“For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!”

There’s a fascinating interview on Spiegel with James Shikwati, an “African economics expert,” in which he explains how foreign aid is preventing many African nations from rising out of poverty and the host of other problems they face. “If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid…. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa’s problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn’t even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.”

What does this attitude mean for people working in open educational resources?

4 thoughts on ““For God’s Sake, Please Stop the Aid!””

  1. Similar discussion between Mwenda and Bono at TED Global. http://blog.ted.com/2007/06/bono_vs_mwenda.php

    I thought Bono’s rebuttal was pretty apt, as well. He responded along the lines of “the Cold War affected Africa as well. We (set up/maintained) these corrupt governments to suit Western purposes, so it’s only right that we provide aid to fix the situation. It isn’t charity, it’s justice.” (the quote is not exact, going from memory).

    He also responded to Mwenda’s claim that aid had never helped a country to affect sustainable change/progress, by saying “Ireland. After the potato famine. Germany, under the Marshall plan” (again, the quotes are from memory, and likely not exact, but the sentiment is there).

    The problem isn’t that foreign aid isn’t needed, the problem is corruption getting in the way. Fleets of government sedans for officials, while villages have no ambulances, for example…

  2. The story about aid to developing countries being a bad thing is quite old, and is strongly related to the fact that development requires long term infrastructures coming from investment, and not patches coming from fleeting charity.

    Under this approach, I see OER as capacity building, and in any sense as “free content”. And I see them as capacity building in two ways:
    – because any kind of material with an educational purpose is, by definition, a tool, an investment in education, and not a simple commodity
    – because developing countries can also take part in the building of OERs, hence endogenous development and South-South cooperation can actually happen

    So, honestly, I guess the OER perspective really fits James Shikwati’s philosophy.

  3. Bono knows nothing. First, the Marshall Plan did only a little good. Most people credit the polices of Erhard, the German finance minister, for setting the groundwork for the German miracle after the war. Second, that aid ended very quickly. It didn’t escalate year after year for almost half a century. Aid in Africa has been enabling corrupt governments to stay in power for decades now.

    It is easy to see the povery. I know. I lived there for a large portion of my life. But giving aid to governments doesn’t solve the poverty. The money doesn’t get to the people who need it. Bono is just ignorant of the reality of what happens to that money or he doesn’t care.

    As the reports all note the position he attacked was one widely held by most the Africans actually there. And in my years in Africa it was widely held by locals as well. The only people who don’t hold it are instant experts like Bono and those who live off the aid either in the form of the international bodies that give it out or the corrupt regimes that pocked the funds.

  4. Aid hurts OER in Africa. Because too much of it goes to Europe and North America.

    I am not in favor of development aid per se. But since OER is an emerging field, and we probably have a lot to learn until we get it right, donor money can provide the opportunity to do some of this learning. It is important to make some of it available to developing countries, so they can figure out for themselves, how to participate in the OER movement, and how to best benefit from it.

    Aid currently supports production of resources almost exclusively in developed countries. Almost no OER funding flows to Africa, despite the rhetoric. This effectively drowns out self-funded efforts in developing countries. It’s ironic, that the rich are getting the funding to provide resources to the poor – and by doing so making it difficult for the poor to do it themselves.

    Finally, I am really interested to see what happens to OER globally when some of the big supporters decide it is time for the movement to stand on its own feet.

    Best, /P

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