Aid to Africa has become more synonymous with charity concerts and fashionable ad campaigns than with actual poverty alleviation or improving Africans’ quality of life any real way. And while the intentions of these efforts may be noble, they fail to address the underlying problems with aid to Africa as it currently stands. Despite the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on aid initiatives by Western countries, international organizations, foundations and NGOs in the last four decades, there have been surprisingly low returns on the investment. For although securing funding for aid is certainly a cause for concern, the larger problem may be how to most effectively and efficiently use those funds.
Since the de-colonization of African countries in the 1950s and 60s, over a trillion dollars in aid has gone to the continent, but there seems to be little to show for it. Except for a few success stories, Sub-Saharan African countries are nowhere near meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and many are worse off than they were in 2000.
There are two sides to the debate on the future of aid to Africa. One side, recently brought into the mainstream by Dead Aid author Dambisa Moyo, argues that not only is aid not working, but that aid may actually be the cause of chronic underdevelopment. This camp believes that large flows of aid to Africa have enabled bad and inefficient governments, empowered corrupt elites, and detracted foreign investment. On the other side of the debate, scholars and aid workers such as The End of Poverty author Jeffrey Sachs, believe that aid should be increased in order to be more effective in its aim of reducing poverty. Aid is necessary, they argue, to support social and health issues that would otherwise go unaddressed.
Whether you believe that aid is a postive or negative force in Africa, there is no denying that aid as it currently exists needs to be reformed. The fact that so much money has produced so few results indicates that something is not working, and both donors and recipients are growing weary. There are a number of factors that have prevented aid from reaching its full potential. Unclear accountability has meant that much of the well-intentioned aid money never makes it to those who need it most, instead being diverted to other uses by corrupt governments. Further, many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa lack the infrastructure and capacity to effectively use and distribute so much money from so many different channels. Lastly, many aid projects are beset by a clear principle-agent problem as donors and aid agencies often design initiatives around development issues that are in vogue or of strategic political importance for donor countries, and thus neglect the most salient problems actually facing African people.
In this theme week on improving the effectiveness of international aid to Africa we will look at how these issues can be addressed in order for African nations to have the best chance at finally breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and for Western countries, NGOs, and international organizations to see their aid money actually achieve its goals.
Every day for the next week we will post a piece on the subject by our distinguished contributors:
- Lawrence Haddad, Director of the Institute for Development Studies, will discuss 6 ways that aid to Africa can be improved
- Owen Barder of Development Initiatives and the Center for Global Development will highlight the need for greater transparency in aid programs.
- Greg Adams, Director of Oxfam America's Aid Effectiveness program, comments on the need for Western aid programs to work with the African people to produce better and more lasting results
- Malcolm McPherson of Harvard University outlines an aid exit strategy to break African dependence on Western aid
- G. Pascal Zachary, former Wall Street Journal Reporter and author of Married to Africa, points to how aid donors can reverse the effects of the "brain drain"
- Teddy Brett of the London School of Economics comments on the political obstacles for aid programs
- Cecilie Wathne, formerly of the Overseas Development Institute, is calling for a new Paris Declaration to address aid effectiveness
We would like to invite you to make comments on these topics or on any issue dealing with Western aid to Africa so that we can determine the best way forward for both donors and recipients. At the end of the week we will create an Atlantic Memo with the best of your policy recommendations on the subject. We encourage you to make use of this opportunity to express your opinions and recommendations on this critical global issue.