644 views | Jideofor Adibe | March 11, 2021
The recent announcement that the UK would slash the funding for overseas aid from 0.7 per cent of its Gross National Income to 0.5 per cent has generated angst in some quarters. Though the British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised legislation after admitting that the cut would be unlawful without it, vote on it at the Parliament was shelved and may actually not take place at all. It should be recalled that the country had in 1970 pledged to spend 0.7 per cent of its national income on aid as part of a United Nations pact in which 30 wealthy countries, including Britain, Germany and Japan vowed to meet this commitment each year. In 2015 Britain enshrined this into law. This led for instance to the country spending 15 billion pounds on aid in in 2019, an increase of 645 million pounds over the previous year which met the 0.7% U.N. target. It should however be noted that several of the countries which were part of the UN pact have exceeded the U.N. aid target including Denmark (0.71%), Luxembourg (1.05%), Norway (1.02%) and Sweden (0.99%) – according to 2019 data by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). In absolute terms, the United States remains the biggest aid donor, spending $34.6 billion in 2019, followed by Germany ($23.8 billion), Britain ($19 billion), Japan ($15.5 billion) and France ($12.2 billion).
Countries to be affected by the proposed UK aid cut include Syria, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Nigeria and Lebanon. Though the reductions will take effect from April this year, it remains unclear which countries will be most hit by the proposed reduction. Available figures however show that the reductions will be around 88 per cent for Lebanon, 67 per cent for Syria, 63 per cent for Libya, 60 per cent for Somalia, 60 per cent for the Democratic Republic of Congo, 59 per cent for South Sudan, 58 per cent for Nigeria and 50 per cent for West Balkans. Amid the secrecy, only the figures for Yemen cut has been revealed – a reduction to £87m, from £197m last year – and only because an international donor conference was staged. In Nigeria, one of the recipients of the UK aid which is expected to be affected by the aid cut is the Facility for Oil Sector Transparency and Reform in Nigeria (FOSTER) which supports reform in the petroleum industry.
Some British MPs have expressed concerns that the cuts announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak could worsen the conditions in the affected countries and make the targets of the aids in those countries very vulnerable. For instance, Jean-Michel Grand, executive director of Action Against Hunger was quoted as saying: “We estimate that these cuts could see as many as 3 million women and children lose access to often life-saving nutrition services. Clinics will close, nurses will lose their jobs, and children will lose their lives.” Andrew Shepherd of the Overseas Development Institute’s (ODI) Chronic Poverty Advisory Network reportedly warned that aid budgets were likely to be hit from multiple directions by the announcement.
But do we really need to lose sleep over Britain’s planned reduction in aid budget? There are several observations:
One, a fundamental question is whether aids really achieve their intended target. While it is obvious that some forms of aid are effective – such as in cases of natural disasters when it will be difficult not to admire the difference aid and humanitarian interventions make – it is not clear that most aids even get to their intended targets or achieve their advertised aims. For instance, in 2012, a report by the British Commission concluded that 11 states in Nigeria which received 160 million pounds in British aid did not record any improvement. Again a report published in October 2014 by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), a watchdog tasked with monitoring Britain’s aid spending abroad, concluded that taxpayers’ money was fuelling corruption in the recipient countries.
Two, a related question to the above is why many Western countries persist with giving aids even when their own commissioned reports question the efficacy of such aids? While there is genuine compassion among some left-leaning politicians who really believe that aids make a difference or can be made to make a difference (even some rightwing elements support some form of aids to the poorer countries as a way of softening their image), for the most part aids are generally given as part of the power projections by the donor countries. This is because in international relations, a nation’s standing is often measured by the current leverages it brings on the table and not its past greatness or benevolence. Besides, aids by the rich countries are often used to subtly control their citizens by using innuendo to tell them to consider themselves lucky enough to be citizens of that country because their circumstances could be much worse – as bad as, or even worse than in the countries they have to ‘prop up’ with their aid benevolence.
Three, there are remarkable insights from criticisms of aid by some actors in the donor countries. For instance John Perkins who worked as Chief economist for the US consulting firm Chas T. Main, in his seminal autobiography, Confessions of an Economic Hitman, described his job as being essentially implementing policies that promoted the interest of US ‘corporatocracy’ (a coalition of government, banks, and corporations) while professing or pretending to be working to alleviate poverty in the target country. Mr Perkins said his work involved convincing strategic countries to accept enormous loans for infrastructure development while ensuring that U.S. corporations got the projects (and the money) as a result, and if the recipient countries defaulted in repaying the loans, the United States Government, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and other U.S. dominated aid agencies would then have access to the affected countries’ resources (especially oil) and strategic land (and could also be made to allow the US to install military bases in their country).
Four, there are equally several criticisms of foreign aids even among the recipient countries. Criticisms include that it reinforces the ‘begging bowl syndrome’ for which the recipient countries are infamous for, that it fuels corruption and creates a web of aid bureaucracy which often exaggerates the negative conditions in the recipient countries to justify their budgets. Aids agencies and bureaucrats are also accused of often misguidedly measuring their performance by the quantum of their fund disbursements, the glossy publication of their activities and the nice sounding frameworks they developed as the modus operandi of their work. More importantly critics believe that aids undermine local initiative and worsen the underdevelopment crisis in the recipient countries. A good example of this was the US ‘Food for Peace’ programme that was created in 1954 to help the Eisenhower administration to get rid of the embarrassingly large farm surpluses the country generated at that time. This led to massive wheat dumping in India in the 1950s and 1960s as part of the food aid programme. Ironically the programme ended up distorting India’s agricultural markets and bankrupted thousands of Indian farmers. The US food aid programme was also partly responsible for the starvation that ensued in the country.
With the above, do we really need to lose any sleep over plans to cut UK aid to our country?
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