Saturday, 29 April 2017

International Aid and our relationship with Africa

As I put the finishing touches to a book that looks at the differing impacts of social enterprise and charity on our society. I have begun to reflect on the many months of research and how my opinions have changed during my journey to uncover the truth about the real impact of charity both in the UK and in terms of International Aid.

When I talk of International Aid, I am not referring to Emergency Relief where the world, quite rightly gathers its resources to help people recover from natural disaster.  I am really focusing on the continuous annual sums given in aid to the developing world, largely in Africa and what really motivates successive UK governments to continue protecting Aid budgets in a time of unprecedented austerity at home.

What I have found has reformed my understanding of the developing world and the people who are seeking to change it.  As an average Joe I am not presented with an accurate picture of our financial relationship with Africa. We view ourselves as benefactors, giving a handsome sum in charity to people far worse off than ourselves. This is useful for governments as we really shouldn’t be moaning about our hard times in austerity when so many are dying from disease and malnutrition across Africa. The media portrays a nation of selfless altruism and charities continue to show images of horrific poverty and hopelessness.

So why doesn’t it get any better? The truth is that our giving is dwarfed by the amount we take out of Africa.  According to a paper produced by Oxfam for the World Economic Forum, African nations lost around $11 billion in just one tax scheme employed by foreign multinational companies, this is exacerbated by the brain drain and the difficulty in adapting to climate change caused by deforestation, logging and industrial pollution

In 2014, the IMF estimated that Ethiopia was the world's fastest growing economy with growth of more than 10% and many other countries including the Ivory Coast. Tanzania and Mozambique report growth of 7% or more. Uganda’s real GDP growth is expected to reach 5.1% in 2016 but these achievements do not trickle down to most the people owing to the stranglehold many of the country’s political elite.

Africa is beginning to rise from the ashes of its’ tumultuous past but the noose of benevolent, paternalistic, aid-driven development is still firmly around the necks of many entrepreneurs, who are sandwiched between their historically factual imperfections and well-intentioned, road-to-hell-building-do-gooders. It is a suffocating state of existence. To affect change, they must fight for their voices to be respected as well as heard. By failing to accurately portray our true relationship with Africa development organisations prevent the public from determining which political party has the better plan, beyond aid commitments, for tackling the real causes of poverty. 

Outrage against injustice rather than pity for the needy, will give us a better chance of keeping long-term support for the fight against poverty, partly through personal donations, which so many organisations rely on, but also through their pressure on governments to tackle the structural causes of poverty.

In this country, we have seen a huge shift in attitude of multi-national businesses who are now taking their ethical and environmental duty far more seriously because of public pressure.  There is still a very long way to go as the controversy over tax avoidance shows, but it does demonstrate the power of people to effect change through their spending and in this case giving patterns. If we can begin to influence the real struggles of Africa to work in partnership rather than benevolence, we can genuinely claim to be working in solidarity with the people of Africa to support their continent’s struggle against poverty.