That new perspective on foreign aid Editorial
Guyana Chronicle
June 12, 2002

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WRITING in the June 3, 2002 edition of The Christian Science Monitor, Tom Freedman lists three principles upon which a new consensus of American foreign aid could be based. They are:

Helping nations become stable and economically successful will require more aid. The world has more than 800 malnourished people, double that number live on less than $2 a day. Millions of people in Africa and elsewhere are infected with the AIDS virus, and more than 100 million children do not go to school or have a regular meal a day. The need for more aid is powerful and obvious.

Aid must be much more effective. Fifty years of development aid has not left areas such as Africa appreciably better off, nor does just sending more support seem likely to help. Many programmes just don’t work. When I went to South Africa as part of a Clinton administration delegation, one of the first things Nelson Mandela asked was, “How will it avoid corruption?” We need to be similarly hard-headed in evaluating proposed programmes.

Aid can be a strategic tool. Successful development is not just altruistic, it is in America’s long-term interest. In Afghanistan, the U.S. sent in plenty of aid after the Soviet invasion in 1979, but basically left the country when the Soviets did. The resulting chaos created a vacuum that the Taliban filled.

Freedman’s article, which was captioned, “For a new consensus on foreign aid”, began with a comment on the recent tour of the African continent made by American Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and rock star Bono, who has emerged as an apostle for the plight of debt-mired African countries. The tour by this unlikely pair, Freedman said, “underscored an old symbolic debate, as well as the possibility of a new consensus, on American aid to the developing world”.

“The two sides of the debate,” Freedman continued, “have long had simple and static arguments. Supporters of aid complain that America does not give enough; opponents say U.S. help is wasted by corrupt governments. But now, challenged by the moral issue of suffering abroad, and the reality that terrorists are exploiting poor countries, conservative American policymakers are talking about how to make development aid effective. The O’Neill-Bone road show is only one sign that change may be afoot. Even Conservative Senator Jesse Helms ® now backs more resources to combat AIDS in Africa.”

We believe that if Tom Freedman’s analysis of the new approach to development aid is accurate, then there should be cause for hope among the millions of people who inhabit some of the poorest countries on the planet. It is useless to pretend that the leaders of the western world and the administrators of financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) do not have a point when they bemoan the billions of dollars in grants and aid presented to the newly independent countries of Africa and elsewhere over the last four or five decades. Many of these aid recipients have the least basic physical infrastructure, their social sectors are in tatters; huge swathes of their populations are illiterate; and, because of inadequate sanitary facilities, diseases long extinct in other parts of the globe ravage and kill thousands of infants and children annually. Add to this litany of woes the prevalence of wars and tribal conflicts, and the inexorable march of HIV/AIDS and the picture of despair is complete.

If a new consensus on development aid comes with workable programmes and strict conditions for spending and accountability, then the millions of malnourished and desperately poor people will be imbued with hope and energy for their own survival.