Ghana’s President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, this month, unveiled the country’s plan to move Ghana out of aid dependency. This is truly a major shift for the country and hopefully one that would trigger similar action from other aid dependent countries in Africa.
This move by Ghana is significant because it would be one of the few times, if not the only time, (in recent times at least) that an African country is taking concrete action to end its dependency on aid. The `Ghana Beyond Aid’ Committee developed the document/plan in consultation with 30 different institutions from academia, the economic community with inputs from the public, and some Ghanaians in the diaspora.
More African countries are appealing for humanitarian aid for protracted development and poverty context than ever. Majority of the contexts on which repeated humanitarian appeals are made in Africa are development and poverty related. Of the 21 countries appealing launched a global humanitarian appeal at the beginning of the year, 14 were from Africa and this does not include Mozambique the only African country that has been affected by a sudden onset disaster; cyclone idia, this year. The 14 African countries, including Nigeria (Africa’s potential economic powerhouse) appealing for humanitarian aid in 2019 are doing so in a context of protracted security issues, development gaps, lack of resilience and failure of recovery from recurring and predictable natural challenges like drought and flood.
Tom Dichter in the article ‘I’ve worked in foreign aid for 50 years—Trump is right to end it, even if his reasons are wrong’, published in the Quartz online magazine two years ago, captures why Ghana’s action to end the country’s aid dependency is a key development for the continent. Dichter states very succinctly what I wanted to share this week, so I literarily quoted his article at length.
“Countless articles and at least thirty widely read books about aid (such as Michael Maren’s 1997 The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, or William Easterly’s 2006 The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, or Dambisa Moyo’s 2009 Dead Aid), have pointed out that outsiders cannot “nation build,” that development must be led by the people in the poor countries themselves, that dependency has been one of the few tangible results of the trillions we have spent, that the complexity and the context-specific nature of each country’s politics, social structure, and culture cannot be easily understood by outsiders and thus the short term three to five year aid “project” is a wildly inappropriate vehicle for aid, and so on. Moreover, a number of highly respected historians and economists like David S. Landes and J.K. Galbraith have pointed out that aid simply cannot produce development.
What holds back many poor countries is the people who live there, including their governments. A society which cannot develop without external gifts is altogether unlikely to do so with them.
Not only does the aid establishment continue to ignore the critics, it has dumbed down much of its work. There are now thousands of ongoing projects that amount to band-aid solutions where the results of “our” interventions disappear almost immediately after the departure of our “expert” teams in their Land Cruisers: new water wells dug in villages where previous donor-built wells have failed; countless capacity-building workshops attended by poor people who are often motivated by the “sitting allowance”—a cash gift.
The main reason there is so little change is that aid has become an industry, and is rapidly moving towards what a present-day Eisenhower might call an “aid-industrial complex,” an interlocking set of players (NGOs, government agencies, and private contractors, among others) who have largely closed off outside criticism and internal learning and become self-referential and entrenched.
Indeed someday soon, we need to prepare to go out of business. No industry wants to hear this, but aid is not like the auto industry. It was meant not to last. If there is a useful way forward for aid, it is to recall its original reason for being; As British scientist C.P. Snow said some sixty years ago, aid should be about people “who will muck in as colleagues, who will pass on what they know, do an honest technical job, and get out.”
Thank you, sir!
Sadly, these kinds of true-talks come mostly from retired workers in the humanitarian and development field. The sector can be unkind to colleagues who stray from fostering the survival of `the industry’. I know, as a growing voice on the negative impact of humanitarian aid dependency in Africa some colleagues are nervous around me, but I am inspired by the many more colleagues who reach out for collaboration on how to uphold altruism, integrity and prevent dependency in our call to humanitarian service.
Having worked in the international humanitarian aid/field in Africa for over a decade, it is increasingly clear that aid is not something that is given to us, sometimes it is what African leaders and African elites who work in these institutions accept, beg for, rationalize, depend on and rely on sadly and often for selfish reasons. The pecks of the job have deafened us to the criticism of the ineffectiveness of aid, and numbed feelings of guilt in participating in an industry that fosters the dis-empowerment of our people and the continent’s dependency on aid.
Most often the argument is that aid is pushed on Africa because it benefits the West, that is not entirely true. I worked for faith-based NGOs in the UK and Canada for a decade before joining the UN, many from the West who donate to charities do so from a place of altruism. Many tax payers advocate for significant contribution to aid because they genuinely want to see Africa lift itself from poverty, certainly not to promote dependency and dis-empowerment. Many would be appalled to learn that their well intentions are sometimes abused for selfish gains.
The debate on the effectiveness of aid comes from the west, African voices are often silent, and/or we talk around it. Yvette Stevens former Director of OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) in 2005 had this to say; "The silence of African voices in the dialogue on humanitarian issues is most disturbing. The voices of African leaders are decidedly silent when it comes to talking about humanitarian issues that directly affect their people.” 
African countries that have not experienced a sudden onset disaster should constantly question why they appeal for humanitarian aid each year. The growth of the aid sector (humanitarian and development), is at the expense of the stalled development and economic growth of countries in Africa when misapplied.
Illicit funds help sustain Britain’s inflated property market through purchase of homes frequently left unoccupied. More than £90bn is estimated to be laundered illegally through the UK each year.I have just returned from a three-week visit to Nigeria, I do frequently, I love my country very much. This time I spent most of my time enraged by the constant parading of Nigeria’s young men with their laptops as ‘engaging in internet scams, popularly referred to in Nigeria as ‘yahoo’. I am disappointed that Nigeria’s media is not challenging this practice, of parading its citizens as guilty before being tried in a court of law; a human rights violation. But this is not my only issue this time.
‘Yahoo’ or `419’ another term for this practice based on Nigeria’s criminal code on fraud is a decades-long practice where Westerners who intend to defraud Nigeria end up being defrauded. When `419’ benefits the West, it is not called `Yahoo or 419’ it means Nigeria’s stolen money has been successfully lodged in Western banks at the expense of the development of the country. When 419 benefits the West, we don’t hear about, it is when it does not benefit them that it becomes a crime.
A key resource in Nigeria is its youth. Demonizing them nationally and globally after stealing their future through the blatant theft of the country resources by its leaders is the crime. Nigeria’s media parading its youth with computers as `evidence’ of them engaging in internet scams without due legal process is diverting attention from the country’s real issue.
Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was established in 2004 to address illicit financial flow from Nigeria to banks in Europe and North America. According to the World Bank, ‘Since independence in 1960, a country of 170 million people has been plagued with the cankerworm of corruption and ineptitude. The consequences are enormous; Life expectancy continues to nosedive, economic growth faces meltdown, and the democratic fabrics of the country pushed into a moral cesspit.’’
Blessed with wealth, Nigerians remain some of ‘’ the poorest of the poor, while ‘a few of her elites live in opulence, some of which are traceable to illicit funds. ‘There is indeed a symbiotic relationship between corruption, waste, and underdevelopment in Nigeria’ says the World Bank ‘It is estimated that no fewer than $100billion may have been looted by government officials since the oil boom era of the 1970s.’’
Holding these looters accountable and ensuring Nigeria’s stolen funds are brought back to Nigeria should keep the EFCC occupied. Illicit funds help sustain Britain’s inflated property market through the purchase of homes frequently left unoccupied. More than £90bn is estimated to be laundered illegally through the UK each year. Most of these funds are stolen from Africa, especially Nigeria. Nigerians or African leaders who steal money from Africa and send to the West are `yahoo’ boys/men or women, but stupid ones.
The existence of ‘yahoo/internet fraud’ in Nigeria is the youth expressing their frustration to a world and country that has failed them. We will not be able to address the ‘yahoo phenomenon’ unless we can credibly hold Nigeria’s leadership accountable for the ‘normalization’ of corruption. The West cannot stereotype and penalize Nigeria’s youth for `419’ because they are complicit in their housing of stolen funds from Africa. The receiver of stolen goods is a thief too.
We cannot address the `yahoo phenomenon’ until we bring all our stolen money from Western banks. Nigeria’s youth have also been the victims of fraud from Nigeria’s corrupt leadership and the international community. ‘Yahoo boys’ are not the root cause of Nigeria’s problem. The collaboration between Nigeria’s corrupt leaders who steal public funds from Nigeria, and the willingness of the west to house and/or bank stolen funds from Nigeria is the cause of Nigeria’s problems including lack of employment for Nigeria’s youth who resort to ‘yahoo’.
This is my definition of `419' or `internet scam' or `Yahoo': any Nigerian leader or Nigerians who misappropriate or has misappropriated public funds illicitly to Western banks is a ‘stupid yahoo man or woman’. Nigeria’s youth defrauding Westerners and bringing these stolen funds to Nigeria are ‘yahoo’ boys. Both are wrong, and one group is stupid.
My fellow Nigerians home and abroad, as we say, ‘shine your eyes.’ Let us fight for our country and we must start with refuting racist stereotypes. We must challenge the ease with which Western countries are branding our youth and our country.
Italians are known for culture and couture. The fact that Italians were the first known nationality to export organized crime to the United States has not subsumed their rich culture and contribution to the world. The Irish have produced many of the United States of America’s Presidents, and this is an ethnic group that had strong elements of organized crime through its migration to the United States.
According 'Paddy Whacked': At one time in America, Irish dominated organized crime’ an article published in the Blade by Mike Kelly, ‘If any nationality has been linked to organized crime in the United States over the years, it would have to be Italian-Americans, at least in popular perception.’ But he notes further that `long before there was a Mafia, another ethnic group brazenly ruled the streets of New York, Boston, Chicago, and other big American cities and that was the Irish Mob. From hellish beginnings as penniless immigrants in the mid-19th century, a parade of ruthless Irish-Americans battled their way to power and established the first crime syndicate in America, one that lasted for close to 150 years.’
Yahoo boys are not the reason for Nigeria’s global bad image, Nigeria’s corrupt leadership in collaboration with western racism is. Nigerians in Nigeria and abroad must start fighting against the racist stereotype of Africa’s largest economy: Nigeria. Nigeria is not a free for all that all and sundry can take a jab at and get away with it.
On this North America’s Mothers’ Day weekend, I found myself reflecting on my journey raising a son as an international humanitarian worker and a single parent. I stayed up almost all night due to a bad back, but the pain was dulled by the joy of the memories from my reflection.
After a decade and a half on this path, I know this for sure: we do not know we are scaling most hurdles we scale until we have scaled them: quite a mouthful LOL, but I am thinking out loud.
I am preparing my son for University with gratitude for the gift of parenting such an amazing kid, (biased like all mums LOL), I am grateful for the gift of motherhood.
Amid my night of grateful reflection, I laughed often: there were so many funny moments. I recalled me riding in an ambulance with him when he was 18 months old while he chuckled away. I had called the ambulance because I thought he had coughed too much and could be choking.
The 911 operator asked if his tongue was blue and I said yes but recalled immediately that he had some blueberry juice before bed. By the time the ambulance arrived my son stopped coughing and was chuckling contentedly. When the very efficient medical team arrived, they found a chubby happy baby but insisted we must do the ride to the emergency ward. We did and sat ignored at the emergency room with the occasional angry looks thrown at us by the medical staff for wasting valuable medical resources. We caught a cab back at the early hours of the morning and I was billed for the ambulance ride a month later. What was hilarious was that they billed it to my 18 months old son.
I also recall with laughter when he was 6 months old and his pediatrician recommended over the counter pain killers and told me they were chill pills for me because I had to calm down. I was dropping by his clinic almost daily,, sometimes to express my worries that he had not had a bowel movement for a day.
Then there was this time 12 years ago when I was really scared. It was in January 2008 and I had just been posted to Kenya, stationed in its capital; Nairobi. This was during the post-election violence that left over 1,200 people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Due to the violence, UN staff were advised to work from home on this day. But I sent my 6-year old son off to school, based on the assurance from the school that they have put security measures in place. We were barely one month in the country. While waiting to pick him up from the school bus, I received a call from the head teacher telling me not to worry that due to some skirmishes around the school, the bus-drop off schedule would be delayed.
I grabbed my stash of dollars dashing out of the house wailing like the typical dramatic Nigerian mum. On my way I called my mum in Nigeria who I inherited my drama from so she was, of course, echoing my wailing while I echoed hers: “Ewho, and Weeeke” were repeated on and on and on. I dashed out, stopped a taxi cab, waved the dollars at him and begged him to take me to the school. We made it amidst riots and screaming crowds.
I walked into school displaying my parent ID like a police officer investigating a crime scene, and there was a bus with kids who could not leave due to the riot outside. I grabbed my son, took in a breadth of his familiar scent, and was relieved to hear his usual bubbly chuckle until I realized he was laughing and pointing at my feet, as he asked: ‘’Mum why are you not wearing shoes’’. I looked down and realized I had dashed out of the house on my bare feet. We got home safe.
As we stepped into the house I started getting concerned dramatic calls from my village in Nigeria, half of whom have gathered in my mother’s compound. I am From the Niger Delta and we love our drama.
Happy Mother’s Day