Friday, 31 January 2014


By Doris Acheng Odit
Andrew Mwenda usually likes to court controversy, not to mention his uncanny ability to provoke the unbecoming of responses from individuals that are renowned for their candid calm and civility when it comes to engaging in intellectual and ideological debates.

So being an ardent tweep, (as we tweeter users like to refer to ourselves), I was, this Sunday, intrigued, and maybe to an extent a little bit entertained when Mwenda decided to engage a renowned economist Jeffery D. Sachs in a twitter-debate over the practicability of foreign aid to Africa, and the manner in which it is given.

The twitter-sphere debate turned a little bit heated, and perhaps crossed a few personal lines, but it was quite intriguing watching Mwenda take a go at a Professor of economics, a bestselling author and a senior UN advisor. It all seemed like a sort of online David and Goliath scenario, on a much more hilarious scale of course.

Foreign aid has two conflicting schools of thought. One school of thought that advocates for the traditional model of development aid vis-à-vis an aid model that is more focused on development investment as has of recent been the case with the Africa- Asia aid model.

The traditional development aid school of thought unlike the latter has been tried and tested for a number of decades in African countries, perhaps since independence and in a critical and realistic evaluation of its impact, a lot of criticisms emerge, the first being the question of what is the end game? Is it a perpetual cycle of aid that will continue indefinitely? Or is it aid that is meant to empower African countries to be more self-reliant?

Of course, critics have pointed to the crippling nature of development aid which has created a pool of indefinite resources that somehow manage to make their way into the pockets of a few corrupt individuals and rarely trickle to the grassroots for which they are intended. And then there’s the issue of “teaching a man to fish rather than giving him fish.”

The culture of development aid has turned Africa into a crippled beggar, a cripple who becomes more and more debilitated as a consequence of the traditional form of aid in form of hand-outs that we have for all sorts of social and development programmes.

Development aid has created an addiction syndrome in African countries,-an addiction to hand-outs with the Western countries and aid agencies as enablers for this debilitating addiction. And after receiving aid for the past 50 years, approximately- the question that we all ask ourselves is, on a cross examination of the impact, has the aid created a sustainable environment for economic development? Has it created structures for economic empowerment of African countries? Or rather has it created and fostered or natured an unhealthy culture of dependency? The latter, unfortunately is true.

And of course, we cannot forget the strings attached to development aid to Africa, strings that often or on occasion conflict with our cultural and societal values.

On the other side of the spectrum is a new and emerging school of thought one that subscribes to the notion that aid is only sustainable and more effective when its focus is on investment initiatives or what some refer to as ‘development investment’.

For instance, hypothetically speaking supposing an “aid-giver” undertook a mega-investment in an agricultural produce processing firm-One would understandably ask, in what sense is that aid? I would call it a symbiotic relationship kind of aid. The investor or “aid-giver” by setting up an agricultural produce processing firm, creates a missing link in the agricultural value chain- He creates  market for the farmers’ produce, he creates work for the produce transporters to the firm, he creates jobs for the workers at the firm, the country earns through taxation, assuming the products from the firm are of export quality, and for the export market, the country further benefits through foreign exchange earnings, and to seal the symbiotic nature of this relationship, the aid-giver/firm-owner earns through profits/ dividends from the firm. It is a win-win situation for everyone involved.

The West of course and aid agencies are choosing to maintain the status quo in what is aid to Africa- so we continue to receive hand-outs that are only enriching a few as they seldom make it further down through the pipeline as countless examples show. The Asian giants are adopting the new school of thought one that is more focused on partnerships rather than on a big-brother and superior-inferior relationship kind of aid that has been characteristic in the development aid model.

As Africa’s potential grows, and as our riches in natural resources increases not to mention an influx of skilled human capital born and bred within the continent emerges, perhaps it is time for a paradigm shift. We have the natural resources but not enough financial resources to exploit them, what we need are partners with the financial resources to back us, partners who are willing to abandon the big-brother ideology- and who believe in a win-win situation without strings attached rather than the economic gain of all parties involved.  We have outgrown the hand-out stage, we have ample bargaining power, and it is high time we start acting like it.

The writer is an associate consultant with Trans African Management Consultants

Thursday, 30 January 2014


As expected, foreign aid was barely a footnote in U.S. President Barack Obama’s annual address to the nation — but a few interesting tidbits did come out.
U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his 2011 State of the Union
address at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C
“Let’s remember that our leadership is defined not just by our defense against threats, but by the enormous opportunities to do good and promote understanding around the globe — to forge greater cooperation, to expand new markets, to free people from fear and want,” Obama said in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.

After that, the U.S. president mentioned several priority areas for aid, like building democracy “from Tunisia to Burma (Myanmar),” supporting energy access for all and fighting poverty in sub-Saharan Africa, and responding to natural disasters like the recent typhoon in the Philippines:

Myanmar — considered Asia’s new ”donor darling” for all the attention it’s getting from the international aid community after its military rulers decided to ease their grip on power in late 2010 — is seen as a pivotal partner country for the U.S. Agency for International Development. The agency plans to open a new mission office in Yangon this year, and Devex reported that Washington thinks the nation can become a leader for “green development” in Southeast Asia.

During his visit to Africa in late June, Obama launched Power Africa, a $7 billion initiative to expand energy access in sub-Saharan countries. Since then, supporters and skeptics of the scheme have been trying to find common ground to move forward, while the issue now seems to be coming up with the correct mix of quick wins and long-term solutions that can fully engage the private sector.

Recovering U.S. influence in Asia-Pacific to counter China’s rise is more a security priority, but aid is also part of the “Pivot to Asia” strategy first mentioned by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This is why Obama rushed the response to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, where “our Marines and civilians … were greeted with words like, ‘We will never forget your kindness’ and ‘God bless America!,’” the U.S. president said in his speech.

How did foreign aid advocates react to the address? Most of them had not yet released a statement as of posting time, but a few were active on Twitter.

“Hoped for more on why U.S. [international] development programs are good investment in our future,” tweeted InterAction, while Eugene Nzribe, executive director of Canadian nonprofit International Charities for Africa, commented: “Power Africa, if carried through, will be the most important aid to African entrepreneurs, jobs creation [and] poverty reduction.”

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


Access remains a challenge for most humanitarian groups in South Sudan, even after the government and opposition forces finally agreed to a cessation of hostilities last week in Addis Ababa.
Members of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan stand guard at a
camp for internally displaced persons fleeing the violence in the country

This is what several aid officials told Devex four days into the ceasefire agreement, which should have taken effect on Friday. They said pockets of conflict and sporadic fights remain in several states, making it difficult for them to access many internally displaced people cut off from assistance during the conflict and to preposition items that should already be in place before the coming rainy season.

“Things are improving but in a slow pace.  We can move freely in some parts of the country, but not all,” said Plan International Country Director Gyan Adhikari.

Aid groups have welcomed the agreement, and are looking at taking advantage of the current ceasefire. But they argue the conflict in the past month has led to an increase in IDPs, their humanitarian needs and less humanitarian supplies, some because of looting.

“The biggest challenge is the lack of access to preposition the largely needed food, goods and essential items. This will remain one single challenge for all actors including the UN and especially in responding to the already displaced people in Upper Nile, Unity and Jonglei states,” Adhikari explained.

Logistical impediments

The challenges relating to access and procurement in the past month led Plan to establish a regional logistics hub in northern Uganda to help it to “proactively procure, move and distribute essential items as humanitarian access and security permits,” and Adhikari says the organization has had “strategic discussions” with the United Nations and other aid organizations on other possible logistics arrangements in the coming weeks.

Oxfam had been airlifting sanitation supplies from Juba and the United Kingdom to reach people who fled fighting in and around the town of Bor, but it also hopes to be able to shift back to some form of land transport, although that has been a challenge in itself as there are only some 300 kilometers of paved road across the country.

Air transport is expensive and could use up a huge portion of aid groups’ budgets, which means they would have less funds to respond to potentially urgent needs once the rainy season starts.

ACTED Country Director Emilie Poisson, meanwhile, explained that her organization relies mostly on the U.N.’s humanitarian air service managed by the World Food Program, but admitted the loss of supplies in December due to lootings and/or commandeering “has had significant impact on the rate and amount in which humanitarian partners should be prepared for prepositioning.”

‘Wait and see’

But apart from access and prepositioning goods, aid groups are also worried over the loss of many people’s livelihoods.

Oxfam Assistant Country Director Emma Jane Drew said her staff have encountered many people who had to sell entire herds of cattle or stockpiled harvest “just to be able to afford journeys to safety.”

“This is seriously worrying as it indicates displaced people will have nothing to go back to when they decide to return home. At the moment Oxfam’s assessing how we can best respond to those needs now,” Drew said.

These and the issues of impartiality — which was initially thrown at the United Nations, but has affected some humanitarian organizations — appear to continue to be huge impediments to the aid community’s work in South Sudan, even with the ceasefire in place.

Poisson noted: “Everyone is hopeful that [the ceasefire] would hold, but obviously everyone is also in a position of ‘wait and see’ for action to be implemented on the ground.”