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Pretence at Accountability No Guide from Aid Labyrinth


































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, she claimed.

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 (NYU).

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 African states.   

Getachew T. Alemu is the Op-Ed Editor for Fortune. He can be contacted at


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