The rise of “southern” aid is a fairly hot topic, see for example the Guardian on the limited to negative impact on the poor of Chinese involvement in Latin America (thanks, Jakub and Julia) or on the South African aid agency as the most recent player, and on how the rise of “southern” aid agencies is driven by foreign policy goals of the ever more assertive BRICS. A defense of Chinese aid can be found over at Aid Thoughts (the comments are also very interesting).
And because the required readings have neglected the UN so far, here are two articles: one about the role of the FAO and the lack of transparency in leadership selection, and one about global governance and the (declining) role of the UN.
Speaking of “non-aligned preferences”, some long overdue round-up of comments about aid to Egypt.
- Nancy Birdsall asks the difficult questions: Was three decades of “good aid” to Egypt a good idea? Should the United States have used good aid and military aid to lock in Egypt’s peace agreement with Israel? Should the United States have exited with its aid once Mubarak had overstayed the 12-year recommended limit?
- Aid Thoughts notes that giving aid to a repressive regime is not per se a bad thing, it largely depends on how the aid is used, e.g. if it improves health and education, government transparency etc. For example, recent research indicates that “post-Cold War those countries that are most dependent on Western aid have been the first the embrace competitive elections after the coup“. In the case of Egypt, given that “Most U.S. development aid to Egypt in the last three decades has gone for health and family planning (a big benefit for women and children), basic education, and support to civil society and democracy groups.” as Birdsall once again points out, it does look like it could have had a positive rather than negative contribution.
- Even more controversial is the military aid that the US and other “western/ northern” countries have provided, and which dwarfs development aid by far. Various news articles noted that the tear gas used by the Egyptian riot police had the label “Made in USA“. On the other hand, some research indicates that “U.S. military-to-military contacts to be positively and systematically associated with liberalizing trends.”, which can mean that even military support, when done right, can have some positive impact on attitudes of the military of the recipient country.
- Luckily, “Administration officials agreed that the $250 million in economic aid was a pittance compared with the $1.3 billion in annual military aid, and the White House and the State Department were already discussing setting aside new funds to bolster the rise of secular political parties.” Of course, this depends on how the “budget battle” unfolds. Here is the administration’s proposal for the international affairs budget, as well as a shorter summary of it and some reactions to proposals to cut or even do away with foreign aid entirely.
As lessons learned of the week I would suggest two, which hopefully will come in handy when we will be talking about aid effectiveness and the quality of aid:
- From the readings and class discussion: Realizing the problem of “non-aligned preferences” (diverging interests) and the challenge of intermediation should make you cautious in supporting more accountability for aid agencies. The important thing is to ask “accountability to whom and with what consequences for the other stakeholders”.
- From the Egypt case: as a rule of thumb, to see whether any kind of intervention has had a positive or negative impact it is important to think about the “counterfactual“: what would have happened in the absence of that intervention? In this case for example you could ask: Did foreign aid contribute to keeping Mubarak in power longer or did it help strengthen the middle class which ultimately rose up against him? Would the military have been more or less likely to resort to violence protesters without foreign/ US military aid? etc.
Feel free to suggest more…