"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Doing Good -The Feel-good Fraud Of Foreign Aid

A senior manager at a well-known private agency in Washington, recipient of USAID/State Department monies for improving the lot of the poor in Africa, completed his performance review for a recently completed project in Angola.  “The project encountered unexpected challenges and was therefore not able to achieve the targets set for it at signing", he wrote.  "Nevertheless, thanks to a thorough performance review we have identified the reasons for not meeting agreed-upon targets – targets well within the competence of our agency, its local partners, and the Government of Angola.  If granted a contract extension and the investment of additional funds in the amount of $_____we can assure our sponsors complete, unmitigated achievement of project goals and objectives”.

Image result for images african poor people

All of which was a complete fiction, for the targets set by USAID were unrealistic, unachievable, and ridiculously ambitious, the ability of the beneficiaries to achieve even a modicum of success in an overly optimistic, politically-driven project negligible, and the ultimate benefit to the poor, disadvantaged, and marginalized communities for whom the American largesse was intended, zero.

USAID granted the agency an extension, an increased in funding, and a much more generous time period.

The World Bank under the stewardship of Robert McNamara, former Secretary of Defense in the Johnson Administration and the architect of the infamous Rolling Thunder campaign, a daily B-52 annihilating bombing of North Vietnam which killed thousands of civilians but which did nothing to stem the Viet Cong guerrilla victories in the South and the advances of Ho Chi Minh’s regular North Vietnamese army, became contrite and guiltily generous to the millions of Third World victims of American imperialism. In short, the World Bank was quickly transformed from Lender of Last Resort to a walkin’ around money give away.

Flush with petrodollars, Bank loan officers were under pressure to spend money on the poor, to reset the financial gears, to move quickly from capital investment to social reform. The days of roads, ports, and infrastructure were gone, and the era of socially responsible, participatory, community action projects was ushered in.

A Bank yearly World Development Report signaled and reported on the change, but noted the challenges the institution faced in such radical restructuring.  “We have invested in people”, the Report went on, “and while the expected results of our new, innovative projects to improve education, health, and well-being have been limited by unforeseen challenges, the Bank is committed to even greater success in the coming year”.  Unspoken was the commitment of additional millions to address these challenges.

File:Logo The World Bank.svg - Wikimedia Commons

The next yearly report was not able to demonstrate any improvement in Bank loan performance, but the authors assured readers that since the factors underlying this slower than anticipated performance had been identified, progress towards stated goals would be achieved.

The loan recipient countries, however, had no stake in success, only in the perpetuation of renewable soft loans the conditionalities of which could be easily ignored.  African governments with no intention whatsoever of either repaying the loans or investing monies in social welfare, readily agreed to address ‘inconsistencies’ in the electoral, judicial, and law enforcement infrastructure, took the money, shuffled it within weeks to private Swiss bank accounts, and went their desultory, infinitely corrupt ways.

In an attempt to improve accountability, the US government instituted a program of ‘indicators’.  Each contractor which received a government contract for economic, community, and social development was required to set specific numerical targets for each activity in the workplan.  Of course the ‘participatory’ community meetings were fictitious, and the registry of participants as imaginary as an old Chicago ward ballot, so the contractor simply made up numbers.  

Fiction added to fiction, multiplied by aspiration, added to hopeless optimism.   When the indicator targets were not met, the fiction was doubled and trebled and more money was poured down the sluice to accommodate for ‘rectification’.

The recipient countries – those who benefitted from World Bank soft loans and US government non-accountable grants – were as happy as could be.  They were given free money with no conditions.  The US was desperate to counter the Chinese in Africa and show the fundamental moral principles which underlay its foreign aid.  The Chinese walked into Africa, offered the building of roads, ports, and airstrips for a below-market price for oil no questions asked, no conditionalities, no moral judgment; and their arrogant, racist manipulation of poor Africans had to be stopped.

Image result for images xi president with african leaders

So accountability went out the window with hopes for a better world.   Walkin’ around money became the modus operandi of the US State Department.

As importantly, US foreign policy was devised to show African success stories.  The world knew all too well that the continent was ruled by brutal, self-serving dictators who oppressed the poor, extracted labor from thin, tired arms, and who ruled gulag-style states from plush presidential palaces.  

When Mali showed promise – the President stated that he would hold free and fair elections – then Secretary of State Hilary Clinton rushed to congratulate him and welcome him into the commonwealth of democratic nations.  What she didn’t see – but should have if she had any sense at all – was that the President and his government were nothing but churlish rogues who didn’t deserve a vote from the most corrupt elector.

He held elections, was re-elected with 95 percent of the vote, was then summarily thrown out by a restive military which in turn established autocratic military rule until it was summarily removed in turn by ISIS and Tuareg insurgents.

Image result for images president past mali

So, not only were the tens of millions invested in foreign aid for Mali wasted, but the political support given by the US State Department was shown to be an ignorant, myopic, idiotic misreading of African politics.

The US grasped at straws to show that black Africans were worth the trouble. Take family planning, touted the Director of USAID, and look at the remarkable declines in fertility thanks to our efforts.  Wrong and wrong again.  Despite decades of flogging the pill, the condom, and the IUD, fertility rates remained high.  The poor, understanding that high infant morality was robbing them of child labor, had more and more children and refused the illogical propositions of family planning advocates.  Only when mortality rates declined and incomes increased, did fertility decline.  

Market forces and not the do-good, hopelessly idealistic and politically driven US government programs were behind population dynamics.

The hundreds of private contractors which thrive on government contract dollars never want for new, ambitious, idealistic recruits.  Young women forgo marriage, further education, profitable jobs to do good.  They become willing cogs in a corrupt machine.  The business of international ‘development’ continues apace.  No Administration has been able to curb its excesses, to haul in the lines, to face facts.  It simply feels good to give money to the poor, starving millions in Africa. 

The system remains in place, private contractors continue to eat well on government largesse, the big men of Africa continue to sock away billions in offshore accounts and Swiss banks, and young American women feel they are expressing their belief in a better world.

A perfect storm of political, venal interests, geopolitics, idealism, and na├»ve youthful enthusiasm assure that international ‘development’ aid is, sad to say, here to stay.

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