Aid: a sticking plaster approach to a gaping wound

Thank you Health Poverty Action (HPA), for your genuinely groundbreaking report pointing out something that is painfully obvious, but that a lot of ‘us’ won’t see or admit. That $192 billion every year is lost from Africa to the rest of the world – almost six and a half times the amount of aid given to the continent.

On Tuesday the charity, alongside a number of UK and African NGOs, released the report, Honest Accounts? The true story of Africa’s billion dollar losses, as a first attempt to calculate Africa’s losses across a wide range of areas. The calculations included illicit financial flows; profits taken out of the continent by multinational companies; debt repayments; brain drain of skilled workers; illegal logging and fishing and the costs incurred as a result of climate change.

The huge disparity between aid and resources leaving Africa is an issue that I’ve been wanting to tackle ever since I started this blog. The fact that we continue to fight in the UK to get the government to keep its commitment to allocate 0.7% of the budget to aid when we take so much from developing countries is shocking; the fact that ‘we’ consider that generous is abhorrent; and when you couple that with the fact that ‘aid’ is often spent to better our own national interest it’s another galling matter entirely (and definitely another blog post on the long list of topics and issues I’d like to explore).

HPA and its partners are calling on the UK government to reassess its focus on ‘aid’, which:

“paints a misleading picture of the UK’s ‘generosity’ towards Africa, and take urgent action to address Britain’s contribution to Africa’s poverty.”

HPA Director Martin Drewry calls it ‘sustained looting’ – the opposite of generous giving, and argues that the City of London is at the heart of the global financial system that facilitates this (NB: The HUGELY unfair global economic, social and political system that was built and is run by and for the West on things like greenhouse gases, tax haven networks, valuing money and power above all else, trampling all over the rest of the world, Western ideology, patriarchy and corporate greed etc etc etc). Agreeably he calls for change from NGOs too and asks them to move beyond their focus on aid levels to “communicate the bigger truth – exposing the real relationship between rich and poor and holding leaders to account”.

This is a start but I want to take things further. I want governments across the world to take notice of this report. All those governments who give a pinch with one hand while taking a fistful with another. We don’t need to ‘save’ ‘developing’ countries and we certainly can’t use aid to do so. We need transparency and honesty, we need equality and a level playing field and we need countries to stop pretending that they’re ‘helping’ others when it’s really a smokescreen for actions taken in their own self interest.  Not asking a lot huh?

Another key element to our aid issues is looking at how Africa (and other developing continents) are portrayed as a continent in need of help. There are a lot of harmful stereotypes and misconceptions about Africa and Africans in particular that need to be challenged and banished as they undermine the continent’s truth, dignity and ability and contribute to the dominant Western narrative that portrays Africa as the grateful beneficiary of the rich world’s generosity. I’m currently working on a little something with some pretty inspiring people that might go someway to kickstarting this, so watch this space. Let me know if you’re interested in finding out more!

I’d love to hear of/from others who have thoughts on this subject and of any articles/posts/books on this topic. Recommendations and comments welcome as always.

If you have time, I’d recommend reading this pretty cool comment piece from Martin Drewry on the Guardian Development Professionals Network about the report. His criticisms of a narrative that focuses on the importance of aid are particularly poignant and again something I’d like to address at a later date.

If you want to discuss this post on Twitter, please use @devtruths and the Health Poverty Action report hashtag #honestaccounts.

NB: Very excited to have discovered The Progressive Development Forum as a result of this article. Am looking forward to some interesting reading!