The up – down sides of aiding

   – Professor Brando Okolo

The discussion on development-aid to Africa can be viewed along several conduits. In the end, the viewer is left with no choice but to be ambivalent. It has to be considered that without development-aid a lot of civil infrastructure such as health centres, schools, roads and efficient agricultural practices, which are already present in Africa would not in the first place be there or sustainable. These civil structures ensure that societies in Africa are accessible, that sustainable economic capacity can be built at the grassroots level and that an enlightened society emerges thereof. Eliminating or cutting back on development aid to Africa will hurt the continent instantly and likewise produce deep issue of poverty in the future. Consider the Linkage model data in Figure 3 [6] which predicts that the nations of Latin America, Caribbean, Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa will not record increases in their average income relative to that of the high-income nations, under the current global economic dispensation. The data also shows sub-Saharan Africa solidly lagging behind.

On the other hand there are cogent arguments on the underlying damage caused by development-aid to Africa. The report by Thilo Thielke in the 6th May 2008  edition of Spiegel Online is certainly thought provoking [7]. Thielke argued that development-aid robs many African countries of the chance towards self-reliance. Development-aid can easily breed corrupt leadership and a followership that lacks the incentive to generate local capacity. Aid giving, a philanthropic gesture from the rest of the world to Africa, has become an economic mainstay of the African continent. Citing Kenya as a classic example, Thielke unpacked the intensions of the aid-worker whom through calculated attempts, creates “hopelessly over-populated” settlements in arid regions where settlers get hooked on aid handouts. Consequently the “hopelessly over-populated” settlements lead to a proliferation of aid-workers who can safely point to the settlements in their public reports in defence of more demands for aid and funds.


Rethinking development-aid

While concerted action needs to be taken in order to straighten-out the mechanism of development-aid to Africa, key aspects of nurturing African self-reliance need to be brought to the frontiers of global discussions. These key aspects include:

(i)                 Fair trade agreements with Africa.

(ii)               End to global tolerance of African dictators.

(iii)             Relaxing immigration restrictions on African countries.

(iv)             Investing in skilled labour for Africa.

(v)               Opening bilateral cooperation with African nations especially in the areas of transportation, energy, health, agriculture and the development of trustworthy political institutions.

(vi)             Assisting Africa fight the war against environmental damage.


New areas of assisting Africa develop need to be explored. The latest Human Development Index (HDI) published by the UNDP shows that Africa is pathetically ill-developed [2]. The nation with the best HDI (0.968 on a scale of 1) is Iceland. Germany (0.935) is ranked number 22 behind countries like Ireland (0.959 at number 5), the Netherlands (0.953 at number 9), France (0.952 at number 10), Spain (0.949 at number 13) and Italy (0.941 at number 20). The HDI data in this report is ordered such that nations are placed in categories; High Human Development, Medium Human Development and Low Human Development. While no African nation (except Libya with a HDI of 0.818 at number 56 and Mauritius HDI =0.804 at number 65), fell under the High Human Development category, some were in the Medium Human Development and most in the Low Human Development categories. The sub-Saharan African country with the best HDI is Gabon with 0.677 at number 119 and then South Africa HDI=0.674 at number 121. This is the reality. The HDI parameter measures human development based on dimensional indices which consider; life expectancy at birth, knowledge (which is weighted against adult literacy and school enrolment) and Gross Domestic Product per capita in purchasing power parity (PPP).


Like poverty and hunger, environmental issues are equally important within the African sphere of issues. A degraded environment will not produce in an efficient manner. Development-aid also needs to be channelled to causes that protect the African environment. Consider the Figure 4 [2], which illustrates the carbon footprint of 14 nations which have different industrial, economic, social and financial habits. Countries like Canada, China, Vietnam, Egypt and Nigeria have carbon footprints markedly enlarging between 1990 and 2004. Emissions from activities involving combustion of hydrocarbons are responsible for the production of carbon dioxide, CO2. Its increase in an environment can signify both increase in industrial activity and increase in destruction of vegetation. Heavy discussions are ongoing regarding the role of CO2 in global warming and how industrial practices necessary for human development can be modified to produce less CO2. African nations do not have the capacity to control emissions released into their environment, development-aid in terms of technology transfer will certainly ensure that an industrialising Africa is integrated into the solution matrix for a better environment.


Closing remarks

Albert Einstein once remarked that, “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.” Innovative socio-economic tools already applicable in weakened Asian economies since the 1990’s can be tailored to solve some of the economic problems facing Africa. Development-aid in combination with honest and enormous economic “bail-out” packages need to be applied in the African economies. World leaders, men of goodwill and economic experts have a chance to create a vibrant African economy, – an economy where the huge natural resources available can be renewed and sustained in a manner befitting for all. Together with Africans they can nurture a continent where economic activity and philanthropy have well defined roles, giving Africa the dignity of life and humanity an honourable identity.

Professor Brando Okolo, African Heritage Man of the year 2011 is a full Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the German University in Cairo – Egypt


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