Wednesday, March 29, 2023

AID TO AFRICA: Does it do any good?


Does aid to Africa do any good?

Vice-President Kamala Harris landed in Ghana on Sunday March 26 at the start of a weeklong trip to the African continent. On her trip, Harris said she wants to promote "increasing investments," the "economic empowerment" of women, girls and young businesspeople, "digital inclusion" and food security in light of mounting challenges from climate change.

But all this in the face of Chinas grip on Africa. Bidens administration wants to re-engage the mighty continent in opposition to Chinas foothold, but the attempt is probably too little too late. All over the continent, the Chinese build roads, dams, railways, bore-holes for villages, and they take over African cobalt and gold mines. Their reputation for ignoring human rights is legendary. Not to put too fine a point, they really don’t care. 

Following the usual MO of visits to Africa by western leaders, VP Harris promised $100 million in "aid to the region” (primarily security against terrorism) and the Biden administration is asking for another $139 million from Congress to "help Ghana reduce child labor, improve weather forecasting, support local musicians and defend against disease outbreaks. Wait. Did you say improve weather forecasting and support local musicians? Simply knowing Ghana, weather forecasting is not going to improve (what do you need that for anyway in a tropical country?) and local musicians are not going to be supported, but the politicians will laugh all the way to the bank.

Why does Africa even need aid?

The history of aid to African countries dates back to the colonial era, when European powers provided assistance to their colonies in the form of infrastructure, education, and health programs. After African countries gained independence in the 1960s, aid continued to flow in from the West, with a focus on development projects such as dams, roads, and other infrastructure. China has largely replaced the West in that regard. Below Ive listed some of the pros”of aid with a rebuttal (in italics) for each.

  1. Humanitarian assistance: Foreign aid can provide essential resources and support in the face of natural disasters, conflict, or other crises. It can save lives, alleviate suffering, and help people rebuild their communities.  During epidemic outbreaks like Ebola, this was certainly important, but eradication of disease in Africa has always been tied to politics and regional security, including the WHO and MSF (Doctors Without Borders). Medical aid frequently lauds the work of American and European doctors while ignoring the efforts of local physicians.
  2. Economic growth: Foreign aid can help stimulate economic growth by providing resources for infrastructure development, education, healthcare, and other key sectors. But does it really? If a western government gives an African country aid but none of it goes to local farms and manufacturing, then where is the growth? Trickle-down economics doesnt work here either.
  3. Poverty reduction: Aid can help reduce poverty by directly providing resources to the poor, supporting social safety nets, and enabling access to education and healthcare.  Theres no evidence that aid helps reduce poverty to any significant extent in Africa. In fact, doling out aid can keep the recipients nations in endless poverty. French West Africa is a good example.
  4. Capacity building: Foreign aid can contribute to strengthening local institutions and building capacity in areas like governance, public health, and environmental management. How? If there’s no political will at the ground level, theres little point in receiving financial aid.
  5. Technology and knowledge transfer: Aid can facilitate the transfer of technology, expertise, and knowledge from developed countries to African countries, promoting innovation and development. Africa always pays the price when it asks for aid, whether its in the form of technology, expertise or anything else.
The true effects of foreign aid
  1. Dependency: Dependence on foreign aid can potentially undermine the self-reliance and self-sufficiency of African countries, making them vulnerable to the whims of donor nations. Begging is what African governments do best. It’s now a conditioned response. Meanwhile, the national debt of many countries continues to burgeon. Ghana’s was about $65 billion in 2021, about 82% of its GDP.
  2. Corruption and mismanagement: This is the biggest problem. It’s a fact: foreign aid is misused or misallocated all the time due to corruption or poor governance, limiting its impact on poverty reduction and development.
  3. Ineffectiveness: the effectiveness of aid in promoting long-term economic growth is very questionable and I would venture to say, totally unproved. Aid can actually hinder development by distorting local markets and discouraging domestic investments.
  4. Foreign aid can be used as a tool for exerting political influence, as donor countries may attach conditions to the aid they provide, potentially compromising the sovereignty of recipient countries.
  5. Lack of local ownership: In some cases, foreign aid projects may be designed and implemented without adequately considering local needs, priorities, and cultural context, which can lead to unsustainable or inappropriate interventions. Its not uncommon when you visit a country like Ghana to see projects that are unfinished because a new government is in power.       
Bottom line
The effectiveness and impact of foreign aid in Africa depend on factors like the type of aid, the intentions of the donors, the quality of governance in recipient countries, and the specific context in which aid is provided. But like Moyo Dambisaas well-intentioned as it may appear, much of aid is a bad idea. And I still can’t get over the improving weather forecasting.



  1. I guess the bottom line, Kwei, is that if you hand over money to governments, you're likely to see very little result. Even better weather forecasting...

  2. You are so right Kwei. Unfortunately I’m certain that corruption was instituted by the colonial masters.
    Eradicate corruption and create 25 mill. or more jobs per year, may probably be the only way to get Africa self sufficient.This might also halt the migration to a large extent. Any aid to African countries must be monitored very closely by the donors, and every penny accounted for. - An overwhelmingly gigantic task.

  3. I admire how you called it like it is, Kwei. Until "selfless" donor states realize that it's in their national interest to assure that whatever aid they provide is directly applied toward elevating the long term human condition of its donees' populaces, they're not just throwing away their money, but tarring themselves in the eyes of those they desire to help for their abject naiveté.

  4. All so insightful, Kwei. Massive aid hardly ever makes the great differences it promises. I feel enormously blessed to have happened upon a small but effective way to help a community based effort to protect girls from retrogressive practices and keep girls in school. Stan Trollip sponsors education and also supports the efforts of Books for Africa. Lalela, a nonprofit founded by concerned American women, is changing the lives of at-risk children in South Africa with classes in art and creativity. There are lots of efforts that are helping Africans, one child at a time.

    And maybe the weather forecasting is an effort to help track and deal with the effects of climate change ?