The Horn Of Africa States: Redirecting Aid – OpEd


It was a surprise to note that the European Union has suspended aid to Somalia.  But the surprise was even bigger when it involved some US$ 7 million, an amount that would not be sufficient for anything and was not even worth the ink and paper, and time, spent on the pronouncement. Indeed, aid for Somalia should have been suspended for a different reason than the writer or the EU personnel gave for the suspension. Aid has created a dependency of a population, on assistance in the form of food and even meaningless small funds for people, that were used to fend off for themselves in the expansive lands of Somalia.

As Dambisa Moyo from Zambia emphasized in her writings on the subject, aid is not helpful and has not been helpful and would be helpful neither for Somalia nor for anyone else in the present dispensation format. Aid used in the form of coercing and subjugating people and even corrupting leaders and creating fake leaders in society, has been the pain of Somalia and the Horn of Africa States over the past several decades. Somalia and for that matter Africa is better off without a few bags of wheat and beans and other forms of aid close to expiry and removed from warehouses in Europe to accommodate new harvests and the suspension should, perhaps, be permanent and not temporary, in this regard.

The Somali people would probably suffer in the initial period but down the road, the Somali people, and their resilience to the harsh climes of their lands would revert to depending on themselves again and live off their lands. It may be painful, but eventually, Somalia would be better off than waiting for expired foods provided by the WPF and other institutions like it and brought from the European Union.

Aid is an illusion created by NGOs who employ the unemployable in Europe and other donor countries or activists who need to satisfy their psyches, through assisting betterment of life in the receiving countries, where dependencies have been created and the traditional farmers and pastoral people have left their lands and animals. It has created a new urbanization process in the form of camps with little or no facilities for collections of large numbers of people in one place without proper houses, roads, waste management processes, people who leave their lands and farms, and traditional forms of livelihood.

Aid and its suspension thereof, have apparently become a weapon and one often reads on and hears of suspension of this type of aid for this country or that. It is, indeed, an instrument of coercion, which Somalia, and other Horn of Africa states and for that matter Africa should not accept in the first place. Self-reliance on oneself should have been the policies of governance both ruling and opposition, academicians, traditional institutions, and generally populations.

One often reads titles like USAID Suspends or UN and Other Groups suspended, NGOs call on this or that to suspend, the EU Suspends or the US Suspends or the World Food Program Suspends this or that, and so on. Aid, once it becomes a political instrument is not required and should be permanently suspended and countries should not accept it when parties who use it as a weapon come back with it. 

The great misunderstanding of aid remains to be the dichotomy of the process, where the donor has generally ulterior motives opposed to the needs of the recipient party. It is often seen as humanitarian but is it humanitarian when one, as Pavlov noted, conditions one and then suspends it? It is no longer humanitarian but an instrument of coercion and punishment and is, therefore, unacceptable. The UN and its various bodies, the European Union, the Americans, and others have been present in the Horn of Africa States for so long now but cannot produce any development program to their name in the region such as a bridge, a road, a port, a school, or a hospital. Providing some almost expired foods to populations is wrong and inhumane and the receiving countries, if they have the will and the desire, should not be accepting them. The fact is that they are too poor to say “no” when someone extends some poisonous aid, which would eventually lead to the exploitation of the lands of the recipient.

One often hears of corruption in food aid and for that matter any other aid. Such corruption is often initiated by the donor or giving parties, for aid collected in the name of the recipients never totally reaches it. It is often spent by the aid-giving party on its personnel, and administrations, and much indeed, is stolen by the same parties, who use them to pay for the schooling of their children and families in their original countries. It is often noted that some 10% of intended aid reaches the ultimate parties in whose names the aid was collected in the first place.

An old article in the Guardian (published some 9 years ago) noted that one-fifth of foreign aid never leaves the donor countries. How much of this aid would be spent on the way before it ultimately reaches the recipient? The biggest portion is spent on fake consultants and fake experts, who supposedly provide technical advice and so-called training on “perhaps how to steal and rob”, for their presence in front of people under training underscores that there is theft going around and that it is all right. People know that the person doing the training is probably as unqualified as any of them can be!!!!!

In this respect, one should perhaps note the major loophole through which international aid, or for that matter any aid, slips through the sieves and never reaches the recipient party. It is a fact that most aid is not channeled through the governmental channels of the receiving countries but through NGOs, UN bodies, and others that bypass the government’s plans and government ministerial channels. These bodies, indeed, disrupt the process of the concerted development process of a country.

The IMF magazine of Finance and Development, in an article (September 2008, Volume 45, number 3) on the Improvement of Effectiveness of Aid by Eckhard Deutscher and Sara Fyson, wrote that “A proliferation of donors and projects has made governance of aid more problematic”. Indeed, there are too many donors motivated by ulterior motives than the aid itself and/or humanity. 

Aid should not create dependencies and should not bypass governments in the recipient countries. This would help streamline management and governance and help avoid the creation of parallel governance alongside the governments of countries, which aid seems to have created, particularly in fragile countries like Somalia.

Most aid is sourced from Western countries and not from Asiatic or non-western countries and obviously, western countries prefer to assist in a real sense those countries that are aligned with them and they tend to disrupt life and development in countries that do not tow their line. One could look at countries like Kenya and Senegal that mimic the Western model of government – democratic. They appear to have moved on the development path albeit at a slow pace, while others with non-Western modes of governance seem to have suffered from aid from Western countries. Is this a coincidence?

Aid through a multitude of actors is not fruitful and should only be directed through the governments of the recipient countries. Aid from Asia is currently coming in the form of real trade and is perhaps the right direction where goods from countries in need are exchanged with developmental projects and not only on a cash basis. Donor countries should perhaps follow the Asian model, which not only helps poor countries develop infrastructures like roads, rail, bridges, mines, schools, and hospitals. In the process, development takes place in the poor countries, which in turn creates employment and hence consumers and eventually a self-sustaining economic infrastructures.

Dr. Suleiman Walhad

Dr. Suleiman Walhad writes on the Horn of Africa economies and politics. He can be reached at [email protected].

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