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Developmental Aid In Africa: When A Good Heart Is Not Enough

African Union Building

By Tawanda Nyahasha

I was thinking one day on how many people in the world have a lot of money. Out of all those people it’s fair to say that most of them have charities or donate to some charities of some kind. Many of these charity organizations are pouring money towards Africa. The question that came to mind was why are things not changing. I mean I don’t expect those donations to really lift the continent from the mud but they should be a slight difference, right? I thus, begun to theorize on why donations can never really work and the following was what I came up with.

Naked baby with flies all over

Firstly, it’s the donors themselves. Most of the people pouring in money to African countries have little knowledge of what is going on in African countries and they don’t know the root of these problems. Being that I study abroad I hear conceptions about Africa that are quite interesting to say the least.

I can’t speak for other developed countries but people here in the United States (most of them) know about Africa through CNN. All they know then is there are children starving in Africa because they see images of naked hungry African children on television. So, all they know is there are children starving and they pour out money but I believe for more effective help people need to understand why are these children suffering. This is not taking away from the good hearts these people have but as the title suggests sometimes a good heart alone is not enough.

It’s the institutions

This then goes on to the second problem. Most problems in Africa have one root, our institutions. We are where we are because of our political institutions. During colonization, we had institutions that were benefiting a small elite and after independence, the institutions did not change the only thing that changed was the elite.

So why does it matter? It matters because if the problem is institutional then donations alone are not going to cut. Due to the fact that the institutions are corrupt, the funds may not even reach the intended targets,  they are just used by the government to benefit the political elite. Sometimes these political elite actually rely on foreign aid like Mobutu who relied on foreign aid to buy support and further enrich himself.

It’s sad that sometimes only a little bit of the funds reach the people it was intended to reach and even that little bit, reaches the people during election time so as to keep the people in a loop where they would continue to vote for those in power.

This leads to the third problem I will discuss in this article. Donations create a cycle that is very hard to get out of and the people who are suffering from this cycle are those that need help. As noted above some of these corrupt institutions actually rely on foreign aid to further their endeavours.

This then becomes a cycle the powerful rely on the foreign aid to further enrich themselves and then when it’s election time they give a little bit to those who the funds were intended to reach in the first place. In a way to secure votes. The poor, because they are desperate continue to support those in power for the little donations they are receiving. So, after everything, nothing is really solved the powerful get even richer and more powerful and the poor are more under subjection and continue to get poorer.

No easy answers

With all this being said we realize that it is time for the world to change its approach when it come to ‘helping Africa and other developing countries.’ How does it happen when it’s the institutions themselves that are the problem?

I am obviously biased towards entrepreneurship development but this has also not given stellar results all the time. My optimism tells me that we are closer to figuring out how to break out of this vicious cycle especially as access to information is becoming more and more ubiquitous. People are now more able to call their governments to account in the precious years between elections. I trust soon, African people will start demanding better institutions.

Tawanda Nyahasha is a Zimbabwean studying towards a degree in Psychology at Johnson C Smith University, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. You can reach out to him via Facebook


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8 thoughts on “Developmental Aid In Africa: When A Good Heart Is Not Enough

  1. I hear you mr tawanda.
    But allow me to interject. I work with the United Nations under Health and Education. but also have friends in Agriculture.

    We can look at The Global Fund.
    The Global Fund is a “Group of Donors” combined into one. They don’t care whether Zanu or Mdc-J is ruling; They donate money and also audit it.
    They direct how the money is used, when and where. They don’t just donate.
    so to donors, proper ones, the political situation and the why are both not considered and taken care of respectively.

    Our problem, one that you seem to be hinged on and one my friend always complains about: Donor Dependency.
    We want external donors to fix our problems for us.

    If I may, Mugabe was removed by Zimbos with no external help, and thats what we should strive to be – independent. Lets remove donors from the equation.

    Lets educate our own kids, feed them, create jobs ourselves and revive our own systems.

    Nice piece, gave me food for thought.

    1. Thank you sir… And that’s really good thinking and the removal of people like Mugabe also shows we are now making those institutions accountable.

  2. i think our real problem in Africa is that we are quick to blame the political institutions and forget that we as individuals also have a major role, sometimes even bigger than the political institution to play in any situation. one good example is those that manage to break out of poverty, instead of supporting the local brands like gtel one takes the few dollars he has got and buys an apple Iphone further enriching the american nation and in turn increasing our trade deficit.
    we want to blame the political institution for us the civil servants being reluctant at work
    we want to blame the political institution for a hash economic environment but u haven’t even tried to establish a business in it, yet foreigners(fellow africans like nigerians) come and establish thriving businesses in that same hash economic environment
    stop focusing on solving corruption cause some of the most corrupt nations like Russia have thriving economies rather focus on being productive and concentrate on adding to the GDP
    its high time we focus on improving our own lives cz there is no politician that is going to do that for you and certainly no donation can do that. lets stop this blame game and focus on what really matters( putting sadza on your own table).

    1. I hear you Sir but the thing is growth under extractive institutions won’t last because whatever happens it’s to benefit the elite. I’m glad you mentioned Russia for it’s a good example for this. Under Stalin Russia was growing economically and before all economists in the West after watching Lenin were screaming communism is the way but the average citizen was poor and the growth eventually died. We cannot really blame the civil servants entirely because without incentives no one is willing to work the number one rule capitalism. However you are right we need to do more as citizens too

  3. USAid is recent good example of how corrupt those who are suppose to fight corruption!!

    Aid is bad for Africa, donor mentality is killing Africa. We need to change our education system which from training workers for industries and offices to that that makes industries and create jobs.

    The current education change is good start, but like always, Zimbos always want to be workers, nothing more thats why we claim we are educated but no jobs.

    It was never intention of previous education and those educated to be industrialist, just managers and office workers. No wonder parents now are up in arms against the curriculum, they so not understand it, its not what they were taught to be creators of jobs and sustain their own country

    1. I agree 95% with you but would like to give my view on this opinion I am seeing in quite a few places. People should be educated not to be workers. We need workers to build the infrastructure on which entreprenuers will thrive. Otherwise it is each man for himself and we end up with a country of hawkers. We need workers to plan and build the roads, pland and lay the fibre cables, repair our cars, man the hospitals and build new hospitals.

      I have utmost respect for entrepenuers but I am getting uneasy with the opinion that seems to gaining momentum that learning to be a worker is outdated.

    2. I agree 95% with you but would like to give my view on this opinion I am seeing in quite a few places. People should be educated not to be workers. We need workers to build the infrastructure on which entrepreneurs will thrive. Otherwise it is each man for himself and we end up with a country of hawkers. We need workers to plan and build the roads, pland and lay the fibre cables, repair our cars, man the hospitals and build new hospitals.

      I have utmost respect for entrepreneurs but I am getting uneasy with the opinion that seems to gaining momentum that learning to be a worker is outdated.

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