Gordon Brown Announces 25.5% of UK Budget To Be Spent On African Aid

(Report from the Reuters Wire Service)

Gordon Brown, Britain’s famously ambitious Chancellor of the Exchequer, yesterday announced that aid flows to Africa will be raised from 0.47% of the UK national budget to a whopping 25.5%. This will be effective immediately. Speaking at the Make Poverty Campaign Rally in Trafalgar Square, Brown emotionally announced that for too long Africans have suffered from the injustice of poverty and that a civilised world could not just stand by and do nothing.

“Africans must each have a bowl of maize meal everyday, schools to teach sustainable skills like brick making and condoms in case they feel like a little sex in the afternoon given that jobs are hard to come by and entertainment much in demand,” Brown thundered.

Looking back on the continent’s fifty years of independence, Brown expressed outrage at the poor record of governance that had destroyed so much hope after all the good work that the British had put into places such as Kenya.

“We did a real job helping them deal with terrorists, just like we are trying in Iraq right now,” he said. “In fact we killed more than a 100,000 of them, maimed and tortured scores more and suspended legal protections for another three million … this was the kind of responsible government that was demanded at the time and by jove we supplied it” he added.

Brown lamented the kind of weak-kneed government that the Kenyans presently have, promising that he will leave no stone unturned to help arm the Kenyan army so that it could pursue its disarmament campaign in the northern districts with more effect. “Just look at the job our General Erskine did on those bloody savages” thundered the chancellor.

In attendance was Kenya’s slightly befuddled Minister of Foreign Affairs, Chirau Ali Mwakwere, who nevertheless applauded enthusiastically. He reminded Brown that even though the rains had come this year and there was plenty of food, there was a possibility that they would fail in 2006 meaning that more food aid was needed now. He also lamented the British government’s inefficient delivery of sexual health aids to Kenyans: “How am I supposed to utilise my right to sleep with my wife without getting her pregnant if you do not deliver those condoms?”

Brown was apoplectic with rage that the African right to having safe sex was being betrayed by a callous, consumption obsessed and racist western society. He assured the minister that condoms would be had by all as would all the food, roads, schools, social halls, sports stadiums and clothes required by the deserving poor of Africa.

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Africa Needs More Millionares – Not AID Workers

Africans should get off the AID band wagon.

What we need is for Africans leaving school to make profits. We don’t need more NON-Profit organisations!

Imagine how crazy it is for poor nations to have almost everyone getting educated rubbing their hands in excitement at the prospect of spending their lives doing NON-Profit work, when in all rich economies, people clamour to get into business for PROFIT, INNOVATION and ENTERPRISE.

They frantically look for goods or services that people might need, and fight for venture capital financing by proving that their idea will use the least money and produce the most profit!

We on the other hand have such gaping holes in our markets for all sorts of goods and services and yet the NOT-for -Profit route is what appeals to many of us. Call it intellectual sloth, or perhaps it is just being rational to choose the perks of NGO employment. But if the primary unit of economic activity and growth is individual economic growth, then we need as many people making profits (i.e. trying to find the most efficient way of spending our country’s savings to create more wealth) for our economy to grow.

We have to reject AID and encourage entrepreneurship and provide incentives for business in our countries.

In non-profit work and in government ventures the measure of success is how much money has been spent on a project (you often hear politicians bragging about the size of the project in terms of spending as they doll out taxpayers’ money – it is never their personal money).

On the other hand, the measure of success in a for-profit venture is invariably the size of the difference between what was made and what was spent, and the expectations of future profits when people buy company shares. The aspiration is to increase efficiency, find better ways to do things – faster, easier, cheaper – so that customers remain dedicated to their products. (There are benefits for everyone: owner, employees and customers)

We need to regard our problems as profit making opportunities rather than angles with which to beg from the West. That means getting off the paternalism of Western charity so that we can own and solve our problems.

Martin Luther King and Hope

I have just watched a BBC program called ‘Days That Shook the World’ which today explored the assassination of Martin Luther King in 1968. Whenever I have encountered MLK in the media, I have always come away newly struck by his power and the hope that he faced the world with. I was not born when he was killed, and am far too prone to indulge in a kind of cynical politics that never survives a single sentence he uttered. I went looking for what I think was his greatest speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”, which was made the night before he was murdered by James Earl Ray. Listening to it, I am left to wonder about what place hope has the collective of individuals and communities that are Kenya. It makes me ponder what social spaces we own that allow us to create transcendent communities in the sense that they can exist in a spirit of fairness and justice despite all the obstacles in our paths. It is quite soppy to write in this fashion but as always, after listening to MLK I felt deeply the suffering and hope that attended black people in their awful march through American history. It gave me a sense of the scale of the revolutionary triumph that the Civil Rights Movement represented. And the extent to which in those years – and perhaps even in these – black people became a community made holy by its being larger than the sum of its oppressions and disadvantages. If only I could dare hope that Kenya too is marching in similar fashion through its dark days but toward brightness and with hope a constant companion. I suspect this is the case or at the very least I pray it is.

Listen to Martin Luther King’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop.”

Andrew Mwenda on the Impact of Foreign Aid on Uganda

I recently watched a documentary on the BBC by Andrew Mwenda, a Ugandan radio journalist and Museveni opponent, which analysed Uganda’s relationship with aid. Uganda has been presented as an aid success story by donors and its government, and has even had its debt cancelled in the past. Half of its budget comes from foreign aid and President Museveni was famously announced by Thabo Mbeki and Bill Clinton to be part of an African renaissance in good governance. Read on for the reality…

Andrew Mwenda:

“I was excited when I heard that British Prime Minister Tony Blair had set up a commission to research solutions to the problems afflicting Africa – I felt it was an opportunity to breathe new ideas into the debate on Africa’s backwardness.

However I was disappointed.

After months of work they came up with the same old mantras: doubling aid, cancelling debt and reducing trade tariffs and subsidies.

They’re ignoring reality. For the last 40 years, Africa’s been getting more, not less, aid – we’ve received more than $500bn. But we are getting poorer not richer.

Let me show you, through the experience of my homeland Uganda how these recommendations don’t – and won’t – work.

Donor support

Uganda is considered one of Africa’s economic success stories. Yet we rely on foreign aid for nearly half the country’s budget.

You would assume that Uganda cannot fund its own development. But that’s not the case.

The government has got money, but chooses to spend it on political patronage and its army. It doesn’t even collect the taxes it is owed.

Allen Kagina, the Commissioner General of Uganda’s tax authority, acknowledges that Uganda collects only a fraction of the tax it could.

Uganda was forgiven its debts… as a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure… and invaded Congo and Sudan

She does believe the URA could fund the national budget – it would be “difficult but it is achievable.” And she also said that Uganda should aim to reduce donor support.

But Tony Blair is talking of doubling aid to Africa. Yet some African economies are so small that the amount of aid they’re getting is already skewing the economy.

Foreign aid enriches politicians, bureaucrats and aid workers, whose consumption fuels inflation.

The Ugandan government is receiving so much foreign aid that the economy is unable to absorb it. Treasury bills have to be used to suck the money out of the system. As a result, the Central Bank is holding $700m in treasury bills, and the interest on that per annum is $120m – which is incurred by the tax payer.

All in all, a very expensive exercise.

Fair trade

Uganda’s Finance Minister Dr Ezra Suruma said the country does consider finding better ways of managing aid to be “very important”.

“The problem is what we do with it – whether we invest or consume it,” she added.

“We need to invest more in equipment, technology, infrastructure and so on. Aid must be properly used to increase our capacity to produce more income.”

And what of Blair’s other proposal, fair trade?

Changing tariffs and subsidies in Europe and the USA will not lift Africa’s business out of the doldrums.

Again, why don’t we learn our lesson? This has been tried already and hasn’t worked.
Under the Cotounou Agreement for preferential trade with Europe, for example, Uganda has a quota to export 50,000 metric tons of sugar to the European Union – duty free.

But it’s never been fulfilled. In fact, not even one kilogram of Ugandan sugar has been exported to the EU. We can’t even grow enough sugar in Uganda to satisfy the domestic market.

It’s the domestic environment that holds trade expansion back.

At Ugachick – which produces 400,000 chicks each month and produces meat which it sells both in Uganda and surrounding countries – managing director Aga Sekalala wants to expand – but he needs affordable credit, and with interest rates up to 18% this is not available.

Then there’s the physical infrastructure.

Last week someone stole the electric cable linking Ugachick to the grid. It took five days to fix it, and it only happened then because Ugachick provided the manpower to carry the poles.

“The infrastructure, the roads, power – all of this is our headache, when it should be the government’s,” he said.

Entrepreneurs like Aga should be the engines for creating wealth in Uganda.

If he expanded, so would his contributions to the revenue. He’s energetic and ready to move forward.

But there is no imperative for the government to help him. Any financial gap in the budget, and they only need to turn to the international donors to fill it.

Unsustainable debt

If only foreign aid could be shifted from lining corrupt politicians’ and bureaucrats’ pockets to developing private enterprise, then Africa would have hope.

And what of the third of the Blair Commission proposals – debt cancellation? Many people think that debt cancellation is a clear cut solution to Africa’s indebtedness.

But think again. Common sense tells you it’s wrong to reward bad economic behaviour.

My friend Ben Kavuya, a money lender here in Kampala, deals with bad debtors by taking their property, their collateral.

He believes if you forgive bad debts it teaches bad lessons, creating a culture of defaulting. That’s certainly exactly what happened with Uganda.

In 1998 Uganda was forgiven its debts through the Highly Indebted Poor Countries Initiative.

As a consequence, government indulged itself in very luxurious expenditure – increasing the size of Parliament – and invaded Congo and Sudan.

And not only that, it went on a renewed borrowing spree and today, seven years later, Uganda’s debt has more than doubled and now it is unsustainable.

Parliament is so foreign aid-dependent that even the chairs and desks are funded by Denmark.

And worse, with so much of our country’s budget in the hands of the foreign aid donors, the power of Ugandan voters to hold our government to account has been usurped by international creditors – precisely because he who pays the piper calls the tune.

In this way, foreign aid undermines democracy.

Foreign aid does not help the poor out of their misery – it exacerbates their problems and prolongs their agony.

Taxpayers in the west should not be asked to pay to keep corrupt and incompetent governments in power.”

Story from BBC NEWS

Choking on Aid Money in Africa

I just had to share these two links:

Choking on Aid Money in Africa
By Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke
DER SPIEGEL 27/2005 – July 4, 2005
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html

Does aid work? Yes – for Britain
By Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1072-1675882,00.html

Handy Advice if You Are About to Apply For a Food Aid Job

A few years ago, I read Michael Maren’s The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity and it fundamentally changed my attitude to aid. The book should be required reading for every literate person and I highly recommend it. Peter Uvin’s Aiding Violence: The Development Enterprise in Rwanda is just as important a read. Uvin demonstrates how NGOs and other aid organisations contributed to the strength and survival of a Rwandan regime that turned genocidal in 1994. Last, but certainly not least, is Graham Hancock’s Lords of Poverty: The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business which is the classic in this small, but critical genre. Below is a speech by Michael Maren delivered to a group of Cornell University graduate students who were preparing to work in international development during the early 1990s.

The Food-Aid Racket

by Michael Maren

As you prepare for and look forward to careers in international development, I am compelled to issue a warning. With the hindsight of someone who spent five years in the development business, I’m going to tell you that the development industry hurts people in the developing world. Its greatest success has been to provide good jobs for Westerners with graduate degrees from institutions like this one. I don’t expect that any of you will take my advice and start looking for careers elsewhere. AndI’m in no position to criticize you for going ahead and working in development even after you hear me out. You see, I had a pretty wonderful career in the aid business. I can’t remember ever having more fun. In fact, I was having so much fun that I didn’t want to stop, even after I realized that our programs were hurting the very people they were supposed to help.

In 1980, when I was twenty-five years old, I was hired by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to administer food-for-work programs–programs that feed people in exchange for their work on local development projects–in Kenya. I was given a beautiful garden apartment in a nice neighborhood in Nairobi, a brand-new Land Cruiser, a great office, and almost a million dollars in a U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) grant to oversee the programs. As I began the job, shiploads of U.S. government surplus rice were leaving a port in Texas and heading to Mombasa. Meanwhile, CRS notified the country’s parish priests and government officials that this rice was available. All they had to do to receive it was fill out a one-page application describing their proposed project and specifying the number of “recipients”–the number of the project’s workers who would receive sacks of rice in exchange for their labor. Thousands of applications were submitted.

I took some of the U.S. AID money and customized the Land Cruiser, adding extra-large fuel tanks and a really nice stereo system, and then I set off across Kenya to inspect the proposed projects. It was a dream come true. I was driving absolutely free across one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes. I was so awestruck by my own good luck that sometimes I’d stop in the middle of a huge empty wilderness, or beside a herd of giraffes or elephants, and just yelp with delight.

I was having so much fun running around starting food-for-work projects–water projects, agriculture projects, forestry projects–that I completely overlooked the most obvious problem: I knew nothing about agriculture, forestry, road building, well digging, dam building, or any of the projects I was approving. But nobody seemed to care. Only once did anyone in authority at CRS ever go and look at a project. When I’d return to Nairobi every few weeks, my boss, who let me work completely unsupervised, had only one question: How many more recipients did you sign on? More recipients meant more government grant money, which meant we could buy more vehicles and hire more assistants.

When I slowed down for a moment to consider what was happening, it became clear: aid distribution is just another big, private business that relies on government contracts. Private voluntary organizations (PVOs) such as CRS are paid by the U.S. government to give away surplus food produced by subsidized U.S. farmers. The more food CRS gave away, the more money they received from the government to administer the handouts. Since the securing of grant money is the primary goal, PVOs rarely meet a development project they don’t like.

Of all the aid programs, those involving food delivery are especially prized by PVOs because they generate income, are easy to administer, and are warmly received by the public. Yet most food aid has little to do with need and everything to do with getting rid of surplus food. Kenya was not a country facing starvation when I worked there. Many of the projects I started were in the rich agricultural land of the central and western parts of the country. In fact, around the world, only about 10 percent of food aid is targeted at emergency situations. PVOs publicize situations such as the one in Somalia in order to raise money from the public, but most of their work is done in areas where there is plenty to eat, because there are simply not enough starving people to absorb all of our surplus food. Also, it’s easier to distribute large quantities of food in more developed areas.

Harmless as this might at first sound, sending food to areas where there is already food creates serious problems. It decreases demand for locally produced commodities, subsidizes the production of cash crops, and fosters dependence among those who receive the aid. Since PVOs can only operate with the approval of the host government, they typically end up supporting the government leaders’ political goals, rewarding the government’s friends, punishing its enemies, and providing fodder for a vast system of political patronage.

That’s exactly what happened in Somalia, where the government and the generals had been playing games with food aid for more than a decade before the Marines arrived. I was working for U.S. AID in Somalia in 1981, when we started pumping food into that country. It was clear to many of us, even then, that the program was working to prop up a corrupt dictator and turn nomads into relief junkies. Refugees poured over the borders and into camps, where they were fed day after day, year after year, by PVOs, while little effort was made to break their growing dependence. In 1987 a World Food Program report stated that Somalia had actually produced a surplus of food that year, yet PVOs continue to distribute free food and collect U.S. government money for administering the delivery. Inevitably, indigenous food-distribution networks withered and died. The country’s economy adapted to foreign aid–not to production. Meanwhile, the PVOs and corrupt government officials got fat and rich.

No one questions private voluntary organizations. Not the U.S. government, which needs to get rid of the food and wants to keep its aid bureaucracy functioning. Not the host government, whose officials often profit from the aid racket. Not the public, which sees aid workers as so many Mother Teresas. And not the press–especially not the press–which has, in recent years, become an integral part of the aid system.

The press’s role in that system is to convey to the West the PVOs’ view of Africa. And because the distribution of food aid is first and foremost a business, it is not surprising that the priorities of aid organizations dominate the West’s image of the continent–an image of helpless nations in need of our support.

This is not a new phenomenon. Aid workers are simply the latest in a series of recent western vanguards in Africa, each of whom put forward the image of Africa that best suited its own interests. The first Europeans to form a vanguard in Africa were the naturalists. Because of them, early European views of Africa emphasized the continent’s natural history. Later, as missionaries began to outnumber explorers, Europe began to see the continent through the eyes of those who were out to save its soul. And as Europe developed political and mercantile interests in Africa, merchants and traders were at the vanguard. At that time, Europeans were concerned with turning Africans into loyal subjects, workers, producers, and citizens of empires. No one really worried about feeding them.

Historically, the press has been willing to uncritically accept whatever image of Africa the western vanguard has been selling. In the case of the PVOs, the press has bought their line because reporters are as dependent on aid organizations as the organizations are on them. It would have been impossible, for example, for the press to cover Somalia without the assistance of PVOs. There’s no Hertz counter at the Mogadishu airport, and no road maps available at gas stations. If a journalist arrives in Africa from Europe or the United States and needs to get to the interior of the country, PVOs are the only ticket. journalists sleep and eat with PVO workers. When they want history and facts and figures, they turn to the PVOs. In press coverage of Somalia or almost any other crisis in Africa, it is always the PVOs who are most often quoted and are regarded as the neutral and authoritative sources–as if they have no vested interest in anything but the truth.

A typical example of the connection between journalism and the aid system is this analysis from a February 22, 1993, story about Africa in the New York Times:

The greatest danger now to Mozambique’s tranquillity, almost everyone agrees, is Mozambique’s tranquillity.

Lacking scenes of carnage and starvation to disturb Western television audiences, Mozambique is having trouble competing for attention with Somalia and the former Yugoslavia.

The article goes on to quote numerous CARE officials whose primary concern is to raise more money to give more aid to Mozambique. The article never considers any alternatives to aid. No aid worker raises the possibility, for example, that Mozambique’s economy might improve if the country focused on exporting goods. No one mentions that in the absence of carnage, Mozambique might be a good place to invest. No one is talking about creating permanent employment for Africans. The only discussion is about raising more money to send experts there and preserve the jobs of expatriates and create more jobs for graduate students from programs like this one. The people who are called upon to diagnose and comment on Africa’s problems are the very people who stand to profit from the diagnoses.

I know that you don’t want to be part of this problem. You’ll tell me that you can change all of this, that you want to work within the bureaucracy to reform the bureaucracy. But in a couple of years you’re going to be in Ouagadougou or Gaborone making a very good salary. The years will pass and you’ll find yourself with two kids in an expensive private school in New England, and you’re going to have perfected skills that aren’t very useful outside of the Third World. You’re going to think about quitting, about raising hell, but you won’t be able to. Because by then you, too, will have become part of the never-ending cycle of aid.

Harper’s Magazine Foundation 1993
Harper’s Magazine
August, 1993


Go to http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,363604,00.html to read Choking on Aid Money in Africa by Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke in Der Spiegel.

The Ritualistic Cynicism of African Bullets & Honey Navel Gazers

There is a certain Anonymous who has been peppering the comments section with a wake-up-you-navel-gazers message. Below are his or her latest reactions to my cynical take on Live8 and the Make Poverty History campaign.

Anonymous said…
You forgot to mention that all this was inspired by Jeffery Sachs’ report to the UN (he’s the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, and Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is also Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the Millennium Development Goals)?

…but then it’s only generally accepted that he’s the world’s foremost expert on such things as poverty in Africa.

Of course you guys know better than him…

I’m sure he & Kofi Annan are really secretly planning to take over the world…

No more excuses…

Anonymous said…
While academic armchair revolutionaries like some on this thread try to out do each other on a new cynical take on the debt effort people are actually dying. Look closely and there is no difference between the politicians and their tired begging and the navel gazers ritualistic cynicism.

Dear Anonymous,

Thank you for your comments. I am struggling to understand what you have against a little navel gazing or even being an armchair-bound academic – in fact I dare say that it is usually the best place for academics. But I do understand that you are moved by the urgency of the situation, “people are dying” and here I am dithering, questioning, doubting and opposing those like Jeffrey Sachs and Kofi Annan who daily express their concern and outline the latest plan to save Africa. The situation is urgent, but not for increased aid. The urgent task is for Africans to face their governments and demand the kind of leadership we need. The priority is for us to fight for rules of the game that allow us to create more wealth outside the purview of overly centralised governments that keep bulking up at the expense of the citizen due to the constant flow of aid monies into them. For me to argue that Kenya’s leaders – for instance – should stop begging is no excuse. It reflects my conviction that the present course amounts to a kill-me-slowly agenda. For the past few decades – not to even speak of the period since the late nineteenth century – matters have gotten steadily worse in many parts of the continent despite the relentless talk of aid and foreign salvation.

Even your helpful outlining of Jeffrey Sachs resume, meant I suppose to shut me up through the sheer weight of title and prestige, leaves me totally unshaken in my position. If anything it convinces me even more that our destiny left in his hands and of those like him will lead to nothing but more pain. Sachs is that self involved, spotlight seeking creature that Africa has had its fill of; the kind that one writer described as “revolutionaries with a return ticket home”. This is the messiah who ‘saved’ Bolivia, Poland and Russia and has now decided that he will do the same for Africa and the environment – even Jesus would have balked at the work rate. He represents a rent-seeking agenda: issuing from his mouth will always be demands for more foreign aid and more western involvement in Africa because he knows this is what keeps him in the game. The aid business is just that, a business.

Look carefully, and just behind Bono and Geldof are the aid agencies – such as those run by Kofi Annan – and NGOs all promoting new solutions for Africa and playing up the guilt game for all its worth. Africa crises have become the perfect fundraiser. From a few hundred 4×4 driving, high earning aid expats in the 60s to over 25,000 today, the size of the effort keeps growing in direct proportion to the size of African poverty. In May, the World Bank reported that 40% of aid budgets are spent on consultants alone. Of the $50 billion in overseas development aid, consultants make off with $20 billion. Just add to that the cost of running offices and hiring permanent staff, not to mention the five-star hotels, constant travel to exotic locales for conferences and other lavish perks. Action Aid weighed in as well, reporting that almost half of aid is spent before the money even gets to Africa.

You are correct Anonymous: the time for excuses is past. Excuses that there is not enough aid; that our people are too ignorant and unproductive to help themselves; and that without the help of the Sachs and Geldofs of the world we are doomed. They are poor excuses, made too often by the very people who benefit from us remaining mired in poverty and at war. If only that starving kid with the snotty nose and the distended belly knew how many people depend on him for their careers and much needed moral uplift. If he only knew how many westerners he has lifted out of poverty and the multitudes he has supplied a cause. I wish he would feel the awesome swell of the ego that is felt by every passing rock star and Hollywood actress who uses him as a photo op so that he can know that they may be feeding him but that he too is giving them something that they crave.

Finally Anonymous, what is the price and place of pride? Pride in the sense of confidence in one’s innate capacity to be independent and able to thrive. Surely it is this feeling that underlies all achievement, all survival and every demand for justice. Where it has collapsed, the cause has been human – often governmental. It therefore seems to me that the recovery of this sense of independence, this pride, will by necessity involve a showdown between people and their leaders. But the latter would rather direct their people’s attention to outsiders, offering the alternate hope that there is no need to become independent since the Director of The Earth Institute, Quetelet Professor of Sustainable Development, Professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia University, Director of the UN Millennium Project and Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General is on the case anyway.