As the momentum for Live 8 gathers pace and the pressure on international leaders to deal with Africa's problems mounts, Richard Dowden argues that aid is not the answer.
By Richard Dowden
Director of the Royal African Society
When a tsunami hits or war creates refugees, the victims can do with some help to get back on their feet wherever they are.
Many argue that aid creates a situation of dependency
Humanitarian relief aid will always be needed when disaster strikes.
But the evidence that aid can transform whole societies and lift millions out of poverty is unconvincing.
It can only speed up a process that is already happening.
When we see scenes of destitution from Africa we assume that we can change things by sending money.
But if aid could make Africa prosperous, it would have done so by now.
Despite nearly a trillion dollars of aid since independence in the 1960s, much of Africa is worse off now than it was then.
IF... WE STOP GIVING AID TO AFRICA
Sunday, 26 June, 2005
Much of that aid was spent by outsiders without consultation with Africans and with little understanding of Africa's ways or needs.
Today the continent is full of abandoned projects: wells in the wrong place, factories without a fuel supply, roads that were not maintained.
Impoverished by politics
But UK Prime Minister Tony Blair and Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown are proposing to double aid to Africa, promising a Marshall Aid plan, like the help America gave Europe at the end of the Second World War.
The comparison is false.
In 1945 there was peace in Europe and armies of disciplined and skilled workers stood ready to rebuild. All that was needed was the cash.
Africa has rich resources but has been impoverished by bad politics - including our own policies.
Africa's nation states that crammed old societies into artificially created countries have not produced effective governments.
It is impossible to deliver education and better health to Africans without working through those governments.
The African countries that are well run, South Africa and Botswana for example, do not need aid.
At the other end of the spectrum are countries like Somalia and Democratic Republic of Congo which have collapsed as nation states and do not have any effective administration. It is impossible to use development aid there.
Those in the middle that are not doing too badly, like Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda, are already receiving around 50% of their budgets from aid.
That makes them more dependent on Western aid donors than they were in colonial times.
Aid creates and sustains unequal relationships. Talk of partnerships is false.
As one western diplomat in Africa put it to me recently: "We like it when they take ownership of the programme but we mean our programme. We don't like it if they start having their own ideas."
The aid business is an industry with its own dynamic.
Much of it is spent in the donor countries in the form of consultancies and goods.
For the recipient it creates dependency, undermines self-reliance and ultimately breeds resentment.
There is no short cut to development. Only Africans themselves can bring change to Africa.
States have to raise taxes and spend them productively in order for their countries to develop.
When state institutions are functioning in support of the people and the economy, there may be a case for helping with specific short term assistance but unless and until the local systems are in place and there is real commitment, aid will be wasted.
At present lack of capacity and corruption prevent even basic services being delivered in most of Africa.
Outsiders can run one-off projects like immunisation programmes but development has to be done by the people themselves.
Giving aid feels good but there are better ways to help Africa.
We must pursue policies that create a fairer system of trade. Current policies and practices in Europe and America damage Africa's chance of earning its living in the world.
We must end agricultural subsidies that distort prices allowing cheap food to be dumped in Africa and ruining farmers there.
We must lower tariffs and trade barriers to allow Africa to trade more processed goods.
We must stop encouraging Africa's brain drain, luring the best educated and talented out of the continent to fill jobs in the West.
The British government could also do something about arms flowing into Africa.
Weapons that kill in Africa's wars may not be made in Britain but arms dealers base their operations in London and are largely unregulated.
And London has become the laundry of choice for money laundering because Britain applies one of the weakest banking scrutiny systems in the world.
We need to start treating money stolen by corruption in the same way as drug money or terrorism funds.
This article was written to coincide with BBC Two's If... We Stop Giving Aid to Africa, to be broadcast on Sunday, 26 June, 2005, at 1900 BST on BBC Two.