Aid and politics

All knows that there is ‘good aid’ and ‘bad aid’, but it is very difficult to separate them, since aid is not purely a technical term. Humanitarian aid is said to be apolitical serving only principles (humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence to mention only the most relevant ones), development aid is about belief (in economic growth and/or poverty reduction), and military aid is explicitly about common interests (making allies). Regardless to its objectives or the motives behind foreign aid, even humanitarian aid, is deeply embedded in politics. Humanitarian aid can be offered purely on ‘humanitarian’ grounds. Resource scarcity – money being at the disposal of the donors – leads to certain selectivity even in terms of the disasters and catastrophes let them be natural or man-made. The scope and magnitude of the humanitarian activities surrounding, for example, the Syrian civil war (compared, for example to similar cases in Africa) says at least as much about donor preferences in terms of being good, as about the negligence of the Syrian government or about the preparedness of the neighboring countries to manage such crises. Foreign (mainly, but not exclusively Western) commitment, competencies and professionalism is needed in order to prevent larger catastrophes (measured by higher rate of mortality, lower rate of school enrollment ratio or that of vaccination, etc).

As the Syrian case will probably show in the future, ‘conflict resolution and post-war reconstruction concerns (…) could be seen as ‘the riot control’ end of a spectrum encompassing a broad range of ‘global poor relief’ (Duffield 2001: 9). The reasons – let them be economic or political, strategic or moral, developmental or humanitarian – for participation in form of foreign aid are secondary to the fact, that foreign assistance brings the ‘establishment’ of global governance closer to the recipient societies. This ‘closeness’ leads to further tensions among local stakeholders – as well as to further opportunities to intervene – by delegitimizing indigenous leadership and by alienating leaders from their own people, even in Syria. This argument, applied in the Palestinian case too (Paragi 2012b), can be formulated this way too: ‘the [donor] policy is most effective when objectives are more or less similar on both sides – (…) – where foreign aid support reforms which the [recipient] government itself wants to carry out’ (Stokke 1995: 79). If the recipient government does not really care about its own people (regardless to the question of democratic representation) further tensions will emerge in terms of implementing donor policies. Mark Duffield formulated it in the following way: ‘the condemnation of all violent conflict by liberal peace means that the leaders of violent conflicts are automatically problematized’ regardless to their motives and acts (Duffield 2001: 128–129). It is strange enough, but people usually tend to favour their own problematic (or problematized) leaders over foreign helpers. It is the ‘foreign’ adjective which would deserve more attention – not the effects, effectiveness or efficiency of any foreign help.

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