Compassion might drive individuals to give alms to the needy, but less
institutionalised aid thrives on it. Politics and
economics remain the prime drivers of the “aid
industry.” As diverse as the players are, so are the
fans of the different schools of thought.
The debate on effectiveness, accountability, and efficient
administration of aid has resurfaced with the fourth
high-level conference on aid effectiveness, to be
held in Busan, South Korea, from November 29 to
December 1, 2011, fast approaching.
In preparation for the Busan Conference, African countries met in
Tunis, the Tunisian capital, in November 2010, to
craft an African agenda on aid effectiveness.
The Tunis Consensus, as it is called in development circles, supports a
form of aid that makes aid superfluous. Unlike
before, the gathering boldly asserted that
democratic accountability is the key to development.
Yet, the experts bought into the conventional
African fairytale of development in suggesting
self-reliance stemming from increased support.
As participants gathered in five-star hotels to chat about fixing the
broken gramophone, opponents such as Damibsa Moyo,
an economist who formerly served at the World Bank
(WB) and Goldman Sachs, continued to argue against
the provision of aid for Africa. For Moyo, the
notion that aid can alleviate systemic poverty is a
myth. Rather, it has empowered powerful
authoritarian elites to embezzle public resources,
Her thesis is supported by renowned economists, such as the late Peter
Bauer (Prof) of the London School of Economics (LSE)
and William Easterly (Prof) of New York University
Development is a result of the expansion of individual choices, public
confidence in government, and a regulated market,
according to them. Aid is no longer part of the
solution; it is the problem, they claimed.
On the other hand are devotees of aid who, with intellectual support
from economists such as Jeffery Sachs (Prof) who
proclaim that improved aid could help alleviate
poverty, preached that utopia could result from
prudent aid in Africa. For them, effective aid
drives effective development and the way out of aid
is through aid itself.
Easy money that governments receive in the form of aid foments
inflation and blocks exports, argue opponents such
as Easterly. Aid perpetuates the cycle of poverty by
accelerating dependency and inculcating corruption,
argues Moyo to complete the argument. As a result,
aid continues to be an unmitigated political,
economic, and humanitarian disaster, they claimed.
As long as the debate continues, Africa remains the poster child for
aid. For the brazen political correctness of donor
governments and inefficient African states, only lip
service can be paid to critics like Moyo or
Easterly. Yet, these players cannot explain why the
impoverished continent remains so, even after
billions of dollars of aid have flown in.
Devotees know that most African countries have hit rock bottom for
being poorly governed and poverty stricken. However,
they focus on the greener pasture that is to emerge
after the wildfire, regardless how small its size.
For them, aid complements investment.
Both sides agree that an effective state is the solution for the
deficit of development that the continent, and the
developing world at large, is witnessing. Yet, to
what extent undemocratic states could prove
effective and responsive to the development need of
their people is unclear.
With paternalistic states fighting for aid money, the debate cannot
transform into alternative policy trails. The poor
people of Africa continued on a tightrope, fetching
water with empty USAID oil cans.
The crucial debate on private sector and public-private partnerships
has also been pushed aside by the revitalised debate
on aid. For opponents like as Moyo, such a debate is
imperative if Africa is to emerge from poverty.
However, for devotees it is only a second thought.
Frequently ridden by humanitarian disasters, the Horn of Africa has a
special place within the debate. Ethiopia, for being
the poster child of droughts and famine, could even
take centre stage. Yet, the country is frequently
mentioned as a showcase for how aid can be prolific
if it is employed for productive pro-poor projects.
The scant evidence on the effectiveness of aid in the country makes it
difficult to substantiate the claim, and Ethiopia
continues to be a hotspot of contradictory evidence
for both Sachs and Moyo.
With Ethiopia as one of the participants, if not a member of the core
team, Africa plans to take its agenda to the
meeting; yet, it is likely to be all about fish,
instead of learning how to fish.
The Busan Conference would be informed by both views, although the real
players would be the Sach’s driven aid devotees of
African public and non-governmental sectors. As
usual, private investment would be paid only lip
service, as would the democratic accountability of