Breaking our own solemn promises


The recent Oxfam International report on unfulfilled aid pledges by rich countries to developing economies brings back into focus how broken the international system is.

Not because of the false promises. Africa, Asia and Latin America have surely gotten accustomed to those throughout the 400 or so years of interaction with Europe and its offspring.

This week, Oxfam released a report titled “Fifty Years of Broken Promises”.

The context of the report is that 50 years ago, the world’s richest countries made what they called a “solemn promise” to pledge a minimum of 0,7 percent of their gross national income annually as aid to low and middle-income countries.

Such seemingly altruistic and humanistic commitments can be couched in whatever flowery language makes the pledgers feel good about themselves.

But the bottom line is that the entire concept is premised on the inescapable fact that Europe and North America built their present fortunes on the past enslavement, subsequent colonisation, and present legalised looting and abuse of the rest of the world.

With such a sordid record of self-enrichment, half a century ago the rich agreed to return less than one percent of annual GNI to the oppressed, perhaps as a salve to their consciences.

Signing up to the agreement was good enough for most of them. Actually following through was quite something else.

According to Oxfam, the rich countries are behind on their pledge to the tune of US$5,7 trillion, which the NGO tells us is enough to cover the needs of “260 million children who are out of school, the half of humanity that lacks access to essential health services, and two billion people suffering from chronic food insecurity”.

It would be easy to rant and rave about how the West “owes” the rest of the world US$5,7 trillion in unfulfilled pledges. But the reality is that the West owes the rest of the world so much more than that for the centuries of crimes against humanity and theft of resources.

An even greater reality, however, is that the rest of the world should never expect a fulfilment of such promises from nations that have been built on the blood, sweat and tears of other nations.

And perhaps the most important reality is that Africa and the rest of the developing world should simply stop counting on aid as a viable route to sustainable development.

Many arguments have been raised to this effect.

In 2009, Zambian-born economist Dr Dambisa Moyo published a paradigm-shifting book on the matter, "Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa", which cogently and coherently posits that development financed by Western taxpayers is nothing more than applying a Band-Aid to a broken limb.

Dambisa Moyo, using theory and statistics to back up her position, argues that the reliance on aid has stopped Africa from focusing on resolving systemic weaknesses at the socio-political level, and has undermined support for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Moyo’s contention is that Africa should be looking inward for growth and development solutions.

Commenting on her book, Moyo has said, "The model that’s coming up, that I’m proposing, is essentially one where Africa and Africans become equal partners with the rest of the world, not one where there is kind of a donor and a recipient, where Africans are kind of viewed as secondary citizens.”

Moyo logically points out that aid makes governments less accountable to their own citizens, leads to rampant corruption and disempowers societies from setting out their own development priorities.

To summarise, Moyo is advocating for Africa to self-finance its own development.

That speaks to coming up with innovative and sustainable ways of self-financing industrialisation and agricultural production, and collectively and intelligently restructuring trade relations - for a start.

Self-financing may appear to be a tall order. Until one considers that billions that the continent losses every year to illicit financial flows (which is again crookedly acquired money finding its way to the West).

Plugging corruption and putting in place proper systems to track the extraction of resources, what is paid for them, and where the money goes will do wonders for greater self-financing and less dependence on aid.

Moyo has also said: “I fundamentally object to the notion that Africa needs more aid and I do think it’s time to have many more Africans speak out, especially the policymakers, because many of the policymakers actually don’t support aid  and yet they stay in the background and they allow this money to come into the economy.

“You very rarely see Africans on the global stage saying ‘actually we would like to have much more aid please’.”

Dambisa Moyo is not the only proponent of less aid and greater self-reliance.

Professor Sarah Blodgett Bermeo, in “Foreign Aid and Regime Change: A Role for Donor Intent”, says: “Amid a growing cacophony of donors, very little space is left for local agencies to build, co-ordinate among themselves and strengthen local governance.

“Scarce resources are used up strengthening and maintaining external relations with donors and undertaking externally demanded actions, some of which are contradictory.”

Through the African Union, the continent has come up with several progressive initiatives to self-finance development and propel food security and industrialisation. Just about all nations on the continent have signed up to programmes that commit governments to set aside varying proportions of their national budgets and/or GDP to finance agriculture, healthcare, infrastructure and education, amongst other development imperatives.

Very few countries have met all – or even one – of those pledges. Many are not even coming close making a real effort to work towards those pledges.

Yes, the rich West has broken its “solemn promise” to meet the 0,7 percent of GNI commitment to aid.

Are we doing any better to deliver on our promises to ourselves?




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