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Waste

October 2010

In an interview titled “A COMPLETE WASTE OF MONEY THAT SUCCEEDS PRIMARILY AT KEEPING WESTERNERS EMPLOYED”, Michael Maren talks about aid agencies in Africa, based on his two decades of firsthand experience:

I think if all [aid agencies] went out of business today, there would be very few people who would be any worse for it, and a great number of people would be better off. People know what’s best for themselves. They can do what they need to do. In most of these countries – I’m thinking of Africa – people are not developing economically because they’re not being allowed to. They’re being oppressed politically. If you look at the development that’s taken place in Asia in the past 15 or 20 years, none of that can be attributed to foreign aid.

He talks about the political co-opting of aid: agencies depend on the support of the local government in order to do their work, and sometimes that support comes with some pretty compromising conditions. Aid agencies end up unintentionally but actively supporting oppressive and corrupt regimes.

He finishes with a blunt answer to a blunt question:

In the end, is there any role for NGOs or charitable organizations in the developing world at all?

No.

Read the whole interview.

Greg commented:

*In the end, is there any role for NGOs or charitable organizations in the developing world at all?*

No.

I don't think this is quite true. Most "aid" is bad, yes, but there's some things you just can't argue with. Sustainably implemented clean water is one - we saw examples of this in Nepal (along with plenty of bad or questionable "advances" such as roads and the internet, and downright bad ones like Coca Cola and TV)

The other category of things we should support is the correction of gross injustice - eg landmines all over the place. www.herorat.org is my favourite example - I'd love to see their work extended to other mine-ravaged countries like Cambodia.

Matt commented:

That's some good points, especially about putting right injustice. I think aid has been intended as a correction for the injustices of slavery and colonization, but it fails in that it wants to address the symptoms without correcting the underlying power imbalance (because the power imbalance is a large part of why wealthy nations remain wealthy.)

So maybe, help is good where there's a genuine desire to right wrongs; it fails when we just try to minimise the wrongs.

Greg commented:

I agree, but regarding

I think aid has been intended as a correction for the injustices of slavery and colonization

Unfortunately, I think many people view it as pure philanthropy, and not the righting of injustice at all.

Jody commented:

Doing nothing is pathetic when you know too much, so I'd still rather support aid than not...

Matt commented:

Doing nothing is pathetic when…

For a brief moment I thought you were talking about the fact that I am still in bed.

Nato commented:

Jody, I might be getting cynical, but doesn't make supporting aid as being something to satisfy your own needs?