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  • Georgia Rodgers

Foreign Aid

Over the past 100 years, foreign aid structures that began with European colonialism have become tied to shifting economic and political interests, as well as a growing humanitarian movement.” - Kerry Phillips (2013)

The provision of foreign aid to developing nations has significantly risen in the last ten years within the global community. As a result, for many developing nations, this has meant that development interventions have largely influenced their international relations. The concept of foreign aid can be considered a political battle between foreign powers and those receiving it, with the ongoing debate into whether foreign aid should continue to assist in economic progress, or primarily provide support for systems to meet communities’ basic needs.


Foreign aid is a relatively new concept within economics. However, the African continent has seen foreign interventions for centuries, with missionaries being among the earliest foreign influences of central and southern Africa. Professor of International Economics Sebastian Edwards (2004) highlights that Parliament passed the first legal act dealing specifically with aid in the United Kingdom in 1929. Between 1940 and 1945, Edwards (2004) adds that new laws dealing with aid to the nation’s colonies were then also passed. However, wealthier nations have assisted poorer nations through economic aid since the 19th Century.

Within the United States, the first policy dealing with foreign assistance came much later, through the adoption of the Marshall Plan in 1948. One of the mains goals of the Plan was to foster “growth of underdeveloped areas.” And various other policies have followed since. Nations such as Germany, France, and Britain have historically provided regular aid to their colonies in Africa. Even after the colonies gained their independence, foreign support, and previous colonial powers have continued to focus on economic development. Academic Rosalind Eyben suggests that through this focus, "there was the idea that countries [such as those within Africa], had to catch up, that Western Europe and North America were developed... they were the goal that everybody else had to reach.”


Ideas surrounding the concept of development can be considered highly contentious and can encompass many subjective views and values. It is a concept that has a vast history built upon various social, political and economic influences. Many dominant and influential powers within the global community continue to practise development through a biased structured context, limiting many societies potential and the ability for beneficial and sustainable growth as a result.

Inherently, development is dominantly employed through power and consequently is often implemented through dominant Western perspectives and ideas. Within the Western narrative, it is common for African nations to be grouped as one. We see similar narratives used during discussions of epidemics and human right issues within the continent when they are regarded as simply the ‘African’ issue as a whole. In addition, discussions surrounding famine and catastrophes are depictions that are often of great focus. Not only do these descriptions undermine the individuality of various nations and their populations, but it also creates sweeping generalisations that continue to reinforce negative stereotypes and perspectives, particularly from the West. Irrespective of these limited labels and their accuracy, these generalised terms become the dominant definition for this diverse continent which then further feeds the acceptance of limited perspectives that contribute to dominate development practices, that can subsequently have the potential to create and enable corruption and exploitation. These limited categorisations are commonly used to justify foreign interventions. Which again, subsequently, lead to the continuation of detrimental cycles of intervention and dependency.


Rudyard Kipling’s idea of the ‘white man’s burden’ gives historical context to the understanding of Africa’s single narrative depiction, and the dominant values from the West. The White man’s burden is a poem written in the late 1800s which urged the United States to assume colonial control of the Filipino people and their country. Kipling’s concept suggests that the “white race” is morally obligated to rule people of colour, and to encourage their progress (both economically, socially, and culturally) through settler colonialism, which, at the time was based upon religious missionaries.

Stemming from colonial ideology, the White Man’s burden is reflected similarly throughout many other historical concepts which has led to the establishment of many interventional practices such as further colonial rule, religious missionaries as mentioned, as well as foreign volunteer projects such as the US Peace Corps. All of which have separated the individuality of diverse African populations and categorised an entire continent as the ‘other’. Consequently, Africa that is commonly depicted within the Western narrative is merely an invention of the West, one that continues to actively benefit those in control.


To put into context the argument that the West benefits largely from its interventions; 99% of aid given to African nations is integrated into the economic order to develop trade and facilitate economic relationships. And only 1% is given contributed towards humanitarian assistance. Through this statistic, it is evident that foreign aid is primarily for political advantage.

Dr Hugo Slim (2015) emphasises this further in highlighting that for every dollar of aid sent to developing nations, roughly ten dollars returns to donor countries. Slim (2015) estimates that the net transfer of wealth is $200 billion per year from developing to donor nations. Through these statistics, there is a clear indication that the foreign aid agenda for many donor nations is in favour of their own personal interest. Thus, as a result, foreign aid has the tendency to benefit rich states over those the aid is sent to assist; creating significant debt, which then co-creates further dependency. And the cycle continues.

For many donor states, David Williams (2013) suggests that “development aid has become an important instrument for achieving international objectives including the cultivating of political allies, opening markets, fighting terrorism, and constructing regimes of global governance” (pg. 5). In return, William Easterly (2006) suggests that problems of developing nations are then minimised as a result of donor’s being unaccountable for the results. He suggests that top-down intervention approach, ignores and subsequentially fails to consider and understand what is really needed within these nations.


African is rich with natural resources. The continent holds roughly 30% of the world’s mineral reserves. So, why is it that a continent with such immense wealth potential, continues to remain so poor?

The exploitation of such resources has led to the ongoing corruption of the continent. As a result, Africa is viewed largely as a resource for foreign elites to claim. A majority of the continent’s resources and its revenue benefit foreign power over the populations within each nation. Tom Burgis describes Africa’s situation, as “the continent that is at once the world’s poorest and, arguably, its richest.” He furthers in suggesting “The multinational companies hold enormous economic and political power in post-independence African countries…… in this way, there is a pretty straight line from colonial exploitation to modern exploitation.”

Conditionalities are a large component attached to foreign aid in the modern context. Zambian economist Moyo (2009) suggests that aid is tied in three ways; procurement, nations that accept aid must spend it on good and services from the donor countries. Secondly, Moyo (2009) highlights that the donor countries have the right to determine how the aid is going to be allocated. And thirdly, she highlights that aid is only distributed once a nation agrees to set of political and economic policies. Thus, it is clear that foreign aid has significant ties to elements of exploitation, and further one could even consider new forms of colonialism.


Overreliance on aid can trap nations into a vicious cycle of dependency, which in return, harbours corruption and consequently the increase of poverty; thus, continuing the need for further aid. Dambisa Moyo (2009) highlights that corruption within Africa is costing the continent an estimate of $150 billion per year. The article suggests that many international donors continue to make it easy for funds to be utilised for non-developmental purposes, thus increasing the risk for corruption and further poverty, economic and political issues. Despite over one trillion dollars in foreign aid being sent to Africa in the past sixty years, there has been an significant inability for progressive poverty reduction and sustainable economic growth.

Moyo (2009) describes the current development views as another mechanism that continues to create dependency and fuel corruption among nations. “Aid flows destined to help the average African end up supporting bloated bureaucracies in the form of the poor-country governments and donor-funded non-governmental organisations” (Moyo, 2009, para. 10).


The current implementations and practises of development can be regarded as simply providing a ‘band-aid’ approach within communities, that continues to be ineffective in creating long-term sustainable solutions for communities.Moyo (2009) suggests that although such current approaches may alleviate immediate issues within a community, the overall implementation of development is inherently ineffective if it cannot be sustained long-term.

The economist argues that ideas surrounding aid can have a negative impact on a nation and that we should begin to critique the current ‘aid-dependent’ view within dominant development practices. Evidence overwhelmingly shows the increased risk of unrest and poverty within a nation as a result of ineffective development. Aid-dependency has created debt for a majority of developing nations, in return, creating a cycle of dependency that increases levels of humanitarian, political and economic disasters.


Dambisa Moyo (2009) ultimately suggests that the current dominant view of development continues to limit and disadvantage developing societies. And that the current model of foreign aid and intervention continues to be destructive in its contribution for effective development. Through aid dependency, the current development framework places foreign intervention at the forefront of its structure, resulting in the disempowerment of communities in their conquest to self-autonomy and development. While it can be argued that foreign intervention is necessary within the framework of development, Moyo (2009) suggests that if the process is not implemented effectively, the overall solutions for a community begin to lack durability; thus, the cycle of dependency for further intervention is continued.

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