Aid, Africa and cultural imperialism

Something I have been thinking about for many years, inconclusively, is this: to what extent do donor nations have the right to influence the politics of the nations they donate to? Let’s look at two opposing arguments.

1. Aid can be seen as a moral imperitive. The ‘haves’ helping the ‘have-nots’. Alternatively you can view it as former imperialist/colonialist nations paying reperations to the peoples they victimised. From these perspectives one could argue that aid should be given unconditionally. Mistakes are made by governments the World over and reciprient nations should have free rein to make their own mistakes. Furthermore, dictating terms sounds suspiciously like neo-colonialism. Here it is worth noting that a, sometimes large, proportion of aid is given in kind (i.e. food aid), or conditionally on the purchase of manufactred goods or services from the donor nation (infrastructure, arms or other capital intensive items are typical). Such aid in kind is morally questionable if the donor nation does not allow competetive bidding or is coercing the reciprient to take an inappropriate donation (i.e. an expensive, over-spec air-traffic control radar). These tendencies, and reports by the aid agencies, suggest that aid should be free from strings and given with only limited oversight (some aid projects have incredibly complex and diverting auditing and oversight requirements attached).

2. The alternative arguement is from the donor perspective: it’s our money and we have a moral and fidudicial duty to taxpayers to ensure the money is appropriately used. This argues for engagement by donors in the disbursement and application of funds received. This arguement can also be supported from the perspective of most needy. Donor oversight might result in the efficient use and targeting of the aid. Here we must assume the donors have access to better management and decision making which is obviously not always the case. We should also point out that this part of the argue includes the idea that the donor nations’ oversight is less corruptable than the reciprients management systems (if such exist). There is one final argument in support of strong donor oversight: that aid is not linked to behaviour or even administrations engaged in behaviour the donor finds unsavoury or reprehensible. Is this neo-colonialist?

Which of these arguments is more compelling, or is there a middle road? In the Mbeki-Obasanjo era we heard a lot about African Solutions for African problems; an argument incidently that Mr Ghaddafi uses frequently. This would support case 1 (freedom of action by the reciprient). A counter point would be that  messrs Mbeki and Obasanjo were fiddling while Rome (or the DRC) burned hence supporting case 2. But for me though the question is: a bill before the Ugandan parliament will criminalise aggrevated homosexuality, accoding to the BBC World Service. This bill they report will criminalise: homosexual sex where one partner is HIV positive and fails to tell the other; homosexual sex with minors; and other activities. The conflation of pedophilia with homosexuallity apparently worries local gay-rights activists (it would me were I a gay Ugandan). These crimes would be punishable with death! Should the law be passed to what extent should aid donors react to such a law? Where is the boundary between cultural interference and proper expression of disapproval?  

 

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