Foreign Aid

Foreign aid a failure, says German aid official

(Sept. 15) Another public figure takes aid to task for failing to achieve its goals after more than 60 years, writes Brady Yauch.

Foreign aid is a flop, say an increasing number of Third World experts, leaders, and foreign aid executives who have witnessed, first hand, its inability to deliver development. Nowhere is foreign aid’s failure clearer, they argue, than in Africa—the darling of aid agencies. In the latest salvo, Kurt Gerhardt a former journalist and country director for the German Development Service (DED) in Niger in West Africa, has written a scathing denunciation [PDF] of foreign aid in Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s leading publications.

The billions of dollars of German foreign aid to Africa, says Gerhardt, has created a situation where donors assume far too much responsibility for local problems. In doing so, donor countries have “educated” aid recipients to call for foreign aid first when problems arise, rather than trying to find solutions themselves.

This attitude, Gerhardt believes, is now firmly rooted in countries across Africa. The result is a continent in a perpetual state of assistance-seeking with an insidious effect on Africa, he says, “far worse than the enormous material losses engendered by failed aid projects.”

Gerhardt points to the case of Nigeria as an example of the skewed relationship created by foreign aid handouts. In 2009, then-German President Horst Köhler, speaking about the energy partnership between Germany and Nigeria, said they should be mutually ashamed that they had failed to increase access to electricity for the country’s rural citizens.

“Are we really the ones who should feel ashamed that one of the world’s largest oil exporters isn’t capable of providing its rural areas with electricity,” asks Gerhardt in a double condemnation of the Nigerian and German governments for the mothering mindset that has infected both donors and recipients and perpetuates aid.

This mothering attitude also proves the lie to the “subsidiary principle” which all aid agencies espouse—that the providers of aid, whether private or governmental, should not assume any duties that could be carried out by the receiver country itself, and that their goal is to end foreign aid as soon as possible.

This is nothing more than lip service, says Gerhardt. With up to 100,000 people dependent on the development aid industry in Germany alone, “one can imagine the outrage that would result should someone seek to dismantle these agencies,” he says.

“There is no reason for these two groups (donors and recipient countries) to be interested in changing the status quo,” he says. Foreign aid has now become just as important to developed countries, maybe even more so.

The immense national and international development agencies, from the German Society for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) to the World Bank, but also the myriad private organizations both small and large that cover the continent with their network of charitable works, are, he says, “the de facto occupying powers of the post-colonial period.”

That much of the aid money is handed over to Africa in the form of grants, or as Gerhardt calls it, “a gift”, only makes the situation worse, as it turns foreign aid’s “partners into beggars, ones who no longer value the things they have been given and consequently have not maintained them well.”

If the decades of work undertaken by these development professionals had been successful, they would no longer be needed, he says. Instead, their presence simply reinforces their failures.

“The more we do, the more likely it is that our partners will sit back, because foreign aid is taking care of things to their satisfaction.”

With the exception of emergency relief, Gerhardt argues that Third World governments should get used to a new regime in which they “take out a loan and pay it back.” Though Gerhardt pulls back from drawing the logical conclusion of his own recommendation, it is unmistakable, that in such a world, market discipline will identify the true development investments and there will no longer be any need for the politically sanctioned handouts of foreign aid agencies. They will, as they say they always intended, wither away.

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