At a time of cutbacks at home, we should be proud—not critical—of Britain’s generous commitment to development abroadby Paul Collier / September 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2010 issue of Prospect Magazine
Africa calling: supporting projects with aid—like better mobile phone banking technology—creates opportunities for the private sector
Why should Britain’s foreign aid be protected from spending cuts? As British households are being hit by unprecedented reductions in public spending, it seems fair that expenditure on developing countries should share the pain. Besides, private remittances by immigrants to their home countries are now far larger than public giving, and governments of many poor nations are more excited by doing business deals with Asia than by aid from Europe. There is a strong case against treating aid differently from everything else. But there is an even stronger one for doing just that.
For a start, both parties in the coalition (as well as the previous government) made clear commitments on foreign aid. Past donor behaviour has been full of cheap claims to moral authority. The Gleneagles summit in 2005, at which Tony Blair achieved a high-point in British popularity ratings by corralling the G8 into promising money for Africa, conveniently rehabilitated his reputation post-Iraq. But it is one thing to promise, another to deliver. Privately, the other G8 leaders were furious with Blair about what they saw as a shoddy PR trick at their expense, and there was never a realistic prospect that they would match cheap talk with costly action.
Today, David Cameron’s commitment to the aid budget—to increase it to 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2013—is a different matter. Made before the election, against a background of mounting fiscal stress, it helpfully identified him as a one-nation Conservative. But once in office he had a good excuse to walk away from it: he could have blamed his economic inheritance. Yet he kept his word. At a time when other European governments have been wriggling out of their promises, Britain has acquired a new moral authority.
I say “Britain” rather than just “the…