'm the mighiest...lol)

    More seriously I went through the writings and thought to myself ..."ok it's sooo right" (and smart and all) and instinctively I knew all these things but it's way better written...

    The problems of Aid are very well explained and I must add stg maybe...
    If People stop raising awareness about Africa, Africa doesn't have the power to speak for itself! Mandela and co are doing a great job but only a well-known public person would have a larger impact (since Paris is in prison media attention can focus more on the real things, right?). By the end of this sentence I realised how dumb I am and must adjust to the topic....

    Okkkk .....this is about Aid in Africa...ahhh...

    I'm seeing aid forms are heading to a more "humanized" aspect...Africa doesn't need money, Africa wants its dignity back. the way I see it it would look more like a "gagnant-gagnant" situation, where African countries are taking more seriously as potential business partners and not "edens of exploitation" anymore. you guyz are thinking...asian country had the same path. At TED Hjk really understood the "Africa needs its sons" situation. what about helping the educational systems by donating knowledge (funny expression don't you thing?)?

    wooow I'm done with the merely smart reflexions...

  2. I like the fact that the NGO sued those guys for wasting money for charity. I wonder how far that action went and whether it is a realistic way to combat the problem.
    so if we proceed with the "win-win" concept, the incentive for "knowledge donation" from the donors' POV would have to be clarified :).... Beyond the whole patriotic angle of course ;)
    Enjoy the Quebec day fiesta !

  3. i disagree with aid strongly. aid creates dependance and doesnt solve anything. i go in favor of initiatives like microcredit

  4. hmmm...let's remember the Indian engineers who got back to India and started up their Silicon Valley in Pune...talking about motivation...breeding homemade brains would be a good start....

    ok I'M out my own brain is exhausted!

  5. Anonymous10:44 PM

    Hi Jogany,
    So you thought you'd have to steal my ideas. I'm actually getting inspiration from your comments...Political voice and Povery fight marketing, brain drain: you have the front seat in our Part Two.

    Your comment echoes Mohamed Yunus and Ela Bhatt, the lady behind Sewa Bank in India, which saved 1.5 m of women from extreme poverty without external aid...Your comment will open Part Two topic "Is Charity the hidden face of contempt"?


  6. Hi Randiana, je suis ouaina kely mais c'est tsy quoi ! I'm stealing Rakoto's blushing shades (#be1f1f).
    We'll do our best for part two, am I the only thrilled by all this emulation?

  7. Hey Heri I did an awesome post on Yunus last year with a great ouverture on M/car....well let's face the truth (and stop being so selfish) the blogosphère helped a lot with their comments and links, at the end of the day we made a great overview of Microcredit situation out there...but again I killed my database (or maybe not if i had a clue about Mysql and on how to ressuscitate dtb)...

    ok I'm out before Lova kills me because of my spamming...

  8. Back from a visit to Heri's site: neat, enjoyed minimal scenery+maximal content.But too bad, archives stop in 2007, I couldn't find your post on Yunus. Don't starve bloggers out of great posts.

  9. Anonymous1:58 PM


  10. Anonymous3:48 PM

    Millions of $ vanished, the basic infrastructure still missing, plethora of projects aimed at reducing poverty and still...no tangible results. Reducing or stopping AID will probably not help though creating dependency does'nt help either.

    I'm more of a "no blaming, just solutions" person, but today's an exception: people who work in international organizations and who have the power to change things forgot WHY and for WHO they are working: "to reduce poverty" and for the "poor". But I think a majority have forgotten this unique goal. They're way much into planning and not executing projects, they're into their end-of-the-year bonuses and promotions, they're into social-networking with the "haute societe", they're into riding brand new four wheel drives. There's no time left to work on real life issues ! (which most of them haven't experienced by the way...it always helps to act more efficiently). Haa - sigh-, honest people who believe in their work are an endangered species...

    When these people feel a bit more concerned about their peers and when these people will be assessed based on tangible results than maybe things will start to change. This is true for government workers too. This is true for everyone. So yes, today I am blaming and I am blaming all of us.



  11. @The nonrequired:

    You ,my friend, have gained instant "must-read" status in my book. I have nothing to add to your comment, except that I am probably going to quote that: "So yes, today I am blaming and I am blaming all of us" line at some point. That was very well put and so is your blog.

  12. Anonymous4:14 PM

    @ lova

    Hey there !

    Thanks... hope to see around often !