Is there a more pertinent question in the realm of Foreign Policy than the future of British spending abroad? Made even more so in the current economic climate. This question was recently on the agenda at the Department for International Development. Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, outlined a four year plan to ‘deliver aid to the world’s poorest people.’
Very briefly, DfID have proposed seven targets to reach by 2015:
? ‘Secure Schooling for 11 million children – more than we educate in the UK’
? ‘Vaccinate more children against preventable diseases than there are people in the whole of England’
? ‘Provide access to safe drinking water and improved sanitation to more people than there are in Scotland, Wales and Northern England’
? ‘Save the lives of 50,000 women in pregnancy and childbirth’
? ‘Stop 250,000 newborn babies dying needlessly’
? ‘Support 13 countries to hold freer and fairer election’
? ‘Help 10 million more women get access to modern family planning’
This ambitious schedule will target 27 countries(Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Burma, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Tajikistan, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, Zambia and Zimbabwe) over the next 4 years, which DfID called a ‘radical refocusing’ of aid. The ‘radical’ part referred to the most intriguing section of the aid plan; the countries where Britain will stop sending aid. The 16 countries to suffer are: Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Cameroon, Cambodia, China, Gambia, Indonesia, Iraq, Kosovo, Lesotho, Moldova, Niger, Russia, Serbia and Vietnam. Although several ties are being cut (with the above countries), the budget for international aid will in fact increase and by 2015 Britain hopes that aid will be focused to only the poorest and conflict ridden states.
The list of countries that will stop receiving British aid is quite fascinating and to some possibly puzzling – it certainly demands a bit of a probe. So here are a few points that I’d like to share.
Russia and China
First off, it is surely a surprise for most people to see China and Russia on the list, not because they will stop receiving British aid, but because they ever did. As we all know, these are two vast and rich nations, with more than enough wealth to formulate their own internal aid plans. However, we also know that sadly, the wealth of these two states is not evenly distributed and many millions live in poverty and many without the political freedoms we take for granted.Why is it then, in Britain’s interest to spend large sums of money helping those we consider less fortunate than ourselves in rival states such as Russia and China? It might be the ‘right’ thing to do, but then why does Britain not send aid to all nations, Latin American states, for example. I think it only becomes clear if one has a real conception of the multi-faceted nature of aid. In some instances, it is a clear-cut offering of financial support. However in other cases (Russia and China), it is a useful diplomatic tool to forge a better relationship. For instance, the aid package that Britain had sent Russia was essentially a ploy to promote democracy. It has been sent to sponsor freer elections, to monitor the state of prisons and support marginalised groups. So in this case, aid is a political instrument born out of long term self-interest. Russian democracy suits British aims – primarily in trading potential and ‘Western’ integration. In the grand scheme of things, this is a change in policy that will be welcomed by the ‘sceptical’ British tax payer. The economic downturn demands are re-thinking of aid so that it is used for specific causes and used carefully, rather than for a cause, such as the Russian case, which returned no visible or tangible ‘results’.
Why Nigeria not Niger?These two countries are large, bordering countries in West Africa. Nigeria has one of the fastest growing economies in Africa (if not the fastest) and has rich(er) natural resources, particularly oil. Niger, on the other hand is a far poorer country and one that has been beset by natural disaster including a famine in 2010. One might presume that as a nation, comparatively speaking, Niger might ‘deserve’ Britain’s financial aid. So why Nigeria, and not Niger? Alas, and without sounding flippant, Niger does not offer Britain what Nigeria can. Niger is also an ex-French colony whereas Nigeria was an ex-British colony. Although it is known (or should be) to every Jim Bloggs that aid and development is more often than not a bartering tool, the aid planning report does not make explicit reference to ‘we shall provide aid in return for favours’. A conspiracy you say? Well no. Largely because conspiracy denotes secrecy and there is no secrecy behind Britain’s relationship with Nigeria. Rather, in this conte
xt, it offers to us a glimpse of another facet of the instrumental use of Britain’s aid. Unfair and hypocritical? Maybe, but not if you accept the role of aid within global relationships properly. Especially when one considers the absolutely vital role of Nigeria’s and Niger’s respective colonial pasts. Click here for the list of British programs in Nigeria.
I could go on. The fact that India is a recipient of British aid might grate on people, (see Daily Mail article) but only those naive enough to ignore our colonial links for 300 odd years. This over-simplifies the argument but it is an unquestionable factor. ‘Colonial guilt?’ Maybe. India is also home to a third of the poorest people in the world. Eight states are home to 65% of India’s poor.
What about Iraq? When DfID proclaimed that aid should be directed at conflict zones and conflict prevention, Iraq surely, surely requires it. We could even get moral here! (Britain’s ‘intervention’) There are also countries missing altogether that would surely reflect the aid agenda, Libya or Syria for example.
It leaves me to discuss how this aid will serve those in the poorest and most damaged states. The aims outlined for British aid are undisputedly commendable, however without accompanying funding for education at all stages of aid and development, it will be far less successful. Britain hopes to help the most marginalised and vulnerable sections of society, (especially during and after conflict) women and children. If Britain really wants to help these people, aid must be delivered in unison with the population or community they intend to help and without bypassing the government. Surely aid, in its very definition, is a relatively short term thing. For Britain to have a lasting mark in helping damaged states and marginalised people, it can only be done with local knowledge. Time will tell if, by 2015 when countries like Kosovo , Iraq and Niger stop receiving aid, will a positive legacy of UK aid have been left. Issues like medical support, educational development, human rights awareness must work in harmony if aid is to be successful. It is in Britain’s interests, after all, that states are able to regain stability and free themselves from overseas dependency. This is most crucial at a gender level. Post conflict rehabilitation and reconstruction has a dark history of leaving women in the gutter and not accounting for their status in society. Aid should never be viewed as merely a financial gift, if it successful, it should be a long lasting pick-me-up for those who are most in need.
It’s easy to cry foul of the ways in which aid is used or more importantly not used, and rightly so in many cases. I would not refrain from castigating British aid policy if it was for sheer profit at the expense of others. It is the case, however, that aid performs the job of only one arm of UK foreign engagement. To decipher and pick holes in it is the reserve of this writer, to protest, for this installment, is that of another.
By Jack Goodman