What is Aid to Bongo Bongo land for?

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Whilst foreign aid to African countries has been praised for lowering poverty levels in Africa, experts, think tanks, non government organisations (NGOs) and even citizens of both donor and recipient countries have also criticised it for creating dependency, preventing growth and promoting the interests of donor countries over the needs of recipient countries.

But last week Godfrey Bloom a Member of the European Parliament from the UK Independent Party (UKIP) raised  the criticism bar by criticising the UK government for sending aid to what he called “Bongo Bongo land”

This was unfortunate. For instead of  we the publics being engaged on the important questions about aid such as, what is aid for and how effective it is, we became embroiled in debates about racism.

What became apparent to me as I read the comments and listened to reactions about Bloom’s outburst was that some amongst the general public do not understand the motives of aid donors. We do need to ask the question

Why do donors give aid?

The motives of aid donors are many and varied  and may  include


a) Poverty reduction: some donors such as the Department for International Development (DFID) in the UK and international non government organisations (INGOs) such as the Word Bank and NGOs believe that rich countries have a moral obligation use their resources to fight poverty in poor countries to ensure that citizens of these countries can access social services (Pomerantz 2004:4)

b) Historical and colonial ties: France and the UK in particular are charged with Neo-Colonial motives with respect to their reasons for providing aid to former colonies. The charge here is that the provision of aid enables donor countries to exercise political and economic influence in those countries. This influence ensures that the former colonial master continues to access raw materials for its industries from its former colony in exchange for aid (Mayall 2005:307).

c) International Relations: Scholars like Radelet (2006), Wood (1996), Hook (1996) and Moyo (2009) have argued that aid is the means by which donor countries conduct relations with other nations, in other words aid is used a bargaining tool in foreign policy, or as Baldwin (1996:3 cited in Hook 1996) puts it: “foreign aid is a means by which one country gets another to act in desired ways’’ For countries like Japan, USA and Canada for instance aid is a means for their multinational companies to gain access to international markets as well as protecting the interests of those companies in aid recipient countries

d) Security: increasingly donors such as the European Union and the USA are tying aid to security concerns and this tend to be in the form of technical training. The reasoning here is that if these problems are not resolved those countries will become unstable and lead to migrants on our door step.

e) humanitarian reasons:aid is given to countries to mitigate the effects of civil conflicts, the impact of natural disasters such as Tsunamis and chronic food shortages due to climate change etc. (Pomerantz 2004:4)

So as you can see there is a confluence of reasons why donors give aid. What puzzles me is how little we the publics know about our governments motives for giving aid.  Is it a matter of lack of transparency on the part of our government?

A related point has to do with where does aid actually go?  If you are interested in this question I would recommend that you read this report from ActionAid as the argue that very little of what donors count as aid is given as cash. Some aid is used to write of debt, provide technical assistance and indeed create jobs here in the UK, as  DFID boss Justine Greening explains in this BBC interview.


Have you got a view? Lets talk about!



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