DONATIONS TO RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS ABROAD
DO MORE HARM THAN GOOD
Images of suffering children are a common means by which missionary groups and some non-governmental relief organizations raise money for their projects abroad. Numerous studies have found that such organizations and their use of relief money have had conflicting results. A rising number of indigenous voices have also begun to question the motives and goals of these agencies while it is increasingly clear that much of the money ends up in the hands of local warlords, corrupt politicians and supporting foreign ideas and ideologies. The utility of aid is examined in terms of ends and means.
Current appeals for aid for relief of drought in Somalia are complicated by stories of militant groups like al-Shabab who are said to be blocking aid deliveries to those suffering from famine. Success in delivering aid depends on the cooperation of the warlords, and this means many more than just al-Shabab, who routinely raid and steal food and equipment or “tax” deliveries by threatening UN and relief staff (http://articles.latimes.com/...).
These conditions result partly from the colonial forms that continue in much of Africa both in the borders that are relics of colonial division of tribes and geography and in the structure of armies and bureaucracy . A useful example is that of the recent struggle in Ivory Coast where Laurent Gbagbo the defeated president in the elections held onto power by virtue of the autocratic rule long-time strongman Felix Houphouet-Boigny had produced. The bureaucracy was basically French as was most of the army and Gbagbo also had the support of the Lebanese business community (Kaplan, 2011). Ousting Gbagbo and installing Alassane Ouattara took efforts by the UN and the French militaries. The structure of colonialism remains and it was only through the effort of Europeans that a European form of electoral transition took place.
This is apparent from Mahmood Mamdani's book Saviors and Survivors (2009) which focuses on the Sudan province of Darfur. Colonialism sharpened ethnic tensions in Mamdani's view and these have continued to the present day where they are fueled by thoughtless foreign aid programs and missionaries. The picture of colonialism is quite complex in Africa and it is difficult to make generalizations, but Mamdani is correct overall, in my view, but the Sudan was a special case and efforts to limit northern influence by British colonial authorities have had many subsequent effects (http://www.dailykos.com/...).
Charity as a Saving Grace or Fuel for Living Hells?
James Orbinski, a doctor and former president of Doctors Without Borders, has written a book on his experiences in Africa, An Imperfect Offering (2008). The book documents how warlords and strongmen have turned aid and charity into weapons of war, using food and medicine as tools of their oppression. Reinforcing this picture is Linda Polman’s book, War Games (2010) . Polman shows how humanitarian aid, including that from charities, is used by warlords to prolong wars and increase suffering and chaos. Her story is supported by the 2009 investigation by the BBC that documented how the money raised by Band Aid in the 1980s went to armed rebels in Ethiopia and Dambis Moyo’s book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa (2009) that demonstrated how aid to Africa was preventing the development of local indigenous democratic institutions and local economies. Clothes donated undermines local garment makers, shoes shoe makers, etc. Christian charities use their aid to disparage local religions (see Melville Herskovits on this in his The Human Factor in Changing Africa) or Jomo Kenyatta’s comments on missionaries in his book, Facing Mt. Kenya (1938), and this fans resentment among local Christian and Muslims. Monyo was born in Zambia and educated as an economist at Oxford.
Telling a different tale of woe is Joseph Stiglitz and Andrew Charlton’s book, Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development (2006). They show how multinational companies have used patronage to prevent indigenous African companies using their own labor and resources to create local economic development. Most pertinent, however, is Robert Calderisi’s ,The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid isn’t Working (2006). Calderisi (former senior official with the World Bank) shows how direct foreign aid has only worked to reinforce colonial elites and corruption. Backing up this is William Easterly’s book, The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to aid the Rest have Done so Much Ill and so Little Good, (2006). Easterly argues that aid functions to undermine reform and economic redistribution to promote local business and development.
Resources, Plunder and Development
Africa is beset by many challenges, but one of the most daunting is the “resource curse” manifested as “blood diamonds” or the vast oil wealth of Nigeria, copper in the Congo or uranium. Tom Burgis (2010) recently reported on the history of patronage and theft that has left Nigeria with little to show for decades of billions in oil profits but ruined coast lines and a burning civil war. Corruption is rampant and wars over control of resources have created mini kingdoms within nations run by multinational corporations. Coal from South Africa to Guinea is being sought by Chinese, Indian and European companies. Most people have no roads to use to gain access to markets and so women are used to carry products on trails according to David White (2006). At the same time most colonial roads have fallen into such disrepair they cannot be used but the Chinese are repairing these and building new ones. The Chinese are also repairing other colonial infrastructure as the Inga hydroelectric plant on the Congo River. Decades of neglect left the plant inoperable, completed in 1972 under post colonial dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.
Chinese investments are organized to avoid the patronage and corruption systems that colonialism created. They build and repair in exchange for access to natural resources and markets. This is not to say that the Chinese have a lock on how to do business in Africa, but that their method is in stark contrast to the failures of the west over the past 400 years. Many of Africa’s problems could be solved by international efforts, but not involvement. For example, as Barney Jopson notes in an article in the Financial Times in 2008 (Somalia bandits broaden their horizons offshore,” that Somali piracy began when foreign factory fishing ships illegally began to destroy the fishing stocks off the coast in the 1990s, denying local fishermen their livelihood. Factory fishing ships should be made illegal and confiscated by international agreement.
If you want to make a personal attempt to help African peoples, I think following Dambisa Moyo’s suggestion to buy African products is a good bet. Otherwise stop donating to charities.