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Has Africa been D-Listed?

June 3rd, 2009 Posted in Africa, Books, Canada in the World, Current Events, Development Red Carpet, Development Theory, Economics, Humanitarian Action, Issues, Regions

The Globe and Mail recently ran an article called “Banned Aid” on the new funding approach to international development agencies in Canada. Canada has made recent changes to their funding approach restricting their major funding to 20 key countries essentially abandoning countries like Malawi, Rwanda, Niger among others (they still give some aid but it is a very small percentage of their former funding. When I was in university there was chatter among some of my professors that this was the way the Canadian Government was moving so I can’t say I was surprised. The article is clear in showing how the plan to restrict aid will be detrimental to countries like Malawi who remain poor but have seen some success from the Canadian Foreign Aid. Several reasons are given for the change including our recessed economy, political support and popularity for the “African Cause”.3114863031_d679f8ff4a_m1

We’ve often been skeptical of what Celebrity endorsement does to aid in terms of international economic sustainability. Optimistically, I sometimes cheered when I found out that a celebrity was taking the initiative to promote an organization but I also worried about what would happen if they lost interest. There has been a surge in popularity for African Aid in the last 20 years but, what have the actual results been? Not very successful if you look at the figures. We aren’t going to achieve our goals for the Millenium Development Goals. The 2010 deadline for the Group of 8’s promise to double their contribution to aid in Africa is looming and will fall short, having only raised $22 Billion of the $80 Billion dollar promise so far.

If you look only at the figures then the media attention that Africa has received from a host of celebrities and notorious politicos hasn’t really done the continent much good. Recently Ben Affleck and The Rolling Stones have jumped on a new bandwagon with the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHCR) to create a short film directed by Affleck to the tune of “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones. The ad campaign/documentary has been created as a part of the Gimme Shelter campaign hoping to raise funds and awareness help raise funds and awareness about the crisis in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Affleck is quoted as saying that “we made this film in order to focus attention on the humanitarian crisis in the DRC at a time when too much of the world is indifferent or looking the other way”. You don’t have to look very hard to find a book, film or documentary that is trying to spread awareness on the humanitarian crisis in any number of African countries. But if I learned anything from Renzo Martens it’s that our awareness of the plight of many impoverished Africans isn’t really helping them anyways.


If you look at how funding is spread across Africa there is disparity between countries. Canada’s explanation for this are key words like “effectiveness” and “established need”. It’s not a strategy that is unique to Canadians, the idea that aid should go to countries only if they are economically and politically stable enough to use the money effectively is a fundamental key to many global financing programmes including the World Bank. There have been good and bad examples of this.

In some countries foreign aid is making a significant improvement to living standards. The United Nations’ Millennium Villages Project is described as approaching development by empowering impoverished villages to transform themselves by investing in infrastructure and the basic needs like food, health, education and access to clean water for community led interventions and has had marked success in Uganda. The flagship project in Uganda was initiated by Jeffrey Sachs who has the idea that the Millenium Development Goals can be achieved on a modest budget, hoping to defy those failed promises from the G-8.

The Globe and Mail Article highlights several critics of International Development Aid who have put out new books recently. So, should we scrap aid programs and find new solutions? Or do we still have a responsibility as rich nations to help bridge the gap. I am still of the mind that we have a responsibility to fund aid programs but there must be a more realistic and effective way. On June 1st The Munk Debate on Foreign Aid focused on whether aid was doing more harm than good. Representing the No side was Stephen Lewis, former United Nations special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, and Paul Collier, director of Oxford University’s Centre for the Study of African Economies. For the Yes was Dambisa Moyo, a young economist who was born and raised in Zambia and Hernando de Soto, a Peruvian economist.

(The debate starts at 44.45)

A conversation has begun and hopefully we can continue to find better solutions to the aid conundrum and I can’t wait to see what Dambisa Moyo and Hernando de Soto had to say while pitted against Stephen Lewis and Paul Collier!

  1. One Response to “Has Africa been D-Listed?”

  2. By JamesD on Jun 11, 2009

    Thanks for the useful info. It’s so interesting

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