In West Africa they describe people who waste money as being “as stupid as a white man.” As if to prove their point, the so-called ‘donor’ nations of the affluent industrialised West are changing the way they give their aid to less developed countries. Instead of allocating money, with conditions attached, for specific projects, such as building roads or schools, we increasingly allow the recipients to decide how to spend it. This is because ‘conditionality’ is viewed as colonialist and ‘confrontational,’ to borrow the jargon of the aid industry. This new fashion for unconditional aid is led by Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) and it comes in the form of “Budget Support”.
It is the most recent in a long line of initiatives, dating back to the 1950s, aimed at “building capacity,” ostensibly enabling developing countries to run themselves more efficiently and openly.
Consequently, twenty per cent of UK aid is put directly into the coffers of governments, allowing the recipients to ‘determine their own priorities.’ That percentage is set to rise, and governments such as the Canadians and Scandinavians are following suit, keen to be seen as sensitive to the needs of their ‘clients.’
At the root of budget support is an assumption that political elites in developing countries genuinely care about the welfare of their poor, diseased and ignorant masses, when this is manifestly not always the case.
Surely only politicians and civil servants seriously believe we can make poverty history by handing cash to their opposite numbers in poverty-stricken countries. As the development economist William Easterly asks, “What are the chances these billions are going to reach poor people?”
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