By Martin Regg Cohn, Toronto Star, December 14, 2010
The poverty and pathos of Haiti are hardly unique. Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, North Korea — the world has no shortage of borderline failed states that are failing their people. And need help.
Here’s an unpleasant political truism: The most corrupt and incompetent countries also tend to be the neediest nations — dependent on foreign help to feed the hungry (and foreign muscle to help keep order). That’s the dirty little secret of development aid.
After years of frustrating setbacks in Afghanistan, with little to show for our sacrifices, there is a growing clamour in Canada to cut and run. Next year, we will shift from front-line combat near Kandahar to a less dangerous training role in Kabul, yet Afghanistan skeptics are suggesting we should cut our losses further, by reallocating our development aid to less corrupt countries.
The hard truth is that there is nowhere else to go if we want to remain engaged with the world. If we insisted on helping only angels — the most transparent and accountable regimes that respected human rights — few countries would qualify.
And, of course, wherever there is a need, especially a humanitarian need of considerable proportions, there will be an agency, or a group of people ready and willing to jump to fill that need. And for that, the world can be thankful.
However, it is the political/religious agenda that accompanies much of this aid that is really troubling.
Much foreign aid is attached to an agenda to prosletyze or convert the "needy" to a particular faith, or a specific morality, and the "rich" countries are looking for more success and more allies and more adherents to their (our) world view.
Of course, we have to hold our noses and provide aid to the most corrupt and the most incompetent and the most needy, at the same time; however, we need to be extremely circumspect about how we provide that aid.
Throwing money around, as apparently is the case in Afghanistan (and formerly in Iraq) makes a mockery of any humanitarian motives; such acts are so highly charged with political agenda, with so blatant a purpose as sheer bribery, that the acts leave both provider and recipient without dignity. The purchase of political and/or religious converts demeans both parties.
And, when the "charity" stops, there will be little evidence of the long-term help that was one of the goals of he effort.
In fact, one has to wonder if such "purchased" loyalty can or ever will be authentic loyalty.
There is a commercial exchange: my money for your support. And in Afghanistan the stories are legion about attempting to purchase the loyalty of the Taliban while also fighting them in the mountains and in the valleys.
They must think we are terribly stupid to be engaged in both killing and bribing at the same time; they also must wonder when we will leave, without accomplishing any of our stated purposes.
And the same can be said of many of the failed states. The so-called first world countries still really do not have a legitimate approach to foreign aid, from country to country. When they bail other first world countries out of massive debt, as in Greece, Ireland, and potentially Portugal and Italy, they prevent social chaos. However, when there is little or not government, and the country is in the hands of rebel forces, often little more than gangs, those countries need some semblance of law and order, some semblance of governance and some sense of legitimacy in order to begin to receive aid, and to administer that aid with any kind of respect for the proportion of need. And there seems to be little evidence of a global system of accountability in tracking the path and the spending and the impact of large sums of aid money.
Some are even calling for an end to foreign aid, because of the patronizing of the recipient that includes a lack of ambition to do for themselves.
Perhaps the U.N. could undertake a proposal for responsibility for all accounting of money pledged to failed states, remove the countries' political agendas, as well as the various agencies religious/conversion agendas from such aid, in order to remove all the "strings" that might be attached, to provide a modicum of dignity and integrity and global respect for the process, since everyone knows that the transition from failed state to legitimacy is not only hard and long, it is also filled with caves of bandits just lying in wait for the money-trains to be ambushed.
Both the donors and the recipients of this aid truly need a process which honours their philanthropy. It must be transparent, and credible and self-sustaining and the "books" must always be open to full public view, with respect to the dollars, their investment income and their production of value in the recipient country.