In this post I will dig a little deeper in the implications of current development aid and how it is related to the lack of power African citizens have over their government. Most people know this discussion through the writings of Dambisa Moyo in her recent book ‘Dead Aid’. Although I do not agree with the solutions suggested by Moyo, I do acknowledge some of the problems she puts forward.
Foreign Aid and Democracy
Democracy as we know it evolves from mutual dependency of the elite and the general public. They depend on each other in order to create a stable economy which will benefit all.
In their symbiosis, the general public produces commodities which the elite collect and distribute. When either of the two does not perform their task well, one is able to hold the other accountable for not sticking to the deal. Elites can punish civilians who do not pay tax or disobey the law, civilians can demonstrate and vote for another government if tax money is not spent according to their needs.
This extremely simplified description of modern democracy will hopefully help to explain why problems can arise from foreign aid flooding in to a state. Foreign aid can complicate and eventually erode the dependency relations between government and civilians. This disruption of dependency relations eventually leads to governments who are over sensitive when it comes to foreign investors. Citizens will not generate as much wealth as foreign parties, so accountability of government processes shift toward these investors (Aid, Chinese investments, sale of natural resources to international corporations etc.). Citizens are less valuable to the elite and in the historically weak democracies of Africa, civil society will be hesitant to demand rights they have never known. In other words; Foreign aid can ‘short circuit’ the link between government and civil society and obfuscate the democratic process.