To ‘aid’ or not to ‘aid’?

Published: 12 January 2011


In Kindergarten, we are all taught how to prove that we are becoming good and responsible future adults: good grades, good behavior, fair -play in games and, more important, we learn how to be silent and mind our own business. This is the perfect depiction of a “good child”, who does everything for the sake of others, for the “good child” badge and for an extra piece of pie at dinner. When we grow up, we realize that all we have achieved in life still resumes to our own persona, to the “good & fulfilled person” badge and for the sake of others. But we are still silent and self-centered.

Now we have a new set of ideas about how the world should look like: the veil is off and we see the poverty around us. We want to help but there is one thing that we don’t understand: we have to change 180° in order to achieve something. We need to trade our selfishness for compassion and change “I” with “we”. In order to help the others we must help ourselves to be different.

From European incestuous talk to local action

Realization that “aid alone won’t get us very far”, as Plutarchos Sakellaris, Vice-President of the European Investment Bank mentioned, led us to the idea that we need to empower the developing countries. The first principle of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness stands for this idea: 

“Developing countries must lead their own development policies and strategies, and manage their own development work on the ground. This is essential if aid is to contribute to truly sustainable development.”

However, as Rama Nadu, Executive Director of Democracy Development Programme in Durban, South Africa stated, talking between ourselves is quite incestuous. We, Europeans, have to give the floor to the people who can talk from experience, people with real problems. The whole idea of aid is to show that humans are interrelated.

Aid brings us together. According to Philippe Loop, Head of Unit, Information, Communication and Front Office, EuropeAid, European Commision, donors and beneficial countries have a “contract”. The donors are not supposed to rise the beneficial countries from poverty by giving them money, but to help them thrive.

What developed countries can do is allow Africa to make its own mistakes, not just give the money and walk away. There have been made many mistakes in the aid effectiveness issue and this has backfired to Africa: developing countries do things they are not convinced of, because no one taught them how to deal with big sums of money.

This is why empowerment walks hand in hand with improved governance: only matters which would be dealt less effectively at a lower level should be reserved for a higher level of governance.

Furthermore, progress on governance reform is crucial to sustainable development. Long-term development cannot be achieved without a government able to serve the public interest effectively. “Aid effectiveness and government ownership can be undermined by the way aid is provided, with proliferation of individual projects responding to donor preferences rather than government priorities, and placing heavy burden on an unskilled bureaucracy” (Mr. Joaquim Alberto Chissano, Former President of the Republic of Mozambique).

Local government is of great importance for development: the aid becomes more efficient if given directly to local governments, not to national level. Forget about the coordination which should exist between all the actors involved and focus on the ability of local governments to set up projects. It looks like an unachievable goal, but local governments can receive trainings, according to Pierre Schapira, Deputy-Mayor of Paris, Former Member of the European Parliament. 

Doing good is good for business

A doctor is called in the middle of the night. A child has spiked a high fever. What to do? This is akin to a call developed countries received in the year 2000, when Africa had spiked the high fever of extreme poverty. (adapted from “The End of Poverty”, by Jeffrey D. Sachs)

This patient needed urgent treatment and this is how the Millennium Development Goals were born. But after ten years, the economic development stands not only for the United Nations donors, but also for the emerging ones.

It’s all just a business, because everyone benefits from this situation: donors benefit and flourish, even though, sometimes, local firms play only a marginal role. Developing countries receive the aid they need and, in the end, they turn up to be the emerging donors.

Emerging donors bring competition, therefore increasing the role of the private sector, creating rivalry between regions and motivating economic growth. They are former poor countries which focused on outshining their condition, not only on the aid given; policy change is not sufficient.

These emerging donors, South Africa for instance, “put private sector in the driver’s seat and made a simple enabler out of the government”, according to Manish Pandey, Regional Director of Swisscontact South Asia. South Africa completes the big donors and helps other developing countries realize the need of money is just a state of mind. Therefore, aid doesn’t mean choosing between the UN member states money and the donors’; it stands for a bigger picture in which development helps blending both options.  We need to grow out of the general idea that the main focus should be on input and not on sustainability.   

A sustainable business means investing in all possible sectors (agriculture, infrastructure), giving people jobs by means of emerging private sectors and promoting more the new investors in Africa.

We, the world, “cannot champion the end of poverty if the poor themselves are silent. The world needs to hear more.”  (Jeffrey D. Sachs)