Is International aid a panacea for Africa’s development?

By Ernest Mason – When African countries started to gain their sovereignty from colonial powers, there was a general belief that these newly independent countries will have an animating or uplifting policies to enhance progress for their people. Now after many decades, do these countries have managed to enhance their enormous human and natural resources for the benefit of their peoples?

Virtually none has been able to feed their ever-growing population though the continent of Africa has a great deal of fertile land and abundant natural resources. Whatever its weaknesses, international aid is being the life blood and clearly keeps hope alive for some, who otherwise, will find themselves in the doldrums of society.

Since the world’s rich industrialized countries agreed to give 0.7% of their gross national income to poor countries some four decades ago, more than a third of Africans have no access to education, health care, clean water, and other basic services. The reason for this abnomaly is that donors are failing to monitor whether the funds for poverty alleviation are implemented for its intended purpose. When a society prioritizes the value of life for its citizens, then there is a little chance to see the spectacle of emaciated children and impoverished population.

Highlighting the big gap between the rich and poor, a recent report by the UN noted that numerous African countries are not on track to attain the internationally adopted target for halving the prevalent poverty by 2015. This dismal failure is being attributed to many factors such as the inability of Africans themselves to take serious action to generate economic prosperity. Rather, government officials and technocrats alike, are scrambling to squeeze the resources away from the poor.

When public officials fail to establish impropriety and accountability, there is sure to be inertia and they will perpetuate a system that perverts socio-economic development. For too long, the future of Africans have been ransomed by those who wield power. Because donor’s  funds are hinged on  bureaucracy and conditionality’s, there is little the ordinary man can do to break the cycle of poverty.

Foreign aid is a necessity for the poor, but it is often wasted on projects that have no bearing in the lives of the people. In often times, recipients are forced to use overpriced goods and services from rich industrialized countries and when it comes to implement big projects, the inputs of ordinary people are not taking into consideration. Rather, it’s the politicians and foreign experts that will take center stage in the project’s implementation at the expense of the community.

Foreign aid could be  a panacea for socio-economic development. But , when it is used unfairly and without due consideration of ordinary people, its  essence becomes meaningless and counter productive for the significant number of ordinary folks. Many African governments do not esteem the value of their citizens’ life and no matter, the significant amount of international aid, their typical inertia is pervasive. Most of them shy away from constructive policies to generate national income and when they do, they normally implement projects within their tribal areas and ostracizing others, who do not belong to their clique or tribe.

Africa cannot afford to be always in the receiving end. The international community must rethink its approach towards aid distribution. Rather than providing their tax payers money for unyielding results, donors must redouble their efforts to curb the diversion of aid money and must cut off aid immediately, when recipient countries squandered the goodies for the poor. The complete absence of coordination among donors are having a bad effect on the fight against poverty in Africa. The notion of African countries receiving aid, is in itself, unworthy . It is unbelievable that a continent that has unlimited amount of natural resources are still waiting for help from outside.

Virtually the sole cause of poverty in Africa is incessant corruption among leaders and their cronies. Their tales of sleaze reverberates from Kinshasha, Libreville, Equatorial Guinea to Swaziland. Sadly, these people are not interested to serve the poor, but to perpetuate their corrupt act and dismiss any idea of socio-economic development thus solidifying Africa’s backwardness.  Those who are shouting at the roof – top to help Africa must be prepared to enact a new law that will push donors to implement just policies that will make aid worthy on the continent.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), says that the number of aid projects supported by bilateral donors has plummeted from 10,000 to 80, 000 over the last decade. However, the reality is, there are still a big gulf between the poor and the rich. Overwhelming number of people are still living without safe and clean drinking water, no access to education. With little, or no monitoring of aid distribution, both politicians and technocrats alike, continue to  enrich themselves, while the status of ordinary people are being reduced disproportionately.

Even the debt relief campaigns in the 1990s, a large number of countries on the continent are still grappling with the problem to provide good services for their nations. An overwhelming number of people are lacking jobs and there is little to boast of in terms of infrastructural development. As aid flows in, some politicians and technocrats are happy as long as it serves as an alternative to get wealth quicker and little is being done to generate national income to boost economic life for their countries. A nascent economy needs an open and transparent system and an effective government structures to enhance socio-economic development. Because donors’ fund is available, there is apathy among many leaders on the continent to be innovative and selfless.

In order to maximize the benefits of aid, donors must take serious action notwithstanding the problems that lie ahead in trying to make things work effectively for the poor majority. There has to be a concerted effort to streamline the number of NGOs that are doing the same things in a given country. Their efforts are in place to propel socio-economic development, but  when it is done haphazardly the notion of aid is meaningless.

When delegates proposed the Paris declaration of 2005 that calls for the need to make aid effective and formulated specific targets which donors and recipients are to meet , little did they know that for obvious reason, recipient countries are still being lagging behind in terms of growth and sustainability. The flows of aid should not be left in the hands of unscrupulous people to handle. It needs to be monitored and scrutinized.

There are too many aid agencies doing the same thing in a given country. There has to be a coordinated approach in implementing projects in some African countries. In practice, an NGO must learn to share their resources with countries that lack basic services. Often times, we have seen an NGO doing all kinds of projects in a single country and totally cut off countries that need the support the most. The Paris declaration advocates for an effective guideline to curb the fragmentation of aid. But the biggest problem is too many NGOs doing the same thing and there is a complete break down of coordination as they strive to enhance their developmental programmes.