Two or three years ago, we read press review of a book by a lady with a beautiful Ngoni name called Dambisa Moyo which denounced aid to Africa as having done more harm than good. Though I have read extracts from Moyoâ€™s book, I have not read the book itself. One day I hope to.
Now in the bookshops there has appeared a book with the same message by Jonathan Glennie titled â€˜The Trouble with Aidâ€™ why less aid could mean more for Africa.
Sceptism about the efficacy of aid to developing countries is not a new thing. One of the earliest opponents of development aid was professor Peter Bauer of the London School of Economics. Their theses are sometimes so persuasive that the unwary could be easily converted to their philosophy. At the back of this book, we read: “Jonathan Glennie argues that along with its many benefits government aid to Africa has often meant more poverty, more hungry people, worse basic services and damage to already precarious democratic institutions.
Indeed as we proceed through the book we come across the authorâ€™s acknowledgement of the benefits that have accrued from Development Aid. But on balance, he thinks it is not more donorsâ€™ money that Africa needs, but non financial policies.
Most African countries got independence between 1957 and 1963. Some of these countries have been receiving development, technical and budgetary assistance for nearly 50 years. There is no evidence that they are about to be weaned from this sort of suckling.
Is it a shame for a country to seek financial assistance from other countries? From the economic histories of the developed countries, we learn that except for Britain they all received financial and technical assistance from other countries. Even Britain to a certain extent did receive aid from foreigners. Religious refugees from France Huguents are accredited with originating businesses that gave birth to the industrial revolution in England.
A country seeks aid from other countries in different circumstances and for different reasons. When it is engulfed in calamities such as earthquakes, droughts or pestilences, it seeks short term help. Recently, even rich countries such as USA and Japan have had to accept assistance when disasters occurred on their soils.
The aid that African countries have been asking for and are still asking for is mostly for growth and development. To introduce new industries a country must import modern technology and equipment. When with its own foreign reserves, it is unable to import them, it either must borrow the necessary funds or ask for assistance from developed countries. Borrowing has landed some countries heavy debts while development aid has exposed them to conditionalities which have sometimes interfered with their sovereignty and sense of self-respect.
The conditionalities which the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank and the donors imposed in 1990â€™s on the basis of paradigms known as Washington Consensus, have at times brought more suffering than reliefs. This is now widely acknowledged.
Glennie gives examples of situations when an African government became more answerable to donors than its own people thereby stultifying the growth of democracy.
Attempting to do away with donor support is not as easy as some spokespersons of Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government used to say when the zero-deficit budget (ZDB) was launched. Malawians who have over the years become dependent on donor support were not willing to rise to the challenges of the austerities and sacrifices that the ZDB entailed.
But the principle is right. You do not marry and start begetting children on the basis that other people will be clothing your wife and children as well as pay the childrenâ€™s fees. Other people can do this, but time comes when they get tired of you.
While we cannot clap hands when someone proposes that aid to Africa should be reduced overnight, we can see the necessity of African nations taking the first steps towards self-reliance in budgetary programmes, and some of the development projects Bingu wa Mutharikaâ€™s ZDB proved too burdensome because he was trying to wipe out the deficit in one year. The coalition government of Britain has taken measure to get rid of the budget deficit over a period of five years. This makes political sense.