It is so exhilarating, is it not, such a great change.
Here we have the two politically most important people in Britain arguing the case for a massive new aid effort – a doubling – to overcome poverty in Africa; backing this with major increases in the government’s own aid budget; committing to the 0.7 per cent target; pushing the G8 leaders (and soon the EuropeanUnion) to follow their lead. And that is without mentioning Sachs, Bono, Geldof, the Africa Commission, Mandela, Annan …
Not only that, but the problems that they are addressing are manifestly real; the poverty and suffering so widespread and acute. If we take a broad geographical sweep, Africa1 is the last big development challenge, the region left behind. It is a problem none of us would want to ignore; according to Prime Minister Blair it is ‘a scar on the conscience of the world’.
But are we not in danger of getting carried away by the excitement of the moment; of forgetting a lot of the lessons that we thought until recently we had learned about the nature of Africa’s problems and the difficulties of using aid to solve them? That, at least, is the premise of this article. It does not question the gravity of Africa’s problems, although it is concerned by the tendency to exaggerate and over-generalise. There is, in fact, a wide variety of experiences on the continent. Overall, economic growth is at 4–5 per cent and is expected to speed up in 2005. A good many countries are lagging badly behind but in 2001–02 (the latest available year), 25 African countries raised per capita incomes, against only nine, with zero or negative growth.
Some have been doing well on social indicators too. So while the problems are very real, there are no grounds for excessive pessimism, or despair at past efforts. The big question is, how much of a contribution to the remaining problems would be made by large-scale additions to aid flows?
I want to suggest that the results are likely to be disappointing at best, and at worst counterproductive, for two related reasons:(1)large further increases in Africa’s dependence on aid are apt to have seriously negative effects within the continent, and (2) an overriding emphasis on raising the quantity of aid will inevitably conflict with the efforts over the past two decades to raise the quality, or effectiveness, of this assistance.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 36.3 (2005) Don’t Throw Money at Africa