Aid to Africa Enfeebles Local Capacity

Haven’t you all seen grotesque images of a scorched up village tucked away in the middle of an equatorial forest or grassland in Africa? Haven’t you all seen the all too familiar naked child, emaciated, with red, teary eyes, and an empty bowl of porridge in his hands?  Haven’t you heard figures being banded around 10 million Africans face death by starvation in the Sahel, the Horn of Africa or the Democratic Republic of Congo? Haven’t you all heard, statements like: ‘the international community must act and act fast to avert the continuing humanitarian crises in the Horn of Africa?’ What is it that makes African problems the responsibility of the international community? Why is the international community obligated to help Africa?

Of all continents the world has ever seen, Africa receives the largest inflows of aid. The United Nations Office of the Special Advisor on Africa (OSAA) posits that Africa is the greatest recipient of global aid; Africa receives a larger share, at 36%, of the total global foreign aid compared to any other region of the globe. Over the last four decades, aid to Africa has more than quadrupled from around US$11 billion to US$44 billion, a net increase of about US$10 billion was recorded during the period 2005-2008 alone. In 2005, the world’s greatest donor nations, the G8, met in the Gleneagles, Scotland, and made commitments to increase aid to Africa. However, while aid to Africa has soared to record levels, it has fallen below the international commitments. Current projections suggest a shortfall of US$14  billion on the original Gleneagles  estimate, which forecasted aid would increase by US$25 billion per year from 2004 to 2010. Much of this additional ODA was destined for Sub-Saharan Africa where, despite a strong increase in other inflows (like foreign direct investment and domestic resources), aid still makes an important contribution to government revenues. 

Dambisa Moyo, a long time Afri-aid skeptic, in her damning indictment on aid to Africa writes that ‘Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time — millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year.

To this day, I am still wondering why global nations have to make aid commitments to Africa. Are they morally obligated to do so? My bone of contention with aid is not around its existence. It is about its use and application around the African continent.

Over a period, in Africa, governments, and non-profit organizations have perfected the art of polishing their ‘beggar’s bowls’ in anticipation for aid. Flowery language is used, imminent cataclysm and Armageddon is mentioned as a possible effect of constrained aid flows. Some African bureaucrat, non-profit institutions, and hordes of other aid dependent actors have developed and perfected the art of aid seeking.

The perfected aid of aid seeking has one major flaw, the art of aid seeking has a donor orientation. Beneficiaries of financial aid flow dance to donor’s every tune, hum to every high note and bend every moral principle to appease the donor. Donor orientation means that intended beneficiaries of aid never really benefit, supposed beneficiaries of aid never get the chance to define their development aspirations. Beneficiaries of aid are never allowed to share their priorities.

Aid to Africa, no matter the altruistic intentions, has never helped communities, and it certainly enfeebles the capacity of communities to extricate themselves from poverty. Aid entrenches dependence, not self-dependence which seriously affects the capacity of communities to depend on themselves.

The biggest question around Afri-aid is a moral question. Aid is a forceful misappropriation of resources from ordinary taxpayers in developed economies to greedy bureaucrats in Africa.


African governments need to rethink their development strategies. They need to refocus and place emphasis on the development of local capacity, not window dressing for donor appeal.