Tuesday, October 29, 2013


Last week rights advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report which the usual – that government doesn’t seem to have the will to stamp out corruption, and some unusual things that Uganda has been positioned as a key ally in the region and donors are hesitant to clamp down the government on its luckluster stand on graft for fear of antagonising Kampala.

Government protested of course, spread out its array of anti-corruption agencies, enumerated the corrupt officials standing trial and even urged the witnesses to sacrifice their lives in the fight against the scourge.

But what was a departure from other publicised pronouncements on corruption in this country was the criticism of the donor community, are caught up in a dilemma not of their making can’t really throw the sink at the government for fear of losing favour with a strategic partner.

You almost felt sorry for them.

HRW had it right that the donor community are part of the problem and not the solution to corruption, HRW however skirted the truth that Uganda’s “new” positioning is causing them to bite their nails in agitation.

Evidence abounds that aid industry is not all it seems to be or wants us to believe it is.
On a global level the aid industry is not motivated by alleviating the suffering of poor, helpless Africans but rather it is wielded as an instrument of influence domestically in the donor countries and abroad among the recipient nations.

If this were not so many more countries, even the whole African continent through which billions of dollars have been pumped in the last half century, would have had their economies transformed. In fact in the history of world economics no country has been transformed by the kind of aid Africa has been force fed.

The Marshall plan, which was used to lift Europe out of the ruins of the Second World War, lasted four years and about $15b – about $150b today, was disbursed. In contrast Africa has received about $500b since 1960 and in further contrast to Europe aid has only served to make us more dependent on aid, lowered living standards on the continent generally and enriched a local elite while impoverishing the majority.

The difference between the Marshall plan and the aid that has been funnelled to Africa is that the Marshall plan largely consisted of loans to businessmen who then repaid them to their local governments which used this to finance the infrastructure to improve the business environment a virtuous cycle. 

Aid to Africa on the other hand has flown to governments and NGOs with next to no involvement of the local business community. By ignoring the business community they ensured that the creators of sustainable wealth – the private sector, were hobbled guaranteeing a perpetual dependence of their respective governments.

This thesis is neither original nor a recent revelation.

In fact studies have shown that for every $10 dollars of aid as little $4 or even less reaches the recipient nation. And even this pittance is mostly consumed by local elites with their never ending workshops, fuel guzzling four wheel drive vehicles and upscale lifestyles, what little reaches the intended beneficiaries is denominated in pit latrines, boreholes and pigs.

To what lengths would the “real” beneficiaries of this cozy living go to protect the status quo? Hence the slaps on our governments wrists when several billions go missing, maybe a few months of suspension before the aid roars back more determined than ever – to make up for lost time?

The point is that it is not entirely down to President Yoweri Museveni’s political adroitness, that donors are finding themselves in this “uncomfortable” position, this scam was already running at full steam even before Museveni was in  high school.

But just as an example of how dependant we remain on donor aid, never mind that we are now financing a larger proportion of our budget, is the notion held not only by us but by sections of the donor community – read HRW, that the donors are the ones who can help solve this problem.

Corruption will stop when our governments find it in their self-interest to stop it – or at least give it an acceptable face like they do in more developed economies. And the only way that is going to happen is when the population makes the link between poor service delivery and graft and hold the governments to account. This and not bleeding hearts who parachute into the country to read us the riot act is where our salvation lies.

This is not an indictment on the do-gooders who work for the aid agencies who hold the genuine desire to help, it’s just that they are enrolled in a system that is at odds with their altruism.

The aid industry is inherently corrupt – if you define corruption as using public resources for personal gain, and lends itself to such moral quandaries as HRW describes. Otherwise it will be business as usual on the continent as we continue to pointedly avoid the truth and assign blame to red herrings that take us nowhere.

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