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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Can development happen without local community involvement?


Earlier this week I had to write an article for a magazine about the work of the Charity Let Them Help Themselves Out Of Poverty in Ruhanga SW Uganda. I was thrown back to that August day in 2008 when I arrived at project. It was a very hot and I couldn’t wait to Kabale, which is further, SW and much cooler.


Whilst at the project I met two women from the women’s group as well as a man (George) that was overseeing the project that day.  At the time my colleagues and I here in the UK were in the middle of organizing a fund raising dinner and dance to raise money to get piped water to the village.


I asked George and the women what they thought the village needed the most. George told me that a nursery school was important and led me to what I can only describe as chicken shed and said


Look at this, this is where our children do their lessons and because of their age we can’t send them to the government school because it is too far away


I too could see that something had to be done about the conditions in which the children were learning. However when we rejoined the women and I asked them what they thought were the village priorities, the answer was WATER.


We desperately need clean water as we current have to walk several miles to access any water at all and that water is hared with livestock


Fast forward to 2012 and we do have a school that provides free education to 400 children thanks to our child sponsors and we completed the piped water program last year, there are 20 taps dotted around 3 village cells. We have a community resource centre where local teachers and the youth in the community are given computer lessons by overseas volunteers and a local women teaches women in the village the art of dress making. As of last month work has started on the construction of a Community Health Centre


As I put all this on paper I asked myself a question


Could we have achieved any of this without the community under the leadership of Denis Aheirwe the local chairman?


The answer is a resounding NO


How could we? Denis has negotiated any thing and everything that needs negotiating on the ground including getting the rest of the community  on board and with the best will the world we could not have managed this regardless of how much money we might have had behind us.


The roles are very clear, we find the money the community does the work, they hire builders, engineers, get necessary permissions from local government  and above all oversee all the capital projects as and when they arise and above all manage the project with minimal input from us on a day to day basis.


In mind therefore with all the money in the world the this project could not have happened with the involvement of the community and community leaders. If you don’t believe me, check out Madonna stories, with all the gazillions dollars to her name she could erect a school in a Malawi.


I would really love to hear your views and or experiences on this issue

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Villages in Action – I would like to hear more of these conversations

Happy New Year folk. 

How are you getting on with your New year’s resolutions so far?

I know this is an odd question but what exactly are New year’s resolutions? Are the goals or aspirations?

I recently stumbled across an an article by Linda Raftree with her wishes for the year 2012 specifically on issues of Inclusion, openness and authenticity.

Linda reflects on the events that have shaped the world in 2011 and her  wish for 2012 is for the voices of the excluded to be included in development conversations amongst other things.  I share Linda’s wish for  more  Inclusion and authentic stories especially on Africa in 2012.

I attend several events on the development  of Africa throughout the year, where I hear from development experts, academics, NGOs and big corporations and I always feel something is missing from these conversations- the voices of the recipients of  development programmes. As I recently learned if we don’t listen- WE GET IT WRONG and send out the wrong message about those that are on the receiving end of development programmes

An ordinary man on the streets of any given western capital tends to learn about Africa from a television set. This median does not always pull together those authentic stories about life in Africa and anyone with no knowledge of Africa would be forgiven for thinking that Africa is a lost cause on which resources should not be wasted.

In his BBC Radio 4 interview Mo Ibrahim has (quite rightly) recently complained about the popular media failing to present a comprehensive image of Africa.

But the  question  is who has the right to tell the authentic story of Africa ?

How do we add their voice to the development conversation and why is it important that we hear these voices?

If we learned anything in 2011 I would like to think that it was the citizens who own the right to tell their story and that social media has made that possible consequently  the world has changed in ways we could never have imagined. Social media platforms enabled ordinary citizens to take action and oust the big men of politics and the rest of us to rally around those citizens.  We heard the voices of those citizens!

Villages in Action- Is a  little unknown conference that came about in response to the UN summit of 2010. The Villages in Action platform gives us  a rare opportunity to hear from residents of a Ugandan village- we learn how they live, what they do to generate income, the impact of their lifestyle on their environment and why development initiatives do not work.

Why don’t we have more of these platforms across the world? Better still why aren’t conversations on development based on this model?

In 2012 the first development event I will attend will be in Masindi NW Uganda on 14 January 2012. This will be the second Villages in Action conference and I am really looking forward to it. If you  can’t join us you will not miss out, the organisers will bring the event live to you in your living room.

What ever the new year holds in stock- like Linda my wish for 2012 is to hear more from those at the receiving end of development!

Happy New year and please do share your New Year’s wishes

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