Foreign Aid: Hidden Agendas in Development

A few weeks ago, I sat in a conference meeting hosted by the European Union (EU) where they unveiled their Humanitarian Implementation Plan (HIP) 2019 for Somalia. Somalia’s situation is, “complicated,” to utilize the words of those representing the EU. Somalia is on the precipice of significant political, economic, social, and security developments that could potentially offer more peace and security than the country has seen in twenty years (UNOPS, 2018). The Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) was established in 2012, but the security risk of Al-Shabab, a terrorist group created in 2006,  is still extremely high which has led to insecurity in the country and delayed development. Despite the threat, government security is improving at a slow pace, and the Federal Government of Somalia is looking forward to a future of development which is edified through the Somalia National Development Plan, effective from 2017 to 2019. This plan has not only ignited the government’s desire for capacity building in its institutions and services, but it has also made the country a point of interest for many foreign donors.  Donors who were once fearful and unlikely to be involved in the development processes of the country are now collaborating with the government, such as the World Bank.

Considering that Somalia is gaining momentum in the world of development, it was no surprise that the conference room was filled with various organizations such as World Vision, UNICEF, World Food Programme, The International Organization for Migration, and more. Based on the priorities shared for the HIP 2019, the organizations present could write project proposals that are in line with the EU’s foreign aid priorities, and hopefully, gain funding for their projects. Despite the great priorities that the EU set forward for the HIP, such as life-saving programs, strengthening the early response to crises,  and resilience building- the meeting exemplified that the EU had created a competitive bid for the funding. The winners of this competition would be the ones who met the World Powers’ guidelines, those who were implementing what the EU desired for Somalia.  In this scenario, the World Power who has large amounts of money makes the decisions about the future of development in Somalia. This methodology reflects the EU’s agenda for Somalia, which makes foreign aid feel more like foreign policy. This top-down method of development has helped me come to the unnuanced realization that all donors have an agenda when it comes to development, and this agenda can be self-serving. An excerpt from Foreign Aid as a Foreign Policy Tool exemplifies my sentiment, stating that:

“The primary reason for aid allocations or aid restrictions is to pursue foreign policy goals. Strategic and commercial interests of donor countries are the driving force behind many aid programs. Both the granting and the denial of foreign assistance can be a valuable mechanism designed to modify a recipient state’s behavior,” (Apodaca, 2017).

This begs the question, “Does it really matter if governments or organizations such as the EU have foreign policy intentions while providing foreign aid? Isn’t development good, regardless of intention?” The failed history of self-serving aid in Africa seems to edify that it does matter. By looking at the inception of development in the Post-War era, Dambiso Moyo states that it was, “new found altruism with a hefty dollop of self-interest,” (Moyo, 2010). In the Cold War, development was utilized as a political race between capitalism and communism. This self-serving aid not only lead to a lack of progress and stability in developing countries, but it also caused multiple violent conflicts and bred corruption (Moyo, 2010). Looking back, Rwandan President Paul Kagame stated that the reason why Africa remains in a condition of underdevelopment despite large amounts of aid since 1970 is because, “much of the aid was spent on creating and sustaining client regimes of one type or another, with minimal regard to developmental outcomes on our continent,” (Moyo, 2010). The unfortunate truth is that most rich and privileged countries have a development agenda that is implemented through top-down methods, and it negatively affects the aid being delivered to the continent of Africa. Furthermore, it affects an implementing organization’s ability to successfully run their projects free of harmful, ulterior motives.

This meeting with the EU was not the first time that I had felt this way about aid. I had learned and critiqued the idea of foreign aid in many classes throughout my degree but experiencing it firsthand while writing proposals, analyzing donor engagements and attending meetings has been unnerving. For example, while creating a donor profile for Mozambique, I realized that the Department for International Development (DFID), the United Kingdom’s foreign aid department,  is very explicit about why they are investing foreign aid in Mozambique. In DFID’s country profile for Mozambique, they state that “British companies have a strong stake in the offshore gas and extractive sectors: contracts worth billions of dollars will be rewarded to UK companies involved in a huge offshore natural gas project in Mozambique,” (Department for International Development, 2018). This statement exemplifies that development for DFID in Mozambique is not primarily for human welfare, instead, it is a business venture and a commercial transaction. The implications for implementing organizations such as those sitting in the meeting with the EU are that if large donors are simply utilizing aid in Africa to meet their foreign policy needs, this could lead to them tailoring their projects to fit the needs of large donors, not the beneficiaries.

Based on the history of failed development movements coupled with the ulterior motives of rich, world powers, aid is a polarized and controversial topic. There are scholars such as Dambiso Moyo who wrote a full book on abolishing aid in 2010, and there are optimistic economists such as Jeffrey Sachs who believe that sustainable development can be met through aid and solidarity.

Based on the two sides of the argument, the spectrum looks something like this:

FA SPECTRUM

Somewhere in the middle, there is a school of thought that believes aid could work if it was done right (Mcbride, 2018). The hope for the multilateral organizations seeking donors is that they would not ask if aid is necessary, but instead, they would ask the question,

How can foreign aid be used in a participatory way that empowers and increases the economic, social and political capacities of the recipient country?

I do not claim to know the answer to this question, nor do I truly believe that any organization or person is without an ulterior motive.  I struggle with my place of white, western privilege and my agenda in the work that I am doing. The colour of my skin is a sign of Western wealth to everyone around me, and my annoyance and embarrassment reinstate my privilege. Furthermore, my internship with  UNOPS serves as a way for me to gain vocational skills and a cross-cultural experience, which is something that was bred from my privilege and ability to go abroad freely without question. Perhaps the goal is to recognize our agendas, privileges, and biases to mitigate them. Some scholars believe the solution is found in multilateral organizations, as they are mandated as more politically neutral and needs-driven than bilateral aid (Apodaca, 2017). Despite this, all aid organizations, stakeholders,  governments, and individuals working in development must be reminded of their partialities and should be held accountable to the harmful motives which are self-serving and exploitative. However, if governments utilizing bilateral aid as a means of foreign policy refuse to recognize their agenda and mitigate their self-serving aid, then they should refer to their work as what it is- a Foreign Policy Agenda.

 

 

 

 

References

Apodaca, Claire. (2017). Foreign Aid as Foreign Policy Tool. Retrieved from http://politics.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228637.001.0001/acrefore-9780190228637-e-332

 

Lucas, C. (2016, March 01). Intelligence Debates. Retrieved from https://www.intelligencesquaredus.org/about/debaters/c-payne-lucas

 

Department for International Development. (2018). DFID Mozambique Profile: July 2018. Retrieved from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dfid-mozambique-profile-july-2018

 

Kuma, M. (2015, September 10). Arguments For and Against Foreign Aid. Retrieved from http://www.economicsdiscussion.net/foreign-aid/arguments/arguments-for-and-against-foreign-aid/11838

 

Mcbride, James. (2018). How does the US spend its Foreign Aid? from https://www.businessdailyafrica.com/analysis/letters/Unravelling-the-myths-about-foreign-aid/4307714-4561494-rdanyyz/index.html

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