Seems like every other day there’s a new headline on the news mentioning a fresh batch of aid headed our way. Have you ever wondered why that is? A lot of countries throughout South East Asia for example, got their independence around the same time we did. Why then do they outpace us in their infrastructure and overall quality of life? Where are these billions even going anyway and why can’t we see the impact on the continent?
The influx of aid being sent to Africa creates a vicious cycle of debt and dependence. This constant flow of “free” money seems to cost African nations nearly $20 billion in debt payments yearly.[mfn] Funds are more often than not “misplaced” or used to line the pockets of those in power. The lack of transparency and high rates of inflation usually means the citizens end up suffering for actions that aren’t theirs. In order to pay back the debts, funding is usually cut from already suffering sectors like health care and education and pleas to end the debt are met with a new influx of aid perpetuating the cycle once again.
Though aid can seem positive in some contexts, donors can often end up undermining the democratic systems they’re trying to uphold and enforce. The Journal of East African Studies details the correlation between Western donors and political pressure in Kenya in its early phases of governance. The report covers how in the 90s donor pressure on the Kenyan government focused more on political and economic stability, and they suspended foreign aid to push the government to enact electoral reform.[mfn] Sounds good so far right?
However, neither the December 1992 elections nor the 1997 elections met international standards for Free and Fair elections, and donors were concerned that rejecting the results would cause instability. So they endorsed them, ignoring that the Kenya African National Union (KANU) had organised and financed large scale electoral violence, displacing thousands of people and inciting ethnic division.[mfn] Donors took no action to hold anyone accountable. Through both their action and inaction, donors ended up undermining the basic principles of democracy they claimed to support. Sure, they ended up keeping the peace, but these decisions not only helped keep a repressive regime in power until 2003, but made it okay for future leaders to commit the same crimes.
This sets a dangerous precedent for prioritising stability and foreign interest and investment in Kenya over accountability. It takes autonomy away from the people and from the country and provides short-term monetary solutions rather than promoting solutions that empower the judicial system and promote long standing electoral reform.
Corruption adds another problematic layer to aid distribution and it stems from lack of transparency and accountability which further facilitates the misuse of loans. Bakili Muluzi, Malawi’s former president, was accused of embezzling $12 million in aid funds[mfn] and unfortunately he’s but one of many. A study done in 2002 by the African union reveals that corruption costs Africa an estimated $150 billion a year.[mfn] Corruption often means that the citizens suffer a lack of development and infrastructure, but it also means that the country’s steep descent into debt further puts a financial burden on citizens themselves.
A better outcome would ensue if that energy was focused on creating jobs within the continent and opening more trade routes ensuring the stability of individual citizens which would in turn boost the economy and empower the people. In the last two decades, the number of individuals living on less than a dollar a day has nearly doubled, accounting for more than half of the population.[mfn] That’s a staggering statistic considering Africa has the youngest population on the planet having an average age of 19, and 60% of us are under the age of 25.[mfn] Job creation would solve the majority of the problems on the continent including but not limited to; dependence on aid, poverty, food insecurity, and unemployment.
No matter how you look at it, good governance and trustworthy systems are paramount for aid to actually work and help the continent. Not only is that difficult to achieve currently, but also this continuous aid helps keep incompetent leaders in power. In order for Africa to move forward, jobs have to be created that will help boost the economy and put the young population to work and help them receive a stable income.
“Outline – Read & Annotate without Distractions,” Outline.com, accessed August 14, 2021, https://outline.com/.
Stephen Brown and Rosalind Raddatz, “Dire Consequences or Empty Threats? Western Pressure for Peace, Justice and Democracy in Kenya,”Journal of Eastern African Studies 8, no. 1 (January 2, 2014): 43–62, https://doi.org/10.1080/17531055.2013.869008.