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Is Foreign Aid Doing More Harm Than Good?


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Is Foreign Aid Doing More Harm than Good?

“ Africans…they’re tired. They’re tired of being the subject of everybody’s charity and care. We are grateful, but we know that we can take charge of our own destinies if we have the will to reform them.” – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Finance Minister of Nigeria (How to help Africa…2008).
Influenced by the success of the Marshall Plan for Europe, throughout the last several decades “over one trillion dollars of aid money has gone from the Western world to Africa,” (Griffiths 2010) as an attempt to increase quality of life for those living on the continent. However, as seen in the initial quote above, it is implied that aid has both harmed and benefited African society. In this paper, the views of those who oppose foreign aid and those who support foreign aid in Africa will be discussed. Furthermore, the effect of foreign aid on food and migration challenges in Africa will be examined, as these two issues remain unresolved in the continent.
The Benefits of Foreign Aid
There is no doubt that foreign aid has provided some benefit to Africa. By the intrinsic nature of aid itself, aid has a tremendous impact on the humanitarian imperative (Griffiths 2010). Through the increase in available medical attention, medical technology, sanitation, and access to schooling, aid has provided an additional 30 million children with schooling since 2000, has had millions immunized from various diseases, and has reduced the lives lost to HIV/AIDS and malaria (Griffiths 2010). As a result, the quality of life of many Africans has improved: the provision and deliverance of basic needs is met with education and healthcare. Foreign aid is therefore a means to provide basic necessities and opportunities.
Additionally, aid is seen as an investment in African economy. Aid assisting with infrastructure, public and government businesses, and economic developments has the goal for inducing economic prosperity (Griffiths 2010). It is also a necessary part of a transition to a broader and more mixed economy (Griffiths 2010). This prosperous mixed economy will allow African society to no longer rely on aid but rather thrive on her own domestic economy. Considering a Marxist perspective, the evolution of Africa’s mode of production to a mixed economy is advancement towards healing social and economic ills. Thus, in the process of assisting economic issues, aid may also resolve social conflicts in Africa.
The Risks of Foreign Aid An alarming issue with foreign aid is its ties with corruptness in Africa. Foreign loans and aid programs were badly monitored (Ayodele et. al 2005) and as a result they are contributing to the corruption, allowing African governments to abdicate their responsibilities of providing public goods such as education, healthcare, infrastructure and security (Griffiths 2010). Governments find it easier to allow donors to provide for society rather the governments themselves. This reflects the principle of least effort and results in a lack of reform, prolonging Africa’s insecurity and dependence on aid. Due these links, aid may be seen as a facilitator for ongoing corruptness of governments in Africa. Another major issue is the notion of Africa’s growing dependence on aid due to the present aid system’s inherent nature to induce dependency, which is only further addressed by the dependency theory (Norton 2013). The current systems of aid resist priority given to creating property conditions (Griffiths 2010). Ownership of land is deprived for many Africans and in the process; there is a deprivation of sovereignty (Griffiths 2010). This loss of independence, by definition, would mean a gain of dependence. Historically, people would depend on their governments. However, as noted above, many African governments pass the job along to foreign aid. In short, dependence rests on foreign aid.
Impact of Aid on Food Challenges in Africa Food aid in Africa has had some positive effects. Food aid has been an effective tool in reaching poor, nutritionally vulnerable groups who may not benefit quickly enough from local food production (Christensen 2000). It also has the potential to provide aid in countries where food insecurity prevails, such as places with floods or war (Norton 2013;Christensen 2000). Therefore, food aid is seen to be helpful in concentrated areas of extreme despair. However, several negative impacts of food aid prevail. The importing of food aid undermines food prices to low levels which disincentives local food production (Christensen 2000). This results in local farmers to decrease both the production of staple foods for markets and the practice of subsistence farming. Consequently, aid indirectly kills entrepreneurship and long-term food security by decreasing local food supply and creating dependence exterior sources of food (Griffiths 2010;Kreuger 2011). Inadequate food for the population also exists because of distribution problems; aid tends to go to urban areas, even though the greatest need is in rural areas (Norton 2013). This may be related to accessibility, lack of adequate transportation or infrastructure to reach areas, and reflects the increase of friction of distance of rural areas. As a result of both decreased local incentive and lack of accessibility, rural populations – which composed 54% of the less developed world in 2011 (Norton 2013) – may experience malnutrition, undernourishment, and dependence on aid to solve these issues.
Impact of Foreign Aid on Migration in Africa Currently, Africa is stricken with refugee movements. These impelled migrations of people are prompted by civil wars and forms of ethnic conflict (Norton 2013) derived from Europe delimiting Africa into regions subjected to centrifugal forces. Refugees pose a challenge to Africa because few countries have the infrastructure to cope with additional pressures that refugees bring (Norton 2013). Although foreign aid does attempt to assist refugees and pressured governments, aid prolongs refugee movements. Considering the level of aid a government receives, aid can increase the prize for capturing the government and capital, which motivates the onset of rebellion or affects ongoing conflicts (Findley et. al 2011). In this sense, aid is similar to natural resources found in Africa in that aid is an equally abundant resource that can be fought over. It can be assumed then that high levels of aid may cause civil violence (Findley et. al 2011). Accordingly, an increase in aid may induce civil violence, which is likely to displace people and create higher impelled migration rates across Africa. Therefore, increased foreign aid only exacerbates the current refugee and migration problems of Africa.
Though foreign aid towards Africa has humanitarian intentions, its ineffective implementation results in prolonged underdevelopment and harm towards Africa. Its efforts to aid in the economy, migration, and food challenges prove to be counter- productive and result in an increase in dependence on aid and disincentive. However, aid does benefit in particular cases of extremity and fields of education and health. It is concluded that overall, foreign aid does more harm than good and that perhaps the best approach is to give Africa guidance in the resources she already has and independence in determining her own future.

1. Ayodele T, Cudjoe F, Nolutshungu TA, Sunwabe CK. 2005 Sept 14. African perspectives on aid: foreign assistance will not pull Africa out of poverty. Cato Institute;
[accessed 2014 Nov 14].

2. Christensen C. 2000. The new policy environment for food aid: the challenge of Sub-Saharan Africa. Food Policy. [accessed 2014 Nov 14]; 25(3):255-268.

3. Findley MG, Powell J, Strandow D, Tanner J. 2011. The localized geography of foreign aid: a new dataset and application to violent armed conflict. World Dev. [accessed 2014 Nov 14]; 39(11):1995-2009.

4. Griffiths R. 2010. The Munk Debates volume one. Toronto (ON): House of Anansi Press; [access 2014 Nov 14].

5. Norton W. 2013.Global Inequalities. Human Geography. Don Mills (ON): Oxford University Press. p. 205-246.

6. How to help Africa? do business there [video]. 2008 Apr 15. Ted. 20:07 minutes. [accessed 2014 Nov 16].

7. Krueger S. 2011. Feast or famine: effects of food aid on local production and food security in Africa. Appetite. [accessed 2014 Nov 14]; 56(2):535 Word Count: 1087

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