Development aid – knowledge more important than money


In some countries aid should be phased out or decreased. There are countries ready to take greater responsibility for their own development.

Other countries, many of them in Africa, can’t do without aid for now.

But aid needs to change. It should be more country-oriented, recognising that development largely comes from inside. Where and how this support can be of use, varies from country to country.

From a distance it is difficult to see the African ways beneath the surface. Unless the donors go there and walk there, they don’t have the knowledge about how Africa works and the social systems and networks present.

Often donors are trapped in their own policies and views on what a poor nation needs and how much money should be made available. The challenge is to find the balance between what countries in the South request and believe foreign players can contribute with, and the donor organisations’ impact agenda.

The best results have been achieved when aid has been spent to speed up development policies that the recipient country already has decided to carry out and have the capacity to do. When outsiders decree the solution and pour in money, most aid is wasted.

Donors together with representatives in the host country should plan together where aid should intervene in development. A ‘diagnostic’ approach to development means to determine where the greatest barriers to development lie in a country.

The donors should not become a key actor in policy making, but be allowed to propose and present ideas.

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  1. Terje Vigtel is in his latest blog “Development Aid-Knowledge more important than money
    “writes that “donors together with representatives in the host country should plan together where aid should intervene in development.”
    And “The donors should not become a key actor in policy making, but be allowed to propose and present ideas.”
    One key challenge which I find is that the local authorities and other development actors in the African societies are planning according to Western ideas and ways of operations, but implementing according to their values and local reality, which are different, this easily leads to delayed implementation or stand-still. And this happens if donors are involved in the planning or not, and this situation comes about because both in basic school and in colleges and universities the students are going through an educations based on colonial style education, meant to give “white collar jobs”. It`s this knowledge which is seen to becoming “educated” in today’s modern Africa.
    Lack of skills training: Little does the present education system reflect the local customs and traditions and the values people are raised with.
    Some examples can be:
    1. Too little emphasis is put on learning practical skills which are relevant in the day to day life in the communities. The result being very poor craftsmanship in so many ways, and poor adaption to the local reality.
    2. Gender and human rights is high on the development agenda. But no one will present a proposal to a donor asking for support based on traditional cultural norms, even though this is what is close to their hearts. Because they know it won’t be approved by the western donor. So they will write with their (learnt at school) intellect, but implementation then becomes what we may call Gender biased, or not implementing the project according to plans. And privately, “over a beer”, people are telling me that gender NGO’s are highly condescending in their approach ignoring tradition and norms that have stood the test of time concerning the relationship between men and women.
    3. On the “paper” most African countries are democratic countries, where the people choose their leaders and ruling party according to their free will. And all the leaders talk about fighting corruption. But in reality almost everyone is “corrupt” if we are to judge by western standards. Because in Africa family is still first priority, it’s his “uncle” who has paid for her education, leading to a job, and then the position will also owe to the uncle in future. But this is not expressed, because it is not acceptable according to modern “western” reality, but in reality this is how life is.
    In my opinion it is therefore not absolutely correct to call it corruption, rather “wind of change”, it`s gradual change of norms and values, and this change is hard and takes time, much longer time than a development project!
    Besides, in many developing countries politics is a “job”, because people have no other jobs. Can we expect a hungry person to be idealistic and do politics for nothing? Now, one would say that at least the politicians on the TOP, ministers and others, those who do have enough wealth already, should be at least a bit idealistic and work for the people, across family and tribal lines, following democratic rules with respect for the law. But again they know very well that if they become soft and follow democratic rules, the other part (the opposition) won’t spare them once they are in power. So the Chief has to be the Chief, by whatever means, until he forced down by someone who is stronger. And even if the “Chief” is a soft and good person, the family and extended family, which is the whole party, needs him in that position for their own survival, so they will put maximum pressure to keep him in that position.
    There are so many other very touchy issues where people`s opinions and meanings completely contradicts what westerners call Human rights, but they are not expressed to the international development aid workers cause they know we think differently, and out of fear for not getting support.
    So it’s a game of pretence, and sometimes I do say to local friends here that “I should wish that the you could stop pretending but tell us westerners that “this is our culture, let us do it our way, until maybe one day we will be like you”.
    Meanwhile, us “development experts” could probably contribute more by going more into dialogue about culture and traditions and how it affects development, instead of operating in “separate universes” , trying to bring the different realities closer? Could we be more open or should we still go around and think that we know better than hours and that we do have all the correct answers about how to think and live!

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