I may not be best placed to say this, as an expat wife living in Africa - but when I hear on the radio that the new UK Government have pledged NOT to cut foreign aid to developing countries, but instead will look to make cuts in other areas of public spending (IE nurses pay), my blood boils. In fact, absolutely HUGE cuts can be made in development budgets. After eleven years of living around here, I know that the sheer waste in this area makes you want to cry.
Having spent time working in the UK Department for International Development in Africa (as local hire) - I have seen this. Overpaid UK consultants spend tax payers money on personal allowances, breather visits, business class flights. They are cushioned from the society they are supposed to be working in. They get driven around by drivers in air-conditioned pool cars and 'work with local governments' ie. wait around for meetings, talk the talk, walk the walk. But what do they actually achieve? Sadly, they very often just make the very rich, even richer - then get posted on to somewhere else.
Complacent, perhaps sometimes complicit and without adequate purpose invested in their work life, consultants find themselves endlessly whinging about which colleague has the nicest rented house, or the latest DFID funded furnishings, or who has a swimming pool. Small things take on large importance. Work wise, all they have to do is spend taxpayers' money and when that goes astray, or huge amounts get shockingly stolen, then it's a pat on the back and,
'Oh well, you did your best mate. Never mind. If you feel blue, then how about shifting to another overseas posting for a cushy life in the sun?'
Last weekend I spoke to someone who works at DFID now - she says the situation is the same as when I worked there. Apparently consultants have recently been told that they don't get to fly business class any more (they are furious) - but she said, so many more cuts can be made! It's still a shocking state of affairs where money flies around and is wasted.
Aid to developing nations in Africa does not work.
Everybody shouts this staring fact from the roof tops but the message is simply not getting through to anyone. Not Bono, not Bob Geldof. I guess that the root of the problem is that policy makers in UK and the USA simply have no personal experience of the overseas development gravy train.
The situation now is that overseas aid has fostered a hand-out culture in developing nations which has now tragically become a way of life from top to bottom. Local people who have spent decades watching foreigners with foreign ideas come and go with devastating speed, have become understandably mercenary about this - and have become dishonest, taking what they can from the situation while it lasts. The aid giver is usually shocked that locals are willing to take money from a needy cause and profit from it - but after all this time, I can actually understand it.
I know why the UK Government has pledged not to cut foreign aid budgets. It's for the popularity vote. Saying 'don't give them anything' is mean and to say, 'a kinder thing to do would be NOT to give' will not win votes. But this decision is madness and again shows that there is not much understanding of the situation.
You know how it is. When someone shakes a tin at you and asks you to give to a charity, it's very hard to say no. There are adverts on TV showing a poor African child and they say;
'just £10 or $10 will make all the difference to this child's life - (and by the way, there you are wasting your money on frivolous things so you can feel guilty too!)'
But the problem is so much more complex. In this case, because so little money ever reaches the people who need it most (because of all the intermediaries who have made collecting aid money a way of life) money can and has made lives worse.
I know, because there is normally someone outside our supermarket doing just this.
'please give to our small project promoting HIV awareness amongst school children' etc. etc. etc.
I have absolutely no problem with this - unless....... and I'm going to be totally frank here, unless there is a white face behind it. And that is where things go very skewed.
This is the reality: What you may not know is that most projects in Kenya, and there are absolutely thousands of them, last less than five years. Foreigners tend to helicopter in and out for short periods trying to do good work, get disillusioned, find they are getting systematically ripped off by canny, worldly wise local intermediaries then they bail out. It's rare to see foreigners make a long term go of a project - and generally, a charity or project only works effectively when somebody is willing to give up their normal life overseas and dig in for the long haul - giving total, on-hand, 100% commitment.
There is a cycle: - A foreigner arrives in a developing country wants terribly to 'help' - enthused, they set up a project and manage fairly easily to raise money - then things start going wrong - money is wasted or stolen - their personal security is compromised - the authorities bully and try to close you down (usually targeting the soft touch in search of a bribe) - the giver is tired, but still tries to make it work - more time passes, more threats, more wastage and finally the project is closed down and everybody goes back to the way they were before, but next time, a little harded by the experience.
I mustn't rant anymore - sorry everyone. I don't mean to be a terrible cynic but there are very much better ways of helping and really Britain needs to sort out it's dreadful deficit. So why not cut the handouts and work on Trade not Aid?