Reading (so far only) excerpts from A. Furia’s book on foreign aid and gift-giving (Palgrave Pilot, 2015), one may find references to an ‘old’ declaration by Julius Nyerere. The Arusha Declaration (1967) deals extensively with foreign assistance (‘external aid’) which was sorted into three (basically non-desired) categories by (the early/young) Nyerere: gifts, loans and private investments. Gifts were understood as a non-reciprocated transfer: ” another government gives our Government a sum of money as a free gift for a particular development scheme. Sometimes it may be that an institution in another country gives our Government, or an institution in our country, financial help for development programmes.” For Nyerere it was the less favourable form of aid as long as he understood it as a ‘gentle’ means endangering independence and sovereignty. Regardless to the fact that foreign aid was eventually ‘accepted’ by the Tanzanian government, the reason for rejecting it may be worthwhile to recall:
“Even if there was a nation, or nations, prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would effect our independence and our very survival as a nation. Gifts which increase, or act as a catalyst, to our own efforts are valuable. Gifts which could have the effect of weakening or distorting our own efforts should not be accepted until we have asked ourselves a number of questions.”
Some 25-30 years later, in 1993, the Palestinian political leadership faced the same dilemma and asked very similar questions. The promise of foreign aid (at the advent of the Oslo Peace Process) was by no means generous and altruistic for many (this ‘many’ was really a ‘minority’ then). By attaching conditions to their ‘gift,’ donor countries took advantage of their material and political dominance in order to pressure them to behave in line with donor (ie. Western) political agenda. Reservations were formulated against giving up parts of Palestinian political identity in exchange for foreign aid in the early 1990s [i]. This fear was worded, right after the Oslo Accords had been signed, by Hani Hassan in the following way [ii]:
‘it is true that we will get a handful of billions of dollars and that we will build power stations in Gaza and sewage system on the West Bank. But this is not what PLO is about’.
As these two examples probably illustrate, it is the very being – identity – of the beneficiary which is threatened by (the acceptance of) external assistance (let it be formally or informally conditional) as long as the quality of relationship between the donor and recipient (giver-receiver, helper-helped) is determined by any sort of inequality, asymmetry and unwillingness to share a particular set of norms, values and interests. Permanent or prolonged indebtedness creates enemies… but makes real gifts possible, indeed.
Notes: [i] On the critics of the Oslo peace process, see for example: R. Lentin, ed. (2008) Thinking Palestine. London: Zed Books; [ii] The full text of his speech is quoted by Laqueur and Rubin (2001): The Arab-Israeli Reader, p. 435-36.