Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Meddlesome West, Aid Politics, and Democracy

The Meddlesome West
The West has a bad PR image in Africa.  It is meddlesome in African politics, most recently exhibited by NATO’s involvement in Libya.  Never mind the tyranny of Gaddafi, the real enemy is the unilateral West with its neo-imperialist military agenda.  This image has been powerfully reinforced in the first decade of the 21st Century, with the Bush regime’s involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Anything the West does militarily in Africa is characterized as intrusive.

Aid Politics
The other side of the West’s face is the smile of the Aid Politics.  The vast array of government and NGO aid agencies represent the benign niceness of the West.  The best SUVs in the country are owned by them, and roam the country’s dusty and occasionally well-paved roads, also a product of aid agencies; it is impossible to miss their involvement with their ubiquitous flags.  The evening news consists of so-and-so country initiating an agricultural or medical project.  The fair-skinned dignitaries sit on the front row, half confused by the language barrier, half bored.

It is easy to say NO to the Meddlesome West but incredibly hard to say likewise to Aid Politics.  Although the same entities occupy the top of the two bureaucratic ladders, the two seem to be at opposite ends.  The Meddlesome West never comes with gifts, only bombs.  Aid Politics, on the other hand, is completely different.  It consists of ceremonies, hotel dinners, luxury black sedans, ambassadors, Presidents, handshakes, wives donning expensive clothes, discussion on the best weekend getaways, PR plans, and just a whole lot of jolliness.  How can you say no to that?

The practice of aid is vast enough to make the following obvious: some are good, some are not.  The nature of Aid Politics, however, makes them all good in the eyes of local bureaucrats.  Yet, when these aid agencies do their work, they set the political priorities, and worse, are not accountable to failure.  Recipients let them be, and on occasion, ironically, blast the Meddlesome West.


Kabs said...


For some reason, working in this sector is eating away at my radical anti-nationalistic sentiments. Sometimes I convince myself that I don't want any non-Indians making decisions about programmes and policies in "my country".

I'm increasingly disgusted when I see people from Newcastle or San Francisco or Oslo or whatever show up in India with no clue of how things work here and no intention of bothering to understand the local context but still being in influential positions with big bilateral agencies/INGOs etc. To be sure there are effective and efficient foreign aid workers too, but I'm unconvinced that they make for the fools.

Obviously international aid is still important in India so I wouldn't seriously advocate getting rid of all these people, but I wanted to share my views on this. Tangential (at best) to your post.

Kabs said...

"make up for the fools", not "make for the fools".