Aid is generally not something to be scorned. Most times, in fact, aid and assistance are much appreciated and needed. Be it war, be it famine, be it some earth-shattering event, aid in most cases is generally looked upon as a good thing.

Aid, as I say, is not to be frowned upon as some people do desperately need active assistance, however, there are times when the aid ends up becoming a hindrance and a blockage to actual progress and development.

This type of aid, the hindering type, is almost always found in some of the foreign aid agencies located in the recipient nations. Some of these groups are really polite powerbrokers of those who wish to exploit that land. Such a statement may seem to be a touch on the extreme side, however, the unfortunate truth is that some of these foreign aid groups have either led to the stagnation/retardation of local progress thus leaving the locals open to international exploitation or their aid and assistance is somehow linked to profiting some multinational.

A simple glance at what can only be called the poster child for international aid and foreign NGO assistance, Haiti, would seem to prove this point (and I am not talking about the recent sex scandal). Haiti is currently a land that cannot feed itself, and as such relies heavily on the NGOs and international aid. However, this is not because the land is untillable or that the Haitians have no concept of farming and horticulture. This is so because decades ago the Haitian rice industry (yes, there was a rice industry in Haiti) was destroyed by low-cost imports and the former farmers were then pushed to work in clothing factories for pittances.

After being pushed into low wage labour, and then unable to afford electricity, persons resorted to the use of charcoal that was obtained by felling trees. As such the once-mighty forest that graced Haiti is now no more and as a result, the topsoil is disappearing (affecting the remaining farmers) and causing much of the cataclysmic damage in that nation whenever it is touched by a storm, let alone a hurricane.

The international aid groups also seek to promote democracy and good governance in the nations where they pop up as if these nations have some allergic reaction to democracy and need to be immunized in order to accept it. Again, using Haiti as the example, one sees many groups aiming to teach and promote democratic values because the people just can’t seem to get it. This is after decades of USAID during the Duvalier regimes. This is after foreign governments ousted the democratically elected Aristide not once but twice and after years of foreign-sponsored divide and rule tactics. After decades of the NGOs taking the place of the government agencies in most areas, is it any wonder that the nation ‘just can’t seem to get it together’ and get a democratic system going?

The real impact of most foreign aid is the further impoverishment and degradation of the recipient nation. It should come as no surprise that nations such as Ethiopia and Rwanda have become stunning success stories with the glaring absence of foreign aid (in any major way) while nations such as Liberia and Haiti seemingly can’t get their houses in order, even with all that foreign assistance.

If we are to accept aid(and I am a major proponent of aid) let it be local and regional assistance rather than the international type which we currently have.

Aid distributed in this manner is almost infinitely better than the aid which comes from the foreign NGOs or through UKAID for example. This aid directed and designed by local recipients and regional partners is geared towards direct needs and upliftment. This type of aid, rather than teaching a person (who has been farming for decades) to farm, provides easily accessible funds through the formation of cooperatives. These types of groups, rather than teaching a person to boil water to get it clean (or even providing chlorine tablets), design and build waterways for potable water.

Local and regional aid, in short, aims to address the problem at the root while foreign aid and foreign NGOs tend to address the symptoms while leaving the root issue untouched. Charity begins at home, so let us as a region throw out these aid groups who seem to bring more trouble with them and let us address the issues at home ourselves. If not, we will, I fear, simply be stuck in the trap.

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