Sunday, 29 November 2009

Is aid to Africa redundant?

This was the question for discussion at a seminar I attended In London last Thursday evening. It was the fifth event of its type put on by my old college (University College, Oxford) for its alumni and friends, and - having been to a previous one - very worthwhile I judge them.

This year the panellists - seen here with the Master of Univ., introducing them - were an Old Member (Tim Evans, currently at the Word Health Organisation); Ngaire Woods, a current Fellow, and Director of the Global Economic Governance Programme at Univ.; Dr. Dima Noggo Sarbo, a former member of the Ethiopian Government and currently on the Oxford-Princeton Global Leaders Fellowship Programme, and Dr. Kevin Watkins, a Univ. Research Fellow, and former head of research at Oxfam.

With the aid of some sharp quesions put by well-informed members of the assembly, a number of issues were teased out, some of which I hadn't previously considered very fully. The extent to which military aid tends to accompany development aid, in order to prop up repressive regimes; and the extent to which African governments are beholden to aid donors, at the expense of being accountable to their own repressed people. And is it possible to suggest African aid is redundant (because "unsucessful"), when UN targets of aid as a percentage of GDP are more or less uniformly ignored (save by the Scandanavian countries)? How, again, do you compare a trillion dollars of aid over 60 years, with a hundred trillion over 12 months - the amount provided for economic stimulus? Perhaps it's arguable, said Dr. Evans, that nowhere other than Africa are so many lives saved at the expense of so few dollars.

On the other hand, we heard, far too much aid goes to pay for European - as opposed to African - experts on consultancies. (This came up too the following evening, when Lady Greenstock appealed on behalf of Women for Women at a fundraising concert we attended in Perivale: W4W, working in Nigeria, Sudan, Rwanda and the DRC, employ only local advocates. And we have since heard news of Caroline's brave Goddaughter Harriet, who is with MSF in the DRC, again alongside primarily local aid workers.)

Someone at the Univ. seminar described China as the elephant in the room - but at least it was (eventually) discussed. The real elephant in the room - given the speed at which parts of Africa is developing - is surely carbon, which didn't rate a mention all evening. Depressing, that.

1 comment:

Martin Davis said...

A Univ. contemporary, also present, wrote: "We only quite liked the seminar - not enough on the public view that the corruption does not let the money through. I should have asked the question. Still glad we went."