Morality of Development Aid, An Idle Dream?

For a long time, major aid donor countries were members of OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC). International rules were set by members of donors’ club. However, as Woods (2008) issued, a ‘’silent revolution’’ is taking place.  Emergence of BRICS countries, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other non-traditional power centres as ‘new donors’, challenge aid system of existing world order.

New donors were criticized on the ground that their implementation of “enormously generous” and “toxic” foreign aid programs. Among all new donors, China receives the most criticism. Woods argued that China had no determination to involve politic improvement of aid recipient countries giving examples from Africa. Brookings Institute noted that Chinese foreign aid were perceived as “a formidable alternative to existing Western aid” in Africa. Reasons for the Chinese aid attractiveness might be low standards of Chinese aid or limited application of rules by Chinese officials as Woods argued; however, the main reason is likely to be the agency issue.  Colonized for centuries, African leaders seek for equal treatment. This rationale was seen by leaders of African countries such as Jacob Zuma, incumbent president of South Africa, and  Festus Mogae, past president of Botswana, both argued that China treated them as equals (Fin24 ,2014; Hilsum, 2006). The stance of African leaders does not mean that Chinese approach to Africa was not perceived as neo-colonialism. Tiffen (2014) argued that ‘’Chinese interests in Africa are motivated solely for China’s benefit’’ and concluded that this was a neo-colonialist approach.

Along with China other emerging donors were on the target for criticism. India being an aid donor and an aid recipient issued the economic and political background of development aid programs. Modern implications of development aid can be dated back to the post WW II period. When Truman pointed out ‘’free people’’ of Europe, Marshall Plan was proposed as a development assistance program. Contrary to moral commitments of the US government officials to ‘’free people’’ of Europe, as Hogan (1987) argued that the plan was designed to replace old European state system with an integrated European economy similar to the US federalist system.

It was a great example that development aid discourse is driven with economic and political agenda of a donor country rather than a sole moral commitment for development. A similar discourse was also seen after Indian government preferred making warplane deal with France but not with Britain. After Andrew Mitchell, the Development Secretary, said that Britain’s aid to Delhi was partly “about seeking to sell Typhoon” (Gilligan,2012), the British media and government started a campaign to stop oversees development aid to India. Clearly, development aid has more than moral commitment, as Ghosh(2015)  argued UK Government can do a lot that, even without sending small amounts of overseas development aid to improve the lives of people in India. Does public really want to help the poor in India? In order to find this out surveys conducted in the UK is needed; however, Milner and Tingley (2013) showed that public opinion on foreign aid related to the self-interest in the US case. They argued that attitudes toward aid were ‘’structured by both material and ideological influences’’. It was found that individuals with greater wealth supported foreign aid while people with lower life standards were against it. It was interesting that conservatives or republicans ‘’responded more positively to aid when aid was helpful to the US economy’’.


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