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.