Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

Foreign Aid FAQs – #6 “Their own government should help them”

It is without a doubt true that governments should help their own people. However, this phrase is often used to mean that the welfare of people living overseas is a problem for their own government to deal with and no-one else.

The problem with this idea is that the concept of each government having absolute responsibility for taking care of their citizens only really works if each state is equally capable of doing this. In reality, because of accidents of geography and the course of history, some states have more capacity to look after their citizens than others.

For example, in 2009 the UK was able to collect the equivalent of $13,806 in tax per person. Compare this with even a relatively affluent developing country like Brazil which – with an almost identical tax rate – collected just $3,957 per person.[1] This enormous difference in tax receipts means that the UK is far better placed to take care of its citizens than Brazil is. The point of foreign aid is to get all countries to the stage where they can collect enough tax to ensure the welfare of all their citizens.

In many cases, developing countries are struggling to overcome poverty because of the actions of developed countries such as the UK. Climate change, disproportionately caused by developed countries, is disproportionately affecting developing countries. Climate change adaptation is already a significant cost for many developing countries, costing Sub-Saharan African countries a total of $10.6 billion a year.[2] It seems only fair that the UK assists with this cost.

Furthermore, the present wealth of the UK is built on the profits of imperialism, which held back the development of many present-day developing countries. Foreign aid is not just an act of charity, but well-deserved compensation for these wrongs.

There are also pragmatic reasons why the UK should continue to send aid to developing countries. It is an excellent way to improve foreign relations and, after all, the aid recipients of today are the trading partners of tomorrow. Helping other countries to develop also contributes to the creation of a more stable world, as states plagued by poverty and inequality are much more likely to be unstable.

Additionally, it is a way to reduce immigration. People born in poor countries are driven by the perfectly natural impulse to seek out a better life for themselves and their family, which often leads them to attempt to move to a wealthier part of the world. Improving the quality of life in their home country therefore reduces the incentive for them to emigrate.

“But what about corrupt dictators and despots?”

Given the examples of Robert Mugabe and other dictators dripping in wealth while the majority of their population struggles to get by, it’s tempting to think that if only these tyrants were toppled, their countries’ problems would be solved. However, more often than not they would simply be replaced by an equally corrupt dictator and these countries would still be poor. Dictators don’t just occur because of individual immorality, but because there are structural factors in place in poor countries which allow dictatorships to easily take hold.

The leader of a poor country essentially has two choices as to what to do with the limited amount of public money at their disposal: use it to improve the lives of their citizens (building roads, hospitals, etc.) or use it to enrich themselves and their key supporters. A good leader would of course use it for the former, but these kinds of leaders tend not to last long. All money spent on helping the public is money which an opportunistic rival can promise key supporters should they replace the current leader. If all dictators around the world were immediately deposed and replaced with benevolent rulers, there would still be plenty of rivals waiting in the wings to take the reins of power – and the opportunities for self-enrichment that come with them.

Part 1 (clip ends at 4.30)

Part 2 (clip ends at 13.30)

When we talk about ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries, it doesn’t refer to how much currency they have. Rather, it refers to how productive their economies are. Developed countries like the USA and Japan are rich because their economies have a large proportion of high-productivity industries such as manufacturing, which produce a comparatively large amount of value in a short period of time. This means that workers receive higher wages and the government collects more tax which it can then invest back into the economy.

Developing countries are poor because a greater proportion of their economies are occupied by low-productivity industries such as textile production, agriculture and mineral extraction. One of the objectives of foreign aid is to help developing countries to transition from low-productivity economies to high-productivity ones.

Improving the productivity of developing countries’ economies can actually help to reduce the chances of despots hoarding the nation’s wealth for their own benefit. In a relatively poor country which relies on a few low-productivity industries (e.g. oil or mineral extraction), rulers can get by just keeping the small number of people which run these industries happy. As economies become more productive and therefore reliant on a greater number of industries, rulers must keep a greater number of people happy in order to remain in power, and are therefore set on the path from dictatorship to democracy.

By giving developing countries the nudge they need to reach this productivity threshold, foreign aid can pave the way to democracy and bring about a world where every government is willing and able to help their own people.

[1] fusiontables.google.com/DataSource?docid=1cWAzCSaIBlgUpWJBFXslH31NLh6bCfrn6mvtCA#rows:id=1
[2] www.healthpovertyaction.org/wp-content/uploads/downloads/2014/08/Honest-Accounts-BRIEFING-webFINAL.pdf


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Freedom from Tyranny

Freedom from Tyranny

Two armoured vehicles were parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20 km from the city.  The news was received with scepticism and confusion. A military coup taking place in Zimbabwe seemed premature at best. But it was true. Reports that after 37 years, the Mugabe regime had come to an end were greeted with celebrations all around the world. Only a few days earlier, Zimbabweans had been infuriated when one of the President’s sons filmed himself pouring hundreds of pounds worth of champagne over his diamond-encrusted wristwatch, all the while unemployment remains high and the health system collapses.

Reactions from politicians were muted and calm at the time. Britain’s foreign minister refused to be drawn into the Mugabe succession debate, but instead called for free and fair elections to be held as scheduled next year. Chair of SADC (Southern African Development Community) and South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma sent an envoy into Zimbabwe and is believed to have talked to Mugabe whilst calling for calm and restraint. African Union chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged the crisis to be resolved in a responsible manner, but also argued that the AU was against “any unlawful takeover of power anywhere on the continent.”

Zimbabwe celebrates as Robert Mugabe resigns / BBC News

Amid the joy of now having ended the 37-year rule of Mugabe, there was some sense of caution. Zimbabwe’s armed forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga, had kick-started a process that means Zimbabwe is now one of 40 African countries that have seen coups. Chiwenga held a press conference attacking the manoeuvres by Grace Mugabe that took Emmerson Mnangagwa from the post of vice-president proclaiming that, “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” Three days later, General Sibusiso Moyo read out a statement on the state broadcaster stating, “What the Zimbabwe defence forces are doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent event.”

The rationale the army is using to justify their actions creates more questions about the future of Zimbabwe than answers. Zimbabwe has been in free fall politically and economically since the late 1990s, reaching fever pitch in 2008 after it is believed Mugabe had lost the presidential elections. Why did the army not intervene during the 2008 general election period, to pacify an unstable political situation which left more than 100 … dead, 200-plus abducted and missing, hundreds more jailed on spurious charges, thousands beaten and tens of thousands forced from their homes? Was the death of so many people in 2008, not a “degenerating political, violent event” as stated by Major General Moyo? There were also a number of reports that in 2008 instead of stopping the violence during that period, Chiwenga reportedly told Mugabe, ‘We can’t lose elections. We can’t hand power to the MDC. We are going to obliterate them,” amid reports that Mr Mugabe was going to accept defeat.

Chiwenga’s statement read at the press conference blatantly reinforced the army’s argument which they have repeated every election year since the rise of the opposition in Zimbabwe, that they will not accept, let alone support or salute, anyone without liberation war credentials. The opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai criticised this logic in 2002, saying it was tantamount to intimidation.

Many people will argue that the country has got rid of the biggest obstacle to democracy and peace by the ending the Mugabe regime. However, the replacement chose by ZANU-PF assisted by the army could continue the situation Zimbabwe has been in for the last few decades. The belief among academics and analysts who know of Emmerson Mnangagwa is that there is a little chance that he will walk away from power after two terms (according to Zimbabwe’s constitution) after he is sworn in today in Harare.

Zimbabweans will celebrate the end of the Mugabe regime and rightly they should after all these decades. For many Zimbabweans, Grace Mugabe becoming president would have been the worst thing to happen for the country. However, the army has taken away a raw moment of celebration and freedom from the Zimbabwean people and given them an illusion which could dissolve into more years of despair. Emmerson Mnangagwa did not receive the nickname ‘the crocodile’ for his pacifist persona. As history has shown us, coup leaders don’t always live up to the promise of instilling democracy, and many coups result in an upturn in human and constitutional rights abuses.

Find out more:

Zimbabwe is free of Robert Mugabe, should the world celebrate? | The Economist
https://youtu.be/UOmtHF_61DE

 


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John Rawls & International Development

John Rawls & International Development

In 1971 John Rawls published ‘A Theory of Justice’, this book focused on the idea of distributive justice, the two principles of justice and the ‘veil of ignorance’. Here, Conall Brown explores the relationship between Rawls work and international development.

John Rawls book ‘A Theory of Justice’ is somewhat of a more modern Beveridge Report and his theories are incredibly important and influential in the realm of international development, his legacy can be seen in the sustainable development goals of the United Nations and also in the work of the United Nations Development Programme. These organisations put Rawls philosophy in practice in trying to end poverty, improve worldwide educational standards and ensure peace and freedom for all citizens of the world; this is the philosophy of Rawls.

Rachel Tan/Creative commons license
Rachel Tan/Creative commons license

One of the primary ideas, or thought experiments, of Rawls is the veil of ignorance; imagine you are entirely conscious and aware of our world and all its brilliance and horrors, but unborn and with no control of where you will be born, your class, your race, your gender, whether you live in a suburb of an American city, a favela in Rio or are born into war in Syria, Libya, Iraq, Palestine, Somalia, Afghanistan or Pakistan. Would you take that gamble? In a society where the top 1% owns nearly half of the world’s wealth, where 860 million people live off less than $2 a day? No. You’d want to better your odds, to change the world: this is what John Rawls wanted us to see.

Our world needs changing, the veil of ignorance shows us this. But how? How can we possibly have any impact on the lives of 7 billion people, how can we increase access to education, tackle poverty, climate change and world hunger all at the same time? When put into these terms the task of international development, of bettering our species seems daunting and nigh on impossible, but this is not the case. In 1990 almost 2 billion people were living on less than $2 a day, that has more than halved now; we can learn from the writings of Rawls to better our world by following his two principles of justice.

Rawls two principles of justice, liberty and equality (of opportunity), must be the principles of all development policies. Liberty is the first principle of justice, without it there can be no justice. Therefore, if we take a Rawlsian perspective of international development the first goal should be liberty, not poverty reduction. In practice this would look like not praising an administration that represses, tortures and imprisons its citizens at will, and not delivering speeches praising its totalitarian ruler Sultan Qaboo Bin Said because we place oil above the liberty of our fellow human beings. Without basic civil liberties nothing else really matters, but with basic civil liberties and a government that works for the benefit of its citizen’s development is a possibility.

International development is arguably best achieved through domestic democratic reform.  South Korea and Japan are both fantastic examples of this, the introduction of democracy into their society led to economic development and prosperity; North Korea on the other hand has no liberty, and is punished by the international community for this and suffers economically as a result. Therefore, we can learn from Rawls that the main goal of international development should be spreading liberty and democracy, because this must be achieved before poverty can be reduced.

Rawls second principle of justice, equality of opportunity, or the social and economic

Chris Devers/Creative commons license
Chris Devers/Creative commons license

mechanisms of society to be structured to benefit the disadvantaged; has arguably been put into place in western countries with affirmative action programs, LGBT rights and welfare programs with relative success. However, in the developing world this principle will be far harder to achieve so long as the rulers of developing countries remain corrupt, greedy and repressive. Therefore, we must return to our first principle: liberty. We cannot flood countries with foreign aid that doesn’t actually go to the people in need of our aid, as corrupt rulers keep it for themselves. It is pointless and simply stupid to spend billions in foreign aid so Jacob Zuma can build an extension to his house.

We are seeing a constant repetition of US policies in the Philippines, where the US propped up a corrupt government, had to intervene in a war, exploited the Filipino economy for their own benefit, flooded the country with billions of dollars that lined the pockets of government officials and eventually just gave up on the country. If this pattern sounds familiar, then you’ve most likely heard of a region in the world known as the Middle East. On the other hand, US policy in Japan placed personal freedoms and democracy first, just as Rawls advises, and today Japan is the third largest economy in the world while the Philippines is thirty third. It’s almost impossible to find a modern example of the Japanese model or an example of a successful military intervention or UN mission, our leaders have failed to learn from Rawls the importance of liberty for development.

This shows that Rawls has been proven correct in his ordering of the two principles of justice; and the veil of ignorance is one of the best thought experiments ever devised for identifying the ills of our world. Now we have both a tool to identify the world’s ills and an idea of how to solve them, all that remains is the task of enacting Rawls philosophy into practical policies.

Easier said than done.

 

 

 


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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A Defense of British Foreign Aid

In recent years, the attitude towards Britain’s vast foreign aid budget has been defined by growing derision and suspicion. In this article, Matthew Peacock looks at the arguments being put forward by those against the budget and whether their claims are factually viable. 

Britain’s commitment to foreign aid has been a pillar of governmental policies for decades. On leaving office in July 2016, the former Prime Minister David Cameron stated that his “proudest achievement” was the increase and distribution of foreign aid under his premiership.  In 2014, we were the first G7 nation to meet the UN target of contributing 0.7% of GDP on foreign aid, spending around £11.7bn in that year alone. However, this commitment has never been more under threat. With Cameron resigning from office and the rise of more right-wing leaning elements in the Conservative Party as well as the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), xenophobia, protectionism and contempt towards foreign aid ideals is rife.

The predominate argument made by opponents of mass foreign aid, are that the sizeable majority of the British population do not want to see their taxes be spent on other countries. This was summed up by former UKIP MP, Mark Reckless in 2014, where he stated to fellow Members of Parliament that “members would do well to realise that the extent of the disconnect between what they want to do and what their constituents want is nowhere higher than in the area of overseas aid”. It’s an argument that certainly carries weight; it would be in contempt of democracy if MPs consistently ignored the views and wishes of their constituents. But is this opposition to foreign aid truly widespread? Whilst Reckless used a 2013 YouGov poll which found that 66% of respondents wanted to decrease the foreign aid budget to support his arguments, a 2015 Eurobarometer poll found that 67% of respondents supported the pledge to increase the foreign aid budget. Consequently, it is too simplistic to claim that the British population collectively want to diminish or undermine foreign aid. In fact, there are sections of the electorate that actively want it increased.

DFID/Creative Commons License
DFID/Creative Commons License

So why do those that oppose the foreign aid budget have an overwhelming sense of scepticism towards it? Well, it is largely drawn from the perceived notion that it is being mis-managed and instead of going to those who really need it, it is instead going to corrupt governments and greedy non-governmental organisations. This was supported by Jonathon Foreman, a senior research fellow at Civitas, in an interview with the BBC in 2013, in which he claimed that the response to dealing with humanitarian issues “should not just be a matter of boosting the overall aid budget or of handing more money to institutions that we know are likely to steal it, waste it or give it to the wrong people”. This claim is highly contestable, as well as generalising developing countries into corrupt and inefficient regimes. Whilst it is clear that some are, many are improving their infrastructure through economic development and foreign backing from countries such as the UK. It is a firm favourite, though, of Right-wing Establishment newspapers, such as the Daily Mail and the Murdoch titles, to find outrageous stories of foreign aid calamities which may have some ties to our aid budget and undermine the progress being made. Stories emerge of British taxpayers funding Morrocan water-parks and Ethopian “Spice Girls”, with the true story so twisted and muddled by the media that foreign aid appears trivial and abused. Naturally, these stories dominate the headlines.

DFID/Creative Commons License
DFID/Creative Commons License

But no economic system of distribution is perfect, without inefficiencies slipping through the net. The benefits that the billions of pounds of foreign aid bring about far outweigh the misspent money that represents a minute portion of the aid budget. Furthermore, there have been steps made to combat the money being sent out unnecessarily. Jonathan Tanner, a media and public affairs manager at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), stated in 2013 that there is now “an independent aid watchdog that produces regular reports on whether the effectiveness of aid spending puts pressure on decision makers to get things right.” It is an understandable frustration from skeptics of aid in a time of austerity to see taxpayer’s money being sent abroad. With increasing checks and scrutiny on where the money is actually going, hopefully one of the most significant qualms that many have with foreign aid can be diminished.


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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New Year’s Resolutions: Mandela’s Lessons

New Year’s Resolutions: Mandela’s Lessons

Historical figures pass away, but the world – after mourning – moves on. As we enter the second month of 2014, Sabrina Marsh examines what today’s political leaders can learn from the legacy of the late Nelson Mandela.

Nelson Mandela by David Flores
© JulieFaith/Creative Commons

Nelson Mandela was a worldwide symbol of the apartheid struggle and a key transformative figure of the last century. As the world continues to pay tribute to one of the great leaders in human history, Africa’s heads of state should use this period of reflection to learn from his legacy. Mandela taught the world much about leadership, forgiveness and courage. However, we must recognise, too, his inevitable limitations. Africa faces many challenges: the people of South Africa, and Africa as a whole, continue to suffer from internal violence and economic dislocation, and pressing poverty remains. The continent’s leaders would do well to take on board these three resolutions for 2014. Keep reading →


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Cambodia election 2013: support people, not parties

After Cambodia’s fifth general election on Sunday, DiA blogger Joe Buckley asks who really sticks up for the poor in the country’s political system

Who sticks up for Cambodia's poor? Photo by mistagrrr/ Creative Commons
Who sticks up for Cambodia’s poor? Photo by mistagrrr/ Creative Commons

On Sunday, Cambodia held its fifth ever general election. The winner is no surprise: Hun Sen, the rather authoritarian leader of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), remains as the county’s Prime Minister, extending his 28 year rule. But the number of seats that the CPP has in the National Assembly, Cambodia’s parliament, has been reduced significantly, from 90 to 68 out of 123. The Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), the country’s main opposition, has won 55 seats. Keep reading →


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“I have never seen so much enthusiasm and happiness in people’s eyes when they cast their vote”: reports from the historical Pakistan elections

This weekend Pakistan went to the polls to hand over power, for the first time in the country’s history, from one civilian government to another. Mohammed Ahmed considers the change that Pakistan needs and explores how the nation has dealt with such a historic event

Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib
Voters queue up outside a polling station in Karachi, Pakistan. Photo by Naj Sakib

The Islamic Republic of Pakistan went to the polls on 11 May in what has been called one of the most historic elections in the country’s 65 years of independence.

A nation that has an entangled history of military rule has served its first full term civilian government headed by the husband of the late Benazir Bhutto, President Asif Ali Zardari.

Keep reading →


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Kenya elections: ethnicity and sovereignty stand out

In March, the world stood by, shocked as Uhuru Kenyatta, due to face trial at the International Criminal Court, won the presidential elections in Kenya. DiA blogger Rashlin Bhachu explores the strategy behind Kenyatta’s campaign and what this says about the east African country

Kenyans queue to elect in this year's polls. Photo by DEMOSH
Kenyans queue to elect in this year’s polls. Photo by DEMOSH

Never before has an election in recent African history been watched with such close scrutiny.  The political strata was keen to see who would lead the East African nation after the Kibaki era, the development sphere feverishly prepared for any violence that would erupt and the business sector hoped for a smooth running to protect a steady GDP. Keep reading →


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.

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