Development without Dialogue

Oh my.  Yet more evidence piling up to suggest that perhaps all is not well in the hallowed field of international aid. 

Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a 105-page report entitled Development without Freedom, How AID Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia, documenting “the ways in which the Ethiopian government uses donor-supported resources and aid as a tool to consolidate the power of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).”

There have long been reports that Ethiopian authorities have used aid as a political tool to manipulate the public.  (See my March 10 posting, Telling Us So).  So this isn’t exactly news.  But it is one more piece of proof — in case it was needed – that meaningful analysis and reflection is required on the complex political, social and economic impacts of international aid.   

Try telling the donors that.  As Rona Pelligal, Africa Director at HRW says, in the face of damning evidence about the Ethiopian government, “donors keep rewarding this behavior with ever-larger sums of development aid.”  

The conservatives argue that aid is criminally wasteful, while the liberals argue it’s criminal to waste our power to help the less fortunate.  And in the midst of all this arguing, very little meaningful dialogue actually takes place about the use and abuse of aid — dialogue that might serve to improve aid’s efficacy and ultimately save lives.  But surely when a respected organisation like Human Rights Watch starts offering critique, it’s time we all start listening.  Or at least agreeing to a more nuanced discussion.

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