'Aid is a dirty word, like colonialism'
Interview by Welt-Sichten (World-Views)
2012-01-26, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/567
There are at least a million people in the West who live off the aid
industry. They have a vested interest in perpetuating it. But it will
disintegrate over time and die slowly.
WELT-SICHTEN: You wrote that the aid effectiveness journey since the Paris
Declaration in 2005 was misguided right from the beginning. Why that?
YASH TANDON: Because it was conceptualized by the donors, and not by the
people that were supposed to be assisted. It was not a participatory
project. When it became clear that aid had failed, instead of looking at the
issue in a fundamental manner, the donor countries put the blame of
ineffectiveness on the recipient countries.
WELT-SICHTEN: But the Paris Declaration also calls on the donors to
harmonize their aid policies, to align them to recipient-country systems,
among other things.
YASH TANDON: Those words are deceptive. The five principles of the Paris
Declaration are ideological, one-sided and not enforceable on the donors.
They looked good in a conceptual sense, but the implementation was enforced
only on the recipient countries.
WELT-SICHTEN: You have said that after the High Level Forum in Busan, the
aid industry in itself is finally dead. Why?
YASH TANDON: Well, this industry was nurtured by countries that have used
aid to serve their own political and economic agendas in the south. In fact,
the so-called development aid never did promote development. Since 2005, the
OECD countries and the World Bank have tried very hard to sell the idea of
"aid effectiveness". But the Outcome Document of the Busan Forum does not
mention the word "aid effectiveness". It's gone. Finally, the architects of
the aid industry, namely the OECD countries and the World Bank, have
recognized that they cannot use that word anymore. Aid has become a dirty
word, like colonialism. The result is that the aid industry has no longer
WELT-SICHTEN: By contrast, the Minister of Development in Germany sees a new
beginning: He said that Busan was a basis to "bundle" old and new actors in
development cooperation and to steer them in the same direction.
YASH TANDON: Well, the minister better read the Outcome Document again. It
calls on the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness to dissolve by June 2012.
The words are clear. There is no "rebundling" of aid.
WELT-SICHTEN: But the Outcome Document says that a new Global Partnership
for Development should be established.
YASH TANDON: This new development partnership will not take off the ground
because the ruling classes of Europe and the West have a distorted, an
upside-down, understanding of "development". Let Europe first show that
their "partnership" with the people of Greece takes off the ground before
they offer the same failed strategies to the poor indebted countries of
Africa and the third world.
WELT-SICHTEN: NGOs have said Busan was a compromise: the Outcome Document
left much to be desired, but it was a success that civil society was
recognized as a development partner.
YASH TANDON: The NGOs that came to Busan were not representative of the
global civil society. The overwhelming bulk of them were financed by the
OECD. For the last six years, these guys have been saying the same thing,
namely, that the OECD has compromised but there is a still a lot to be
desired. This is an admission that they have failed to change the "aid
effectiveness" agenda. The NGOs have a self-serving delusion about
themselves: they live in a fool's paradise.
WELT-SICHTEN: So in your view the only purpose of the aid effectiveness
process was to legitimate the apparently ineffective and self-serving aid
industry of the West?
YASH TANDON: That is correct. Of course this industry will not disappear
overnight. There are at least a million people in the Western countries that
live off the aid industry. They have a vested interest in perpetuating it.
It will disintegrate over time and die slowly. When the aid industry started
50 years ago with multilateral and governmental agencies that were providing
financial support to countries that were emerging out of the colonial
period, it was already corrupted. For example, when the World Bank came to
provide the so-called assistance to my country Uganda at its independence in
1962, it came with its own strategy of development. It was not
people-oriented, it was top-down, it was aimed at continuing to serve
essentially the interests of the former colonial powers - namely to export
our primary commodities to them. The whole economic agenda was flawed right
from the beginning. And that agenda was bought into later on by the charity
organisations and the NGOs.
WELT-SICHTEN: But many development NGOs have been strongly criticising the
official aid agenda and the World Bank policy for many years.
YASH TANDON: Yes, but many of them got corrupted over time. For example,
Oxfam started out as a well meaning, well intentioned organisation by people
who wanted to give money as charity to people who were less fortunate than
them. But look at how Oxfam has evolved: it has become a party of the
development strategies pushed by the Western countries. Gradually charity
organisations like Oxfam got sucked into that strategy. They criticised the
effects of it, but at the same time continued pouring money into the same
strategy. And when the OECD worked out this thing about "effective aid", the
NGOs jumped on this agenda as well. Instead of examining this question in
its fundamentals and looking at the root causes of aid ineffectiveness, the
NGOs simply called for even more aid and "better aid".
WELT-SICHTEN: You say that aid has failed. But what's wrong with, for
example, the German development bank KfW financing water supply systems in
WELT-SICHTEN: Why do you call it aid? Just call it business, like the
Chinese and the Indians do in Africa. The Chinese go to Kampala to do
business. They go to the government or the private sector and talk about
investments. Aid, by contrast, is humiliating.
WELT-SICHTEN: So it's better to do it like China?
YASH TANDON: Absolutely. Why hide your commercial and political interests?
Be transparent, just call it what it is. Call it business.
WELT-SICHTEN: Another example: What's wrong with a German Church-based
development organisation working with grassroots partner organisations in
rural Uganda to empower women or poor farmers? That's aid, isn't it?
WELT-SICHTEN: There is a particular kind of relationship I accept: that is a
relationship based on solidarity. But solidarity is a very difficult
concept. If the goal is to help the Ugandan women to empower themselves, by
their own projects, then I would call this solidarity. But the people from
Germany must not impose their values on the Ugandan women. In other words,
if the communities of these women have certain cultural practices, then
solidarity organisations from the West should respect that.
WELT-SICHTEN: Even if such practices conflict with universal human rights?
Should we not encourage women who raise their voices against practices that
violate their human rights?
YASH TANDON: No, this is not your business. The women don't require outside
agencies to "encourage" them, as you put it. My experience from 20 years of
grassroots work in Africa is that the initiatives of rural women in Africa
against oppression are very strong and very strategic. They know what will
work and what will not. If in such a situation a foreign organisation comes
to provide assistance based on the women's own initiatives, then it will
work. By contrast, if an outside agency comes to solve the problem, then you
might create conflicts which the outside organisations cannot manage. All
development is self-development.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS.
* Yash Tandon is a political economist and author of several books on
development economics and aid. Until his retirement in 2009 he was the
Executive Director of the South Centre in Geneva. He was born in Uganda and
now lives in Oxford.
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Received on Wed Feb 01 2012 - 17:01:10 EST