carrenhos de chocque em mocambique (required to fight aid worker burn-out)

During my three-month long internship with a small-scale HIV/AIDS non-profit in South Africa, I visited a friend working in Mozambique with an HIV/AIDS activism organization as part of her Peace Corps placement. Beyond the entirely new experience of traveling to Mozambique, I met a very interesting crew of international development/ aid workers who gave me some great insights into who I might want to become if I entered the international development/aid arena. From working on a small operation in East Darfur, Sudan with a religious relief agency, to a technology focused firm constructing health curriculums funded by PEPFAR, to those doing backend all office-based, administrative work for USAID and the Clinton Foundation,  they were all at various stages in their lives and working in very different aspects of  development/ aid work. Some of the volunteers were in their 40s, others just out of college in Peace Corps, some had just come from extremely stressful environments where “guns were like sticks,” while others had just come to complete an internship for their Princeton graduate degree, all in all it was a motley group that gave a compelling snapshot of aid workers and the many directions they can come from and be headed towards.

4 August 2008

After walking from our hotel, my friend and I stopped at a “local” bar named Pirata (Pirate) to meet up with the motley crew of aid workers. We then headed into downtown Maputo for dinner at a restaurant recommended by one of the aid workers who had spent the longest time in and around Maputo (he had serious Mozambique cred). I had a supposedly traditional Mozambican dish of beans, rice, and shrimp which was very delicious or I was just supremely hungry from the day’s 8 hour bus ride from Johannesburg.

The Maputo based aid worker then took us to an odd sort of carnival hidden in what seemed like the middle of Maputo. It was randomly placed and not very large, but took me back to days of my earlier youth when we would visit the noise, lights, and crowds of the church carnival. We all were initially a bit shy about expressing our joy at the sight of children’s carnival games, but soon we were all reveling in the freedom from our assigned professional roles.

As we were the only ones at the carnival late in the evening, we had the whole place to ourselves. We all lined up and filled the bumper cars (carrenhos de chocque). The crackle of the electric wires, childish shouts of aid workers, and huge grins of pure joy made me realize that this should be a required exercise for all aid workers no matter if they are in the USA or based in a foreign country. We all need to take a step back every once in a while and just let ourselves enjoy being uninhibited by things as unimportant as bumper cars so that we can focus on important work.

A note for the future:

We all have to find what it is that helps us keep sharp and focused while also reducing stress, physical and emotional. The best thing to do is to schedule time when you can be unfocused, let loose, and enjoy time unencumbered by tasks, to-do lists, or responsibilities. My current job has a lot of frustrating client cancellations (currently the reason that I can sit and write this), long commutes with driving stress, and odd hours. As individuals who work in the field of aid, global health, and community development, we all want to love what we do, but the reality is that it is often a grind with harsh and far reaching social consequences that can cause us to resent a job. We all need to find those coping mechanisms that allow us to vent and rejuvenate our passions.

 

 

ending charity: alone, is not the answer

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“Giving in its purest form expects nothing in return.” – Anonymous

There are a lot of confusing buzzwords being thrown around these days: ending charity, dead aid, patient capitalism, impatient optimists, and investment over aid. What does it all mean?

My initial thoughts on this subject were spurred by zyOyz founder Steve Jennings’ repost of an article titled: “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty”. Well I agreed with the article’s basic premise that just giving money is not the only solution or the best, I was troubled by the article’s absolute statements that business models and capitalism will save the world.

The article, reposted from the Financial Times, notes the work of the Acumen Fund founded by Jacqueline Novogratz, which invests in small businesses with a social impact termed as “patient capital.” It has become a highly successful model, however Novogratz is quoted as saying: “We need creative approaches to reinvigorate capitalism and make it more inclusive.” The most inclusive business model that I know, with high degrees of success, is the cooperative model based on needs of those involved, inclusion, and participation. Looking at history, capitalism has generated exclusion: great amounts of wealth for many people, but it has also perpetuated extremely flawed systems that create great degrees of poverty for many people. The evidence is in any major city where the consequences of capitalism lay bare the desperation of good people who are left with nothing.

At the root of the article, “Charity alone not the answer to tackling poverty,” is the long-running debate on whether investment is more effective than aid. Professor Bill Easterly made popular the fact (through his book, “White Man’s Burden”) that over $1 trillion in aid has been given to Africa over the last 50 years with limited positive results, Dambisa Moyo has termed this “dead aid” and calls for a complete end of aid to Africa. Others like Bill and Melinda Gates, who have given vast amounts of aid (which they often call “investment”) to Africa with their foundation, label themselves as “impatient optimists.” They are hopeful for the future and want more done at the present time.

However, there is a problem with their impatience that many have critiqued. Impatience tends to push solutions that are ineffective. Ian Wilhelm gets further into this topic in a blog about “irrational aid.” In the post he writes about Alanna Shaikh’s critique of ineffective aid, such as outdated pharmaceuticals and medical equipment that has no use in the field. This argument is countered by Isaac Holeman’s disagreement that well that aid may be irrational, it provides immediate personal stories of need to bring in more donors. I have to agree with Alanna in saying that this irrational, possibly impatient, aid does more harm and basically no good.

How have we now moved from decrying the failures of charity and aid to highlighting the benefits of business models and the capitalist system back again to smiling about greater benefits of monetary investment in people and ideas? Where is the line drawn between investment and aid? As far as I can tell it is mostly semantic. Isn’t aid when transparent, effective, and driven by best practices an investment? Giving an investment is essentially the same as giving aid or charity.

Investment is the buzzword used by social enterprises, microfinance, and has become the new fad in international development organizations. I think that it is important to make a distinction between what is effective and what is not. Aid can be very effective and investment can be very ineffective. The reverse is also true. Where does effective aid change from being a type of investment? When experts talk about the broken aid system do they forget that the broken aid system is merely a reflection of the broken financial system. The same interests and individuals who have run financial systems have run foreign aid systems.

The real issue in this debate need not be if businesses are better than charities or who’s money is better spent. What is most important needs to be the question of, “How?” The systems, structures, and practices that implement aid and drive investment need to be cooperative, inclusive, needs based, and people-centered – in one word: effective. If you are looking for a return on investment (ROI) or accolades for your donated or invested dollars, then maybe you should reconsider why you give?

Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

the chinese influence

The Chinese influence in Africa is a topic that I have been researching for a few years now. I have conducted most of my research by way of news sites and journals in the States and with the help of the internet, but now I have the opportunity to see firsthand the impact of the Chinese influence in an African country. This entry will follow my experiences and insights on how China is involved in Ghana.

The first thing that someone traveling in Ghana will notice is that there are so many Chinese restaurants. They are just about everywhere. Chinese food is almost as prevalent as Ghanaian food. Sadly, the Chinese food is not at all what you would find in America or for that matter China. The menus are often 15 pages long and with only minimally Chinese named dishes. Nevertheless, Chinese restaurants are everywhere. Also in the service industry there are a number Chinese themed hotels that host a number of Chinese tourists and business people. On our walks down East Legon we see them buying bread and other food stuffs at the market.

As some of you may know, China is currently one of the highest (maybe the number one) foreign aid provider. This is often called ‘rogue’ aid because it is not administered through an aid institution without any restrictions on aid usage. This aid is evident in Ghana with a number of projects sponsored by the Chinese government. One day on a tour of Accra, near the Kwame Nkrumah moselium a police escorted motorcade shot through the traffic with a handful of Chinese officials. The wonders of Chinese aid is prominently displayed in the construction of the National Theatre, it was completely funded by the Chinese government. I wonder if there is any linkage between Kwame Nkrumah’s administration and the remaining Chinese connection. During his rule Nkrumah often hosted Chinese officials and received help from China.

The people, the aid, the food, the history is all here. There is a deep worry, that I often agree with, China is seeking to gain natural resources from African countries. They make a number of aid packages for ‘development’ and sign bilateral trade agreements, but what does it all mean? Is China’s motive in Ghana to reach a growing market economy? Is it to cash in on the mineral wealth of Ghana? It cannot be just to build a National Theatre and assist the Ghanaian government with ‘development.’ I really wonder what the specific trade-off for China is.

China is not the only big aider that I have noticed while in Ghana. Iran is sponsoring a number of projects and many of the government ambulances are donated by the Republic of Iran. I will touch more on this in ‘A Snapshot of Health in Ghana.’

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

. . . keep your promise!

Congratulations big sister Molly on graduating from Kettering University! Now the lifelong education starts which no school or curriculum can offer.

At the end of this week we traveled to the Ashanti Region to visit Kumasi and some of the surrounding villages. We began our travels just as the G8 Summit was ending and the news has been all over the importance this summit held for Africa and Ghana.

8 June 2007
The eggs and toast constant has finally been broken with some glorious french toast – syrup, cinnamon, and a delightful change. No one in our group has ever appreciated or enjoyed french toast as much as we did that morning. The heat and sun have also returned from an absence. It has been a rainy and overcast week, but the sun emerged to greet us. Before hitting the road we stopped at the Forex to exchange some money. Aljazeera News was playing and the topic was the G8 keeping promises to African aid. They reported that $25 million is sent to Africa in aid each year, but that there is an $8 million shortfall. During this summit the G8 pledged to give $60 million to fight HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria in Africa. Will these be promises kept?

We hit the road for the 5 hour trek to Kumasi. It would have been a very boring and tiresome ride, but I had my book and BBC radio to keep me company. Top stories included the role of the G8 in keeping promises and African nations also keeping promises, J.A. Kufor, President of Ghana, speaking on behalf of the African Union as chairman asking for G8 commitment, and a stunning story about female genital mutilation (FGM) in Cameroon – a boy ran from home with his younger sister to protest and to protect her from the harmful practice. Their father then went to the village council to plead with them to abandon the practice as it had taken his son and daughter away from him. The village then banned the practice and the children returned home knowing that now many girls would not have to suffer FGM. I had also purchased a novel from the University bookstore, The Last Duty. The book is about the Nigerian Civil War of 1964, which I knew nothing about in all of my studies of Nigeria. The book tells of the war and its effect from six different people’s views, all six are linked, and all six represent a different side of the story – except for the rebel view.

Our first stop before Kumasi was Bonwire village where we visited a Kente cloth weaving shop. We were mobbed by children here and people trying to get us to buy their stuff. It must have been one of those tourist common spots. It was interesting to see all the Kente cloth and Eric, out bus driver, helped me bargain for a Kente cloth tie – very awesome. Some of the sellers were very persistent. One, I forgot his name, stuck with me and haggled me for a long while. He tried to sell me bookmarks, then helped his friends sell me stuff, then asked for money for his grandmother, sister, and himself – the story always changes.

Gracious Living Hostel was situated on a road that I knew well. It was the typical African roads that I had come to know from Uganda and feel always in my hindquarters – not a smooth surface to be found, dust kicked in the air blinding all, and a tense body ready for the next impact. At the hostel there was some trouble with rooms and so we were a bit crowded in the beds, but hey this is Africa, we can deal. Some of us played a card game called ‘peanuts,’ but which I later found out was the game I knew as ‘nertz.’ It reminded me of some great afternoons with Grandpa.

9 June 2007
We began our day with a nice breakfast and went to the Kejeta Market in Kumasi. This is the largest open air market (in the world? in Ghana?). The market was much like Makola market, but much bigger and crazier. It was also much more fast paced and there were narrower alleyways and more grabby stall owners, there was just so much more happening. In the market is where I also witnessed the ‘travels of a t-shirt in the global economy.’ There were many stands sporting the latest Western fashions, but these were obvious imports. There were large groups of people sorting slacks, jeans, and t-shirts from piles of clothes imported from the ‘developed’ world.

Afterwards we headed to the village of Kurofuforum where we learned how brass figurines are made. It is such a long and tedious process with so many steps. It gave us a new appreciation of the artwork. The man showing and teaching us had scars all over his knees and arms and could pick just about anything directly out of the fire – so calloused and hardened by his work. We then went to Bosumtwi Lake. Here we were accompanied by local fishermen on their fishing boats to swim in the lake. The fishing boats are comprised of half of a tree log, that is it. It was a very good workout to paddle all the way to the middle and a joy to swim in the, what felt like, 90 degree water. What a great experience.

10 June 2007
We began today by stopping at an Adinkra village to see how cloth is stamped. We bought a cloth and witnessed some of our professor’s skill at arguing and bargaining in Twi to get a good price. We then all took turns stamping the cloth to take back with us as a reminder of our trip.

We happened to pass the regional bottling station for Coca-Cola in Kumasi. Coca-Cola is the drink of Ghana. It holds about 90% of the soda industry here against Pepsi.

We visited the Royal Court and Palace Museum of the Asantehene, the ruler of Asanteland in the Ashanti Region. No pictures were allowed and the outrageous price for foreigners followed us into the compound. We were first subjected to a propaganda video about the Asante people. The video claimed that the Asante were peace loving people, yet if you look at their history it is clearly evident that they were quite to use violence and were very aggressive people who instigated many conflicts. It was very interesting to learn about the history of the Asante people from the very place where their kingdom resides. It was especially interesting to learn directly about a people that I have studied so much.

On the way back to Accra from Kumasi, BBC doesn’t come in until you get closer to the greater Accra region, I finished my book and was finally able to listen on the BBC to debates about the G8 summit from an African’s perspective as callers from Tanzania and expats from other parts of the world voiced their opinions and reactions. Another interesting story was about the Burma Boys of Nigeria who fought in WWI for the British in Burma. The story was of colonized Nigerians fighting in Burma and being addressed by the Japanese fighters in perfect Hausa, one of the major language groups of northern Nigeria.

This weekend we have seen the greatness of the very western oriented Kumasi and the kingdom of the Asnatehene. We were able to see part of the reason that the British gave Ghana the colonial name of the Gold Coast from the wealth of the Asnate. We have experienced a region deeply rooted in tradition, powerful traditional rulers, and great wars with imperialist countries.

On the way to Kumasi our professor commented on how much has changed since the last year. She noted that there was so much money flowing into the country now as opposed to just a year ago. Is the G8 keeping promises in Ghana? we have passed so many road improvement projects that it is almost as if I am back in Michigan and experiencing the common ‘summer of orange barrels.’ Except that there is no such thing as orange barrels here, there is just random stuff in the road to divert traffic. The money and aid flowing into Ghana makes me wonder if there are any G8 promises not being kept here. The promises for keeping aid promises by G8 countries is rebuttled by the G8 calling for promises to be kept for good governance in Africa, and is again clashed with the argument by many African intellectuals to have foreign countries leave ‘development’ to the Africans.

Check for new pictures of drumming and the Peace Corps in older posts.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

inside africa

It is very interesting to be actually in Africa and get the news about Africa. I am actually in the continent that I have covered and studies so much.

2 June 2007
Woke up at noon from a late Friday night. I jumped in the plan with some other students to go to the Makola market and then the beach. There is just something about Makola market that I love. It is not like the other markets or anywhere else in Accra. It may be crazy and seem very frightening and insane to some people, but I love it. The people are hospitable, they are nice, they are business people. They are there to make an honest sale, to run a business, to get you what you want. Many store owners who do not have what you want will direct you to where you need to go. They will not hold you up and try to get you to buy something that they have like most other places. I did not go to buy anything, but people watching is a favorite pasttime of mine. Sure, I am usually the one being watched, but I have come to find out how to be a less imposing and conspicious Obrooni. I have taken to wearing my flip flops often, as many Ghanaians do, my clothes are not flashy or ‘American,’ I have learned more Twi, and I carry only small bills, nothing larger than 10,000 cedi note ($1 USD). I am still obviously an Obrooni, but now after 3 weeks I am slightly more accepted because I know – to a tiny degree – Ghana.

The next day I watched the CNN special show called ‘Inside Africa.’ From being in Ghana (Africa) and getting the news about where I am is really exciting. Namibia is having troubles with illegal ivory trade, Tanzania is developing its gold production industry with foreign investment, Uganda is constructing a power plant on the Nile, Tony Blair is taking his last official Africa tour. He is calling for the West to keep promises of aid because it is a duty and in self-interest. During his term British aid tripled, and some citizens have called it, “… a waste of English time and tax dollars.” Bono was interviewed about the G8 summit in Germany – as usual he stated to keep the promises. He noted that now in the 21st Century people die from a simple mosquito bite – why? how? He also can see a social movement growing in the US and Europe. Finally in the news, the Nigerian president is sworn in, but are the people really happy with the status quo? In Nigeria 77% of the people live on less than one dollar a day, yet their president is re-elected.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

brand of global health: gates

The new major player on the global health scene is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, but is it possible for two people to become a brand of global health? Is the Gates Foundation really providing aid and investment in the best possible way with their power and influence as a global health ‘brand?’

The Gates Foundation has already become one of the top players in global public health. And with last year’s gift from Warren Buffet, the Foundation is set to double its giving this year. Last year the Gates’ invested $1.36 billion in many different areas of public health, from providing childhood immunizations to agricultural research in developing countries. One of the major priorities is HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, with over $350 million given in grants.

In June of 2006, on NPR’s All Things Considered, Thomas Quinn, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Global Health, and Gerald Keusch, Associate Dean for Global Health at Boston University’s School of Public Health, answer questions about the practices and abilities of the Gates Foundation. They answer questions such as the Foundation’s role with the WHO and UNAIDS, its ability to make a difference, fears of responsibility and being a private foundation, and what the Foundation can do with its billions. I highly suggest checking out the link.

The two simple core values of the foundation’s work are one, that all lives—no matter where they are being led—have equal value, and two, to whom much is given, much is expected. Great values, with which great hope rests upon. Some people do not have as much hope in the Foundation as much of their practices and investment policies are out of date. I will not attempt to try and voice all of the concerns (check out the entry from‘My social life’ on 16 January 2007 Open Letter to the Gates Foundation). Has the Foundation inherited too many of the corporate practices from Mr. Gates to run effectively? Is the Foundation too big to be accountable to the people?

the quest for development; aid to the rescue in ghana

Poverty: a state of being extremely poor; inferior in quality or insufficient in amount; our generation’s greatest problem; the world’s worst disease; a trap. The definition of poverty is one that is not difficult to grasp, yet so many do not understand how or why it plagues our world of riches. Our world is plagued by poverty and, contestably, Africa is the hardest hit due to it’s historical status of being relegated to unimportance. While poverty continues to take lives day after day the power wielding countries, institutions, and agencies argue over a solution. That solution is called development. Leaders, institutions, philanthropists all argue as to how development should be facilitated, what the best facilitator is, and how aid should be implemented. Is aid the best facilitator of economic development to bring an end to poverty?

Almost two years after Ghana’s President received word from the Group of 8 that aid would be increased to Africa, Ghana will celebrate being the first independent African country. Ghana is an African country that was very near economic collapse, but through the process of reform, gained economic stability. The current President is expected to step down after serving two years and it looks as though Ghana’s days of coups and unrest will long be over. Ghana has become an economically stable country by way of economic reform, which brought in foreign aid from the institutions and investment from the rest of the world. This is seen as a limited success as far as African countries. Ghana has shown itself to be a good reformer and much of that success has been attributed to aid. But why is Ghana such an isolated case of the success of aid from institutions?

The Trap or A Missing Right?

Jeffrey Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, claims that there is a poverty trap and that the only way to get out of it is by climbing up the ladder of development. He states that this is the greatest tragedy of our time; that one-sixth of the world is not even on the development ladder. The reason that one-sixth of the world is not on the ladder is because of the ‘poverty trap.’ They are trapped because of many reasons: disease, isolation, climate, etc., but why? Sachs tells us that this one-sixth is trapped because their families and governments lack the financial means to invest in their own development. The world’s poor need to get a foot up on that ladder, but how? How does one invest in themselves?

Capital is the answer to the poor’s problem – at least that is what Hernando de Soto believes. In his research on the ‘mystery of capital’ de Soto claims to have found that all the poor need is access or ability to use the land and property that they reside on. They have material things, but cannot use their land as a resource to create capital. De Soto says that, “Capital is the force that raises productivity of labor and creates the wealth of nations.” The problem here is that governments have to open up their property systems to the poor and many are not inclined to do so. The processes for land ownership are lengthy and difficult in many LEDCs, so for many people owning property is not worth their time. De Soto fights for an impractical approach to bringing the world’s poor out of poverty. Balaam and Veseth note that de Soto’s argument for property-rights reform could not alleviate LEDC poverty, however such as step may be necessary for the success of ‘the beautiful goal.’

De Soto’s argument is supported in a slightly more practical manner by C.K. Prahalad, who says that there must be a goal to ‘democratize commerce.’ He supports his claim by giving examples of the poor as micro-producers. Prahalad argues that, “We know aid is not the answer to that kind of mass poverty. Subsidies, grants, and philanthropy may have a role to play, but the real solution is local development of the private sector. That requires specific actions that take into account the historical background of the country at hand.” Prahalad makes an excellent point at that there needs to be an understanding of country situations. He tells us that aid has a place, but where is that place?

Property rights are seen by many to be central to investment and the economy of development. Like de Soto they argue for its quick implementation. In regards to property ownership and its use to become developed it seems that Ghana eased from communal to individually owned land system. In the Ghanaian culture property held high importance and even though Ghana had to move from a communal model to individualistic, it was smooth. Property rights were granted to those who had planted or cultivated certain sections of land. This changeover of property rights was facilitated by stable, well-defined laws and customs in regards to the governing of land. The courts also recognized the existence of ‘family land’ and land belonging to larger kinships. This preset tradition of land ownership allowed Ghana to easily transition and permit people to use land as a means of creating capital.

Whose Consensus Should We Use?

Governments can hinder development, people are restricted from development, and societal institutions push the criteria for development. The Washington Consensus is the list by which all must abide in order to receive foreign aid. The Consensus promotes a strong neo-liberal agenda to deregulate economy, privatize government enterprises, create low inflation, low government debt, and open to domestic and international markets. The institutions use the Consensus in a fair amount of disagreement in regards to implementation. The Washington Consensus was a form for economic development that pushed free trade and capital mobility. The issue of free trade versus fair trade is a complete other paper, but the for ‘free’ forces LEDCs to spend funds on making reforms as opposed to implementing programs to serve its people. This causes poverty to continue in LEDC and although the Consensus made an irresistible possibility within reach it also brought the possibility of devastating collapse and risk.

The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are very often criticized and reforms within the institutions are called for. However, outside the institutions stand NGOs who fill the gap and many times create longer-lasting and more effective results for the poor of the world. Easterly is a strong critic of the aid agencies and he makes a very strong and compelling argument against them. Ghana has received a large number of loans and aid from the institutions. Easterly notes that in many recent cases of heavy involvement by the aid agencies end in collapses into anarchy. Stiglitz tells us that the Washington Consensus assumes perfect information, perfect competition, and perfect risk markets – an idealization of reality has little relevance to LEDCs.

Sachs writes about Ghana’s poverty reduction strategy. He notes that the government of Ghana reached the conclusion that a major scaling up of the public investments in the social sector and infrastructure, which estimates a required donor aid around $8 million. The Ghana strategy was well designed and argued, but the donors dropped and rejected the plan. Sachs argues that there needs to be a harmonization of aid. The many bi-lateral aid groups need to work together for larger projects, but for smaller-scale projects a more specified aid is required.

The Downside of Backward

Aid has become a dangerous word in today’s globalized, polarized, prioritized world. Another problem is that aid, as a term, is a very broad topic. For the purposes here, aid refers to financial support to increase economic development. The ‘grandiose’ plan of making poverty history or ending poverty brings about the desire to create the ideal aid agencies, administrative plans, and financial resources. Over the past sixty years the West has pushed reform schemes, agencies, and numerous plans all to end poverty. This has created a massive $2.3 trillion failed push by the aid industry to meet this ‘beautiful goal.’ William Easterly has argued that, “this evidence points to an unpopular conclusion: Big Plans will always fail to reach ‘the beautiful goal.’ Easterly tells us that Planners will always fail and their plans will always fail because they ask the question of what does the end of poverty require of foreign aid? When instead we should be searchers and ask, “What can foreign aid do for poor people?”

Balaam and Veseth tell us that the nature of aid flows has drastically changed from the time of the Cold War until now. During that time less aid was given because of security reasons, but now multilateral aid is channeled through institutions such as the World Bank. In the 1990s the World Bank changed its priorities to “fill in the gaps” due to many projects being funded by the private market and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). This shift made less economically developed countries (LEDCs) more dependent on other sources of funding.

If a LEDC has to depend on another source of funding besides the established institutions, as flawed as they may be, they will most likely look for the easiest way to get that funding. Ghana recently received, in June of 2006, a $66 million loan from China to fund its development projects. This is an extremely different and what some would call ‘backward’ step for Ghana. The Ghanaian experience with foreign aid has been to adopt reforms and partner with the institutions. In this case Ghana has strayed from the accepted conventions of the foreign aid industry. China is seen as a rogue aider in that they are undermining the development policy of the foreign aid institutions. By not placing restrictions on aid usage or democratic reforms, China is taking the foreign aid market by storm, as the World Bank is put out of business. China is not the only supplier of rogue aid, but it is the most prolific. What does this all mean for the aid industry?

It can only mean one thing and that speaks to the effectiveness of the aid institutions and the aid suppliers of the West. Ghana the star of economic reform, democracy in Africa, and years of peaceful independence is seeking rogue aid – there is no place anymore for utopias and institutions and big plans.

Utopia is Not Possible?

If the big plans won’t work than what will? Easterly says that the big problem with foreign aid is that is aspires to a utopian blueprint to fix the world’s complex problems. This is where we must refer back to Easterly and his explanation of a ‘searcher.’ Easterly helps us to understand that, “A planner thinks he already knows the answers; he thinks poverty as a technical engineering problem that his answers will solve. A searcher admits he doesn’t know the answers in advance; he believes that poverty is a complicated tangle of political, social, historical, and technological factors. A searcher hopes to find answers to individual problems only by trial and error experimentation. A planner also believes outsiders know enough to impose solutions. A searcher believes only insiders have enough knowledge to find solutions, and that most solutions must be homegrown.” Easterly pushes for giving more assistance and aid to searchers and not planners because the utopian plan is not possible.

Sachs states that, “One of the weaknesses of development thinking is the relentless drive for a magic bullet.” This is very ironic because at the end of Sach’s book he argues for a big plan to end poverty, a magic bullet? Sachs outlines four main points for what a donor should do. However he seeks to create an overarching plan for all developing countries to escape the poverty trap. Sachs criticizes the aid agencies as well as promotes their reform and continuation. Easterly on the other hand calls for the West to build a willingness to aid individuals rather than governments. He tells us in his book that the ideas thought to be crazy are the ones that work best and reach the people in need of aid. He outlines a plan for how aid should be used for development starting with development vouchers, which the poor could turn in at any NGO or agency for a vaccine, food, health check-up, etc. Easterly strongly emphasizes getting feedback from the poor on development progress and pushes for aid groups to go back to the basics and be accountable for individual, feasible areas of action.

In her Foreign Policy article, Esther Duflo notes that a good many people have qualms about foreign aid, but that we need to fund what works. “Governments and citizens of poor countries resent the us of aid as a means of buying political support, their lack of control over it, the development fads to which it is subject, and the administrative burden that accompanies it.” This idea of funding what works makes sense and many in the development field advocate for a focus on people.

Many people would like to advocate for the big push, an increase in foreign aid, to eradicate poverty throughout the world, however unfortunately the track record of aid institutions and aid in general shows otherwise. If we are to be donors and fighters of poverty, then we need to understand poverty’s complexity and understand that a pragmatic and effective approach is needed. We need to adopt more the idea of Easterly and support the searchers in their quest to actually save lives.

What does this all mean for Ghana? The country will continue to receive large aid packages from the foreign aid institutions for its stability and rogue aid states for their economic successes. Ghana has become a stable economy and even though the Ghanaian people’s pride is very strong they remain chained to the aid institutions and donors when it would be better for sustainability for their development to have their searchers be supported. Aid funding needs to be linked to the implementation of a successful program to avoid waste by governments. Creating an accountability for foreign aid that provides results will justify the increase of aid to LEDC and Ghana. Today’s society has the access and ability to distribute effective aid that actually helps those in need. The greatest problem that we will face is if our government will have the political will to restore confidence in the abilities of foreign aid. Ghana is a success story of Africa as far as economic development and building a stable government, their success was backed by foreign aid from institutions, and yet many of their people remain unserved. The direction and continuation of poverty reduction in Ghana will depend on the country’s ability to recognize and support searchers with effectively implemented aid.

Bibliography:

Anonymous. “Chinese PM announces Ghana loan.” BBC News, 19 June 2006. . (accessed 3 May 2007).

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Index of blog post series on Ghana.