Effective aid to Africa must infringe on national sovereigntyby Patrick McAuslan / June 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
I have just returned from working on a British-funded project in Uganda, helping to implement land reform. My year there introduced me to the real world of aid and development and prompted me to reassess some old assumptions. Based on that experience, I want to consider the issue of aid for land reform in Zimbabwe.
First, a few general points. Donors are criticised now for infringing on the sovereignty of debtor states in Africa by imposing strict conditions on the use of aid (or as a precondition of debt relief). It’s worth recalling that from the 1960s to the 1980s, donors more or less went along with what African nations wanted. The billions of dollars which now hang over the continent is debt which African nations freely took on and then too often wasted or salted away in foreign banks.
One of the saddest books I have read recently is Pat Caplan’s African Voices, African Lives, a study of a peasant family in southern Tanzania. It tells the story of the declining living conditions of the family over the 30 years of Caplan’s study. Contrast the hundreds of millions of dollars of aid for Tanzania since 1961 and the life of this family-their life-style continues as it has since the beginning of time but slowly, little by little, gets worse, untouched by a single dollar of aid.
Life will get worse still unless Tanzania (and others) are relieved of debt, say the Jubilee 2000 debt-relief campaigners. But if the peasants did not gain from the millions of dollars of direct aid, how will they gain from the millions of dollars of indirect aid, unless stringent conditions are attached?
Progressives in rich countries do not acknowledge the depth of this problem. It is not enough to talk vaguely about conditions. For conditions to mean anything, they need to be detailed, and their implementation must be overseen by government representatives. Such representatives need not always be white macro-economists from Surrey, but even if they are other black Africans, the implicit erosion of sovereignty is unavoidable.
Jubilee 2000 sometimes suggests that “conditionalities” could be operated via local groups. A school built with aid funds could be monitored by the local branch of the teachers’ union. This is naïve. In Uganda the government allocated quite generous sums for land reform, but it was a constant battle to stop the money being spent by…