Cut Foreign Aid — and Make Poverty History
In an open letter to the newly formed Coalition government in August 2010, Andrew Mwenda, editor of the Independent newspaper in Uganda, urged Andrew Mitchell, then Secretary of State for International Development, to halt Britain’s “half-century-long experiment with ‘development aid’, which has, since its inception, stunted growth and subsidised bad governance in Africa.” Mwenda concluded: “The British have a unique opportunity to cut the deficit and help Africa. Please, ask your government to stop your aid.”
Far from listening to Mwenda and his co-signatories, the Coalition has clung to its commitment to raise the budget for development aid, largely disbursed by the Department for International Development (DfID), to 0.7 per cent of GDP, some £11 billion by the end of the present parliament. This policy — reaffirmed by David Cameron at the United Nations in September — is Britain’s contribution to “official development aid” (ODA), as distinct from emergency relief or the approximately £1.1 billion donated voluntarily to UK charities for overseas work. If the policy is not popular with African intellectuals such as Mwenda, it certainly reflects the establishment view in the West. While Live Aid in the 1980s raised money for famine relief in Ethiopia, the purpose of the Live 8 concerts organised around the world in 2008 to coincide with the meeting of the G8 nations in Edinburgh was to stimulate public demand for an increase in ODA in general — an ambition heralded by the hard-hitting if vacuous slogan “Make Poverty History”.
Predictably enough, this abundance of public money has given rise to something of a feeding-frenzy among the specialist consultancies, NGOs and commercial contractors operating in the “humanitarian sector”. “There’s lots of money!” Graham Hand, a former British ambassador to Bosnia and Algeria, announced to a “networking reception” for such organisations in London in September. “We’ve all got money! They’ve signed treaties so they have to give out the money!” Or as UK Trade and Investment, Whitehall’s export promotion department, puts it, “Aid-funded business is about win-win: British companies win the business, the aid agency funds a sound project and the developing country gains a sustainable asset.”
This new wave of public funding has created opportunities for senior civil servants to move into positions in privately-owned — though publicly-funded — consultancies and NGOs, where salaries and perks far exceed the civil service payscale. According to recent investigations by the Daily Express and Sunday Telegraph, some development professionals have been making hundreds of thousands of pounds a year in this way, in one case more than £1.2 million.