Addicted to Aid?


Next week’s Panorama on BBC One is running a programme on aid to two countries for which Britain is one of the biggest donors. To judge from the blurb, it’s going to be very critical:

“Reporter Sorious Samura visits Uganda and his home country of Sierra Leone to reveal how aid money is lost, stolen and frittered away. He stops at a showpiece hospital, run by a well-funded health department, that looks like a warzone – yet its carpark is home to dozens of new 4x4s for ministry staff. He questions a former minister accused of stealing funds and offers his vision of how Africans can take control of their own destiny”.

Sorious Samuara has done some brilliant films exposing Africa’s “big men” and their corrupt ways, the other side of the coin to the region’s hunger and poverty (go here). But I do hope that he offers more than the usual critique of aid in the Panorama programme.

Yes, corruption is rife in Sierra Leone (it was a big issue in the last elections, with a clean-up promised: see this BBC report). And on a recent visit to Uganda I saw that the local media is full of stories of corruption (the benefits of a free press in Africa! See The New Vision). DFID is presently “ghost-busting” in Uganda (go here).

But I very much doubt that either Sierra Leone, Uganda (or Mozambique – another post-conflict country) would be where they are today without the aid they received to help reconstruction.

This is not in any way to argue that graft or misuse of aid money should be tolerated. But I get tired of the one-sided criticisms of aid that are trotted out repeatedly. For some background reading before the programme check out: the Chronic Poverty Report for Uganda, Joe Hanlon on corruption in Sierra Leone, a special issue of the Swedish Economic Policy Review on aid, and Roger Riddell Does Foreign Aid Really Work? – the best account by far of what aid can, and cannot, do.

So we shall see what Panorama concludes – especially, as Sorious Samura asks: how can Africans take control of their own destiny and graduate the continent away from aid dependence? Let us know what you think of the programme – and the big issues that it tackles.

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4 Responses to “Addicted to Aid?”

  1. Emmanuel Says:

    You could argue on the one hand that the countries mentioned might not have made the progress wtihout aid, however, have you also considered what progress they would have made if there truly existed fair trade. My personal view is that the aid would not be necessary if there did not exist barriers to participation in international trade.

  2. Tony Addison Says:

    thanks Emmanuel. Good point. Trade is a far more powerful tool for development than aid. And rich country protectionism takes away with one hand what aid gives with the other – especially agricultural protectionism in the US and the EU. Aid can of course build better infrastructure to stimulate exports, but the real gains from trade occur when markets in the rich world become more open. Some large developing economies are also quite protectionist eg India. Tony Addison

  3. Emmanuel Says:

    Sadly I did not get to see the program on BBC and it is not accessible over the internet for anyone outside of the UK.

  4. Callie Bofilatos Says:

    Six years down the line and we are still faced with corruption and the misuse of grants, especially in Africa. As Emmanuel mentioned in the above comment, we have to consider both the fact that the misuse of money has prohibited the countries from growing in many aspects, and also, how close the countries would be to reaching their potential if the money was used as it was intended to be by the donors. I believe that social grants are needed to help lift communities and to offer them a stronger foundation to stand on, however, following up on budgets and how the grants were used are just as important. Hunger and poverty continue to prevail all around the world, and it is our duty, as human beings, to help less economically developed countries sustain themselves and grow their economy.

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