What is Aid to Bongo Bongo land for?

Whilst foreign aid to African countries has been praised for lowering poverty levels in Africa, experts, think tanks, non government organisations (NGOs) and even citizens of both donor and recipient countries have also criticised it for creating dependency, preventing growth and promoting the interests of donor countries over the needs of recipient countries.

But last week Godfrey Bloom a Member of the European Parliament from the UK Independent Party (UKIP) raised  the criticism bar by criticising the UK government for sending aid to what he called “Bongo Bongo land”

This was unfortunate. For instead of  we the publics being engaged on the important questions about aid such as, what is aid for and how effective it is, we became embroiled in debates about racism.

What became apparent to me as I read the comments and listened to reactions about Bloom’s outburst was that some amongst the general public do not understand the motives of aid donors. We do need to ask the question

Why do donors give aid?

The motives of aid donors are many and varied  and may  include


a) Poverty reduction: some donors such as the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK and international non government organisations (INGOs) such as the Word Bank and NGOs believe that rich countries have a moral obligation use their resources to fight poverty in poor countries to ensure that citizens of these countries can access social services (Pomerantz 2004:4)

b) Historical and colonial ties: France and the UK in particular are charged with Neo-Colonial motives with respect to their reasons for providing aid to former colonies. The charge here is that the provision of aid enables donor countries to exercise political and economic influence in those countries. This influence ensures that the former colonial master continues to access raw materials for its industries from its former colony in exchange for aid (Mayall 2005:307).

c) International Relations: Scholars like Radelet (2006), Wood (1996), Hook (1996) and Moyo (2009) have argued that aid is the means by which donor countries conduct relations with other nations, in other words aid is used a bargaining tool in foreign policy, or as Baldwin (1996:3 cited in Hook 1996) puts it: “foreign aid is a means by which one country gets another to act in desired ways’’ For countries like Japan, USA and Canada for instance aid is a means for their multinational companies to gain access to international markets as well as protecting the interests of those companies in aid recipient countries

d) Security: increasingly donors such as the European Union and the USA are tying aid to security concerns and this tend to be in the form of technical training. The reasoning here is that if these problems are not resolved those countries will become unstable and lead to migrants on our door step.

e) humanitarian reasons:aid is given to countries to mitigate the effects of civil conflicts, the impact of natural disasters such as Tsunamis and chronic food shortages due to climate change etc. (Pomerantz 2004:4)

So as you can see there is a confluence of reasons why donors give aid. What puzzles me is how little we the publics know about our governments motives for giving aid.  Is it a matter of lack of transparency on the part of our government?

A related point has to do with where does aid actually go?  If you are interested in this question I would recommend that you read this report from ActionAid as the argue that very little of what donors count as aid is given as cash. Some aid is used to write of debt, provide technical assistance and indeed create jobs here in the UK, as  DFID boss Justine Greening explains in this BBC interview.


Have you got a view? Lets talk about!



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Why do 60% of UK public think overseas Aid wasted?

Valerie Amos, Baroness Amos at the 2007 World ...

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The British government pledged to ring fence its Overseas Aid of  0.7% of national income. To  date the British public continue to ask why is that? In fact in a recent BBC Radio 4 interview , Andrew Mitchell The Secretary of state for International Development DFID had to answer the question


Why do 60% of  UK public think overseas Aid is wasted? And if that is the case should we continue to send our hard earned cash overseas?

and his answer

If we do not send the money to help alleviate problems like poverty, extreme hunger, these problems will turn up on our door step

Does he have a point?


On the face of it he does. So the question is has our sending overseas Aid stopped these problems turning up on our door stop?

The answer is NO.


British people are generous and are quick to respond to calls of help when there is an emergency elsewhere and have responded generously to the crisis in the horn of Africa and that being the case why would 60% of them think that overseas Aid is wasted? This article in The Mail Online has some answers

I have previously asked the question Why do parts of  Africa remain desperately despite the Aid that we send? and in another post I asked why India, a country that reportedly has its own Overseas Aid program has more poor people than some parts of Africa?

This all sounds to me like either

  1. Mr Mitchell has not not been effective at getting his message out there
  2. or that he needs to show us the UK public where our money goes in real terms and unfortunately for some that will mean that some of those “problems” he mentioned during his radio interview do not continue to show up on our door step


What do you think?

I am going to keep this post short to encourage discussion and will return to the topic in the next post – but in the mean time do join the conversation and don’t forget to invite your friends


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