The Dilemma of Vulnerability: Risks of Increased Foreign Aid in Africa

Updated on February 1, 2020

Forged Humanitarianism in the Wake of Globalization

The history of foreign aid can be seen in the structural period of West and World War 2. This is partially highlighted in Polanyi (2001) study which highlights the differences between foreign aid during the Marshall Plan era and the expansion of foreign aid in African states. The author argues that in the case of the West, foreign aid was treated as a means of self-help, in which an emphasis on property rights, social mobility and the improvement of the free market. These ideologies, according to Polanyi (2001) further industrialized the West and enabled them to take advantage on Neo-liberalism, which is defined by Thorsen and Lie (2010) as the belief that nations should avoid intervening in the economy, and instead enable people to dictate their participations in a free market state.

As a result, African leaders were given aid on conditions of adopting neo-liberalism with the calm that industrialization would be an ideal development catalyst, but not for poverty eradication as claimed. However, soon after adoption, neo-liberalism seemed irrelevant due to culture and traditions that were communal rather than individual, and in order to keep on aid flowing, African leaders pretended to be neo-liberals while in practice, they actually embraced communalism (Keri Phillips, 2013). The article, therefore, further contends that political and economic implications of these techniques and privatization that left the government with the dilemma of adopting neo-liberalism, while maintaining its culture and traditions, which were often communal, rather than individual, thus, diluting and alienating the original goal for poverty eradication.

The original logic behind aid from the west was to drive poor economies into capitalistic system so that they can depend on their natural resources and skills for economic growth. However, according to Firoze, on his argument on the topic “Should the West stop giving aid to Africa?”, the manner in which aid is provided has not challenged the relationship between the West and Africa that has emerged over the centuries to the disadvantage of majority of Africans, as for over 50 years people and resources have been exploited to develop the West. Walter Rodney stated in 1975 that, “Africa helped to develop the West in the same proportion as the West helped to underdeveloped Africa”. It has been established by the Kenyan activist, Firoze Manji that, Africa encounters a net loss of more than US$ 85 billion every year in its miserable relationship with the West. According to him, Africa receives about $133.7 billion yearly in form of foreign aid, grants, loans, remittances but it losses over $191,9 billion yearly in the form of debt repayment, abnormal profits mad e by multinational companies, brain drain, illicit financial flows, and illegal extraction of resources and mineral. This clearly indicates that Africa suffers a net loss of $85billion on yearly basis to the West – meaning that Africa is indirectly aiding the West (Manji F. & Yanguas P., 2018).

The neglect of culture and traditions by the enforcement of neo-liberalism is inevitably evident that the notion of foreign aid was geared towards neo-colonialism. This was quickly understood by the founding President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who openly rejected neo-colonialism by embracing self-reliance under his Ujuma policy (socialism) and Kwame Nkrumah who formend Pan-Africanism to counter the effects of neo-colonialsim. Unfortunately, the Ujuma policy in Tanzania died after the death of Mwalimu Nyerere, probably due to influence from the West and Tanzania was fluked by Non-governmental organizations, grants among other short term benefits of foreign aid. Today, Tanzania is one of the heavily dependent countries on foreign aid in Sub-Saharan Africa since the departure of Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (Albiman MM, 2016). It receives over $1b annually to counterbalance some of its payment deficits and in 2010 -2011, 33% of Tanzania’s government spending was financed by foreign aid.

Equally, Pan Africanism almost disappeared together with the disappearance of African founding fathers like Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Kenneth Kuanda of Zambia, Patrice Lumumba of the former Zaire among others (Kesa Pharatlhatlhe, 2018). The only remaining die-hard of Pan-Africanism is the former President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. He fought neo-colonialism until the modern era, when he got ousted through a well coordinated effort of the neo-colonialists (Britain and the US).

In order to trick Africa into the addiction trap-wire of foreign aid, the west increased foreign aid magnificently in the form of humanitarian and development aid. This massive investment has totally mad Africans vulnerable in all aspects of development.

As a result, Africa became too dependent to an extent that it could not support itself today in any critical emergency situation or even in a mere local development initiative. Over-dependency Is the main reason today as to why almost all government programmes are directly or indirectly supported by foreign aid; world bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF). International organizations like USAID. The vulnerability level has gone so far that Africa is almost breathing through NGOs mainly from the West. Other smaller economies have even started intervening in life-saving situations – making Africa, an attraction point for foreign mercy or sympathy. Thus, Africans were forced into Africa into the world order of transitional capitalism that tragically conflicted the way of life in Africa, and has consequently put Africans behind the development spectrum as it will never compete favorably with the rest of the world unless the development vice of foreign aid is scraped off and Africa to re-start its own development path afresh

Vertical Compulsion of Africans Into Everlasting Poverty

Foreign aid was rhetorically viewed as a speedy agent of development for ending human suffering caused both man-made and natural disasters. This has been the reason for the two separate types of aid (emergency aid under the humanitarian response aid programs and the aid for longtime development goals. However, these purposes are rarely met as aid is attached to strings and as a result, the aid itself ends up with the leaders for their selfish interest. Corruption among aid agencies has grown so high that has virtually put the relevance of aid in question. The corruption hierarchy starts form the top to the bottom along the extension of aid to the poor people. National policy makers normally diverts a huge percentage, local authority takes its share before approving any project and the implementing staff also cannot withhold the temptation to steal aid since stealing started right from the top, and virtually peanuts gets to the intended beneficiaries.

Further still, aid agencies like the USAID are just a cover to deceive Africans about the generosity of the West. This is because; they employ normally highly paid staff direct from their country and make procurements from their own companies. They benefit more than the poor as an expert, for instance, is paid $20,00 – $30,000 monthly salary apart from the range of allowances; risk allowances, housing allowances, transport allowances etc. Yet national employees like project field officers sometime get paid monthly salaries of less than $1,000 each. This clearly shows that aid is not as humanitarian as it claims. It’s just a tool to spread western neo-colonialism to make the poor countries poorer for control purposes.

The other reason to believe that aid is a colonial strategy is the fact that the approaches to be used in a funded project are determined by the funding agency or country. In most cases, these strategies are foreign, hostile to some cultural believes and does not reach its goal, but it’s just a way of imposing western ways of doing things in Africa (imperialism). In fact they have successfully achieved their target as most aspect of African life are westernized even to an extent that some African girls tried turning their skin colors to white by use of cosmetics. In most urban centers in Africa, the lifestyle is often western; language, foods, behaviors and even perceptions. This evidently tells the impact of foreign aid among other means like media propagandas, education and some international stipulations like those imposed on the international declaration of human rights in spreading imperialism in Africa and unfortunate parts of the world.

Regrettably, the phenomenon of foreign aid has lately given other developed countries the opportunity to exploit Africa the more. A telling example is Chine. The Chinese massive investment in Africa is not development-oriented at all but an exploitative strategy laid upon the poor economies in unequal exchange for resources. China’s foreign aid expenditure globally has increased swiftly from $631 million in 2003 to $ 3 billion in 2015. The white paper on China – Africa and Economic Cooperation indicated that from 2009 to 2011, China’s financial injections to Africa has risen by an annual rate of 20% (China Africa Research Initiative, 2019). This increment is not aimed at either eradicating poverty or pushing Africa forward along the development path, but to ripe more from Africa’s desperate situation. Take for example, the China’s development programs in South Sudan in exchange for crude oil has done more harm than good as South Sudan is practically being robbed at a broad day light as the world watches silently because it’s been defined as bilateral agreement or trade by capitalism or neo-liberalism (W. Wanene C., 2014). It neither has a humanitarian factor nor does it contain any developmental ambition, but just to ensure that China benefits from the oil no matter what it takes.

The pan African movement with its headquarters in Johannesburg, South Africa was formed in 1963 to safeguard the sovereignty and territorial integrity of members states in Africa, but unfortunately, the efforts exerted by the movement to counter neo=colonialism has been futile, probably due to the hidden agenda attached to foreign aid and some of the means mentioned earlier. Pan Africanism was initiated by Kwame Nkrumah to counter the effects of neo-colonialism with the aim of propelling Africa to the heights of the colonialists using the African means, but the well calculated influence of foreign aid plus the rest of the strategies, crippled the aim the entire aim.

Foreign aid to some extent has been so helpful in Africa. This is seen in countries with civil wars like South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Somalia, where aid saved millions of lives of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in dare need of humanitarian support. Most governments in Africa survive because of foreign aid. This is related to aids negative effects of neo-colonialism, dependency and also due to vulnerability caused by war resulting from corruption, bad governance and competition for resources. Most projects in Africa are handled by foreign aid; road construction, school construction, electricity installation, hospital supplies etc. Stopping aid in Africa alone would cause a great human tragedy and keeping foreign aid will make Africa sink deeply forever in the valley of poverty due to resource exploitation, perpetual dependency, controlled by foreign powers and corruption.

From the evidence gathered, the issue of neo-colonialism can be inferred, as African countries were coerced into adopting an economic measure that were in direct conflict with their culture. On the other hand, it can be argued that African states were given a free choice as the measures were not forced upon the states but rather came as a condition only when the aid was requested. However, looking at the differences of the implementation and grant of the foreign aid in both the West and Africa, the West during the Marshall Plan era were not given a set of conditions but merely approached Neo-liberalism as a probable solution, while in the case of African states, neoliberalism was offered as the only solution. This thread of thought can also be seen in Bellucci (2003) paper, which states that African states were required to fit in to the world order of transnational capitalism, with no thought given about the state’s ability to do so. The paper further argues, that this caused a friction and could possible explain the uneven economic progressions within these states, as they were expected to easily adapt to policies that were successful and well suited to the West.

On the other side, when assessing the winners and losers in the equation of neoliberalism and aid in Africa, African elites are often seen as the benefactors of both aid and neoliberalism. According to Bellucci (2003) the elites of African states use the transnational capitalism as a tool to obtain aid by creating falsified social welfare programs, which often are a camouflage for the embezzlement of the external funds for their private gain. Easterly (2003) argues that although neoliberalism conflates with African customs, the promise of economic development and social welfare is often championed by both the public and private sector, which allows the ideology to become more palatable to African citizens. This can be seen in the case study of Ghana, highlighted in Idowu (2012) paper which illustrated the adoption of Jerry Rawlings theory of neoliberalism in the 1990s, the paper highlights that neoliberalism was merged with Nkrumah’s knowledge of the customs of Ghana, which indoctrinated his legacy.

McGillivrray et al. (2001) paper however, illustrates a positive perspective as it states that neoliberalism depicts a civilisation move. The paper highlights that the advancement commodification into the specialties and corners of consistent day by day presence has to a certain extent, reformed the lenses in which labour is observed (McGillivrray et al., 2001). This highlights that neo-liberalism in an African context is the conceptual expression of the transition from an open to a closed economy. From this, it can be inferred that in the modern economic climate, neoliberalism is response to the normal crisis of the terrain; a crisis which has its establishments in the failed post-independence transition from an almost predestined underdevelopment to fiscal headway. On the other hand, it can also be argued that the transitional process in Africa could have lagged in expectations of development as the reformation into a free market was not implemented as quickly as it was anticipated. Drawing from previous points stated in the essay, this can be attributed to the complexities in neoliberalism and its wide differences to African customs. This shows that despite decolonisation, the rise of the free market has not prompted a noteworthy development in Africa but instead cemented the mistreatment of the proletariats who are subjugated by the necessity to survive at the hands of the bourgeoises.

The earliest of criticisms can be seen in the rehabilitation of European countries after the World War. Amid this period the US Government raised concerns over the ability of foreign aid to create overdependency on external funding, reducing the capabilities for European countries to mobilise resources to solve their economic issues (Combs-Orme, 1987). According to Combs-Orme (1987) observations, the State Department stated in their transactions with France, that "Too little consideration is being paid by the members to the components of self-help". As the conversation of foreign aid extended past Europe, different pundits shortly highlighted comparable themes. Right winged theorists such as Friedman (1995) contended that aid negatively impacted the private sector, as by strengthening governmental agents, less focus is placed on fostering an environment for economic growth, thus stifling economic development and the self-reliance of the state. The criticism of overdependency is also echoed by left theorists, Payer (1974) critiques aid through the lenses of capitalism, the paper stipulates that aid creates vested interests from the elite in poor countries, who have been able to use it as a tool to create a state of pernicious dependency, while restricting the aid to the bourgeoises of the society.

Therefore, in conclusion, stopping reliance on foreign aid would never prevent the exploitation of Africa because aid in itself is covered by the seal of humanitarianism, internationalism and humanity, while exploitation comes in its unequal economic alliance with the developed world. Secondly, without supplementing foreign aid with economic recovery, human life supported by foreign aid would have no meaning at all. Therefore, the driving force for discouraging foreign aid should be based on mitigating aid’s direct negative effects of economic dependency, rampart political instabilities, loss of creativity, neo-colonialism and inferiority complex that has virtually put the continent into an undesirable vulnerable position in the globe. In my view, Africans must embrace absolute independency in all spheres of its existence; social welfare, political ideology, development targets and even in the implementation of its progress priorities. This will minimize socio-economic coercion, political interference, and resource exploitation, and this will eventually boast sustainable economic growth only if its engagement in business with the developed world is determined by international trade interests, but not mercy, as in the status quo.


© 2020 Mokili Elias Justin


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    • Bushra Iqbal profile image

      Anya Ali 

      7 months ago from Rabwah, Pakistan

      Thought-provoking article. There is no sincerity in too many of those, Eastern or Western, who're ostensibly trying to help Africa.


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