Tag Archives: foreign aid

Development Aid Priorities

The Guardian’s Datablog today has a fascinating map  illustrating global development aid flows over the past decade. They’ve been running a contest for the best map, and today’s entry shows the winner.

The interactive map highlights aid received and given by each country, both in total, over time, by source and by sector. You can also put the map in motion, and see how aid flows have changed over time.

The map provides a compelling way to view the changing global priorities in development aid. You see, for example, the rise of Iraq as a major recipient of foreign aid following the 2003 U.S. invasion. But the map also helps to raise some interesting questions, particularly around the basis on which foreign aid should be distributed. Given the ongoing debate over the fiscal cliff and the pressing desire to cut government spending, it seems clear that foreign aid is going to be expected to do more with less in the future. Yet Americans have always vastly overestimated the amount of foreign aid the country provides. A 2010 survey found that Americans believed foreign aid was one quarter of the total U.S. budget, but believed that it should “only” be 10 percent. In truth, foreign aid comprises less than one percent of the federal budget. The belief that we can balance the federal budget by cutting foreign aid (or public television, for that matter) is simply absurd.

But the broader conversation about the role of foreign aid and its relationship to foreign policy priorities is a conversation worth having.

What do you think? What should American foreign aid priorities be? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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Barack Obama’s United Nations Day

President Barack Obama Addresses the United Nations

President Barack Obama Addresses the United Nations

President Barack Obama was in New York yesterday for United Nations week, the annual gathering of the world’s heads of government to discuss issues of global importance. Discussion of the Millennium Development Goals had dominated the discussion leading up to Obama’s speech (and will likely be the focus of ongoing discussion, as Texas in Africa notes).

President Obama’s speech was—as many of the speeches to the United Nations by heads of state tend to be—long on rosy rhetoric and short on details. Obama did hint at a couple of (potentially) interesting shifts. He announced a new “U.S. Global Development Policy” and outlined his “new approach and new thinking” in which America’s “national security strategy recognizes development as not only a moral imperative, but a strategic and economic imperative.” Collectively, according to him, means that “the United States is changing the way we do [development] business.” Much of the rhetoric offered nothing new. His speech emphasized the same need for transparency, good governance, and commitment to free markets that have defined U.S. development policy since the early 1990s (at least).

More concretely, Obama recommitted the United States to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. He also suggested the need to rethink how we define development. According to Obama,

“For too long, we’ve measured our efforts by the dollars we spent and the food and medicines we delivered. But aid alone is not development. Development is helping nations to actually develop—moving from poverty to prosperity. And we need more than just aid to unleash that change. We need to harness all the tools at our disposal-from our diplomacy to our trade and investment policies.…

[W]e’re changing how we view the ultimate goal of development. Our focus on assistance has saved lives in the short term, but it hasn’t always improved those societies over the long term. Consider the millions of people who have relied on food assistance for decades. That’s not development, that’s dependence, and it’s a cycle we need to break. Instead of just managing poverty, we have to offer nations and peoples a path out of poverty.

This could suggest a more dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy. For example, the United States may move away from providing in-kind food aid to a greater emphasis on cash for emergency aid and an increase in non-emergency food development. But this kind of shift involves more than a simple speech at the United Nations. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There have been several interesting developments in European politics over the past few days. Final results were released Saturday from the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. The Irish approved the treaty by a wide margin (with 67.1% of voters in favor) after defeating the treaty in June 2008 by a 53.4 percent majority. Ireland’s approval of the treaty represents an important step forward in approving a restructuring of the European Union; a restructuring that would expand the influence of the European Parliament, establish a full-time presidency for the EU (a position for which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be tapped), and limit the ability of national governments to veto EU legislation in certain areas. But despite the approval by Irish voters, Czech President Vaclav Klaus tempered expectations, stating that he may delay signing the treaty until a Czech appeals court can review the treaty and assess its implications for Czech sovereignty.

Two important elections also took place recently. In Germany, Angela Merkel won reelection as Germany’s Chancellor. The victory of her center-right coalition promises to continue her emphasis on greater openness for the German economy. Preliminary results from Greek elections on Sunday suggest that the Socialists will soundly defeat the ruling New Democracy party, possibly securing a legislative majority in the national parliament. The contradictory results suggest an interesting restructuring of European politics.

In news from outside of the European Union last week:

1. Government ministers at the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund in Turkey this week rejected warnings by the banking sector that new financial regulations could undermine economic growth. Representatives from the United States, Italy, and the United Kingdom all rejected claims by the global bankers association that regulatory overkill could undermine global economic growth and result in the creation of fewer jobs. But despite apparent agreement on the need for new financial regulations, considerable debate over the exact nature and structure of those regulations remains, and an agreement on the details appears to be a ways off.

2. The International Olympic Committee granted Rio de Janeiro the right to host the 2016 Olympic Games on Friday, making Rio the first South American city to host the Olympics. A last minute visit by President Barack Obama to Copenhagen was unable to convince the IOC to grant the games to Chicago, which was also bidding to host. Several observers have raised concerns that Obama’s unsuccessful campaign to win the games may undermine his ability to deliver on health care reform and foreign policy objectives.

3. A massive earthquake in Indonesia resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,100 people last week. The tragedy follows a tsunami in the South Pacific that killed more than 100 people. Concerns that another, larger quake could strike soon were also raised on Saturday. International aid campaigns have begun delivering supplies to the region, but the widespread devastation of government facilities in the region could hamper aid efforts.

4. The President of Burkina Faso has been dispatched to meet with the military rulers of Guinea to address the emerging crisis in the country. More than 100 people have been killed in Guinea in the past week, as the county’s military government has moved to quash opposition protests. On Thursday, Cellou Dalein Diallo, former prime minister and current opposition leader, was forced to flee the country, as Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who came to power as the country’s leader in a December coup, has attempted to solidify his hold on power.

5. On Sunday, the government of Iran agreed to permit International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit a secret uranium enrichment facility made public by the United States last week. The discovery of the site led the Russian government to concede the possibility of United Nations sanctions on the Iranian government—a proposal which both Russia and China have long opposed. The Iranian decision comes ahead of scheduled six-party talks, involving the United States, Russia, France, China, Britain, Germany, and Iran, at the end of the month.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The political situation in Iran continued to evolve over the past week. Last week, a standoff between President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, culminated in the dismissal of two conservatives from the cabinet and the firing of Vice President (and close ally of Ahmadi-Nejad), Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei. The deteriorating relationship between Ahmadi-Nejad and Khamenei further undermines the political stability of Iran, already weakened by June’s disputed presidential elections and the subsequent protests which have rocked the country. Protests have been a regular feature of the Iranian political scene for the past month, including clashes between police and opposition supporters like those that occurred on Thursday.  Although the Iranian government last week released hundreds of people arrested for participating in the post-election protests, the trial of 100 of the most prominent detainees is moving forward. Critics of the regime have condemned the trial as a spectacle.

Meanwhile, three Americans were arrested on Saturday by Iranian security forces for allegedly entering the country illegally.  The three were camping in Kurdistan (near the Iraqi-Iranian border) when they crossed over into Iran. They have been transferred to the capital, Tehran, where they are currently being held.

In news from outside Iran in the last week:

1. Two statements by the Indian government last week dashed hopes of progress in multilateral negotiations. On Wednesday, India’s commerce secretary, Rahul Khullar, dismissed hopes of rekindling World Trade Organization talks as unrealistic in the current global political and economic climate. The current round of talks, referred to as the Doha agenda, has been under negotiation for nine years. The talks have been suspended numerous times, largely as a result of the inability of WTO member states to agree on binding cuts to agricultural subsidies. According to Khullar, progress is unlikely because, in the context of the global economic crisis, political leaders are focused on job losses and the lack of domestic economic growth, a focus which makes it difficult to move forward on a new global trade deal.

In another development, India’s environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, said on Friday that India would not agree to binding emission cuts for at least ten years, potentially throwing climate talks scheduled to take place in Copenhagen in December into disarray. India and China are both dismissive of western pressure to agree to greenhouse gas reductions, believing that such reductions would undermine future economic growth and development in their countries. But without the participation of China and India in climate change negotiations, progress will be far more difficult, particularly given the historical U.S. negotiating position that it will not be bound by any climate change agreement that does not also include reductions for China and India.

2. Over the weekend, Russia concluded negotiations to expand the Russian troop presence in Kyrgyzstan. The expanded Russian presence is part of Russia’s broader effort to reassert itself in its traditional sphere of influence, an effort which included the development of the Collective Security Treaty Organization, a counterpart to NATO which includes Russia and six other former Soviet Republics, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Armenia and Belarus. The United States and Russia have been competing for influence in Kyrgyzstan, which occupies an important geo-strategic position, and Kyrgyzstan’s president, Kurmanbek Bakiyev, has skillfully negotiated between competing Russian and American interests. In February, after receiving $2 billion in aid from the Russian government, Bakiyev ordered the United States to leave Kyrgyzstani bases by June. The bases are part of the U.S. air transit route to supply forces in Afghanistan. After the United States agreed to triple rent payments for use of the base and to offer additional financial assistance to the Kyrgyzstani government, Bakiyev rescinded his request that the U.S. withdraw.

3. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has once again sparked widespread criticism, this time among human rights groups. At issue is the latest development in the president’s campaign against “media terrorism”—a new law which would punish journalists and their sources with up to four years in jail for “causing panic,” “disturbing social peace” or compromising national security.

In an unrelated development, the government of Venezuela has “frozen” diplomatic and economic relations with its neighbor, Colombia. Relations between the two countries have been poor since March 2008, when Colombia launched a raid into Ecuador, a close ally of Venezuela. The decision to suspend relations came after Colombia accused Venezuela of supplying rocket launchers to Marxist rebels in Colombia.

4. Clashes between security forces and an Islamist sect in three states in Nigeria continued last week despite the death of Islamist leader Mohammed Yusuf in police custody. More than 150 people have died in five days of fighting in Nigeria, where a sharp economic and political divide between the largely Muslim north and the predominately Christian south has been exacerbated by the country’s declining economic situation. The fighting in the northern part of the country complicates efforts to address the longstanding crisis in the southern, oil producing region of the country, where conflicts between militant separatist groups and the government have continued off-and-on for the better part of a decade. Taken together, these conflicts represent the most significant challenge to the Nigerian government since independence.

5. The International Monetary Fund on Friday issued a statement intended to play down the standoff between the Fund and the government of Iceland. At issue are the conditionalities imposed on the government of Iceland as a requirement for the dispersal of $2.1 billion in IMF loans. The government of Iceland has been under immense political pressure regarding the status of foreign savings deposits in Icelandic banks, which collapsed last year as part of the global economic crisis. The IMF is requiring that the government guarantee all foreign savings deposits, but the government of Iceland has so far refused, bowing to domestic political pressure not to compensate account holders.

The Problem with the Development Aid Debate

A fascinating debate has been taking place over at the Huffington Post over the past several days. At issue is Dambisa Moyo’s new book, Dead Aid, in which Moyo argues that aid undermines developmental efforts in recipient countries. Africa therefore needs to go “cold turkey” off foreign aid in order to achieve economic development. Moyo is, in short, advocating the ultimate in free market economics. Moyo’s controversial thesis has been widely popular in some circles, even breaking into mainstream television coverage on the Colbert Report.

Jeffrey Sachs offered a counterpoint to Moyo’s position, arguing that foreign aid is necessary to address the contemporary challenges faced by the African continent. A number of other bloggers, including Kristi York Wooten, Jake Whitney, and Alex Coutinho have also chimed in to the debate to support Sach’s critique of Moyo.

But the problem in the debate so far has, as Kevin Watkins points out, been oversimplified. Watkins critiques Moyo for “tilting at windmills.” “The real debate,” he argues, “should be over how to increase aid effectiveness.” Watkins is right. But he doesn’t go far enough in his critique. To the contrary, in his defense of Moyo, William Easterly criticizes Sachs for providing too many caveats to his theory. According to Easterly,

A good rule for all theories, including theories of global poverty, is Occam’s Razor — make the theory as simple as possible, but no simpler. Another way to put it is beware of explanations with too many Ifs, Buts and Excepts in them.

But Easterly’s concerns are only valid insofar as the goal is to provide a universal theory of economic development. If the goal is rather to achieve development in a specific country, that the greater the specificity the better. In this respect, the debate over whether foreign aid facilitates or undermines development has been that it offers a single, unified vision of what constitutes development. We don’t seem to have learned from the failure of the Washington Consensus (glossary) to achieve development in Africa through its “one size fits all” policy prescriptions.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The big story of the week has been the swine flu outbreak, which now appears to be in decline. The Mexican government has announced that the outbreak that originated there appears to be easing. While governments around the world are responding with caution, the award for the biggest overreaction goes to the government of Egypt, which announced it would cull all 300,000 pigs in the country, despite the fact that there is no evidence that of the flu in the country. Pig farmers responded angrily to the proposal, sparking confrontations with police in the capital, Cairo. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, is defending its reaction, which many have criticized as an overreaction, saying that a second wave of outbreaks could appear in the future.

In news from outside the area of H1N1 (swine) flu:

1. The conflict between the Pakistani military and Taliban militants continues. The government of Pakistan stepped up its offensive against Taliban forces in regions along the Afghan border last week. The intensification of actions against the Taliban by the Pakistani government follow criticisms raised by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that the Pakistani government was “abdicating” power to militant groups inside the country.

2. Regional governments in Southern Africa, led by South Africa and Botswana, are attempting to raise funds to finance trade credits and business loans to support the new coalition government in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s economy continues to struggle, despite the government finally reigning in inflation last month. The power-sharing government has taken radical steps to bring the economy under control, including slashing government spending and permitting the use of foreign currencies for domestic transactions. As a result, the country had been struggling with an estimated 231 million percent inflation  over the past year. But so far Western donors, including the International Monetary Fund, have been hesitant to remove sanctions or increase aid to the impoverished country.

3. The European Union’s application for observer status on the Arctic Council was blocked by Canada last week. Canada is upset about proposed EU legislation intended to ban all imported seal products. Tensions over the status of the Arctic have intensified in recent years, as retreating sea ice resulting from climate change opens new shipping lanes and the possibility of extracting the Arctic’s vast stores of oil and gas. 

4. Despite experiencing a severe recession of its own, the government of Japan announced plans to expand financial assistance to other Asian countries. In a move intended to expand Japan’s influence in the region, the country will offer up to $100 billion in financial aid to Asian countries impacted by the global economic crisis. This announcement comes after other announcements that Japan would offer $100 billion in extra capital to the International Monetary Fund, $61.5 billion bilateral currency swap between Japan and Indonesia, and $38.4 billion in the multilateral Chiang Mai currency swap initiative. According to some observers, Japan is anxious to expand its influence in the region to counter the increasing influence of China.

5. May Day protests took place across Europe on Friday. Confrontations between police and protestors turned violent in Turkey, Greece, and Germany. The first of May is observed as International Workers Day (Labor Day) outside the United States. Increased unemployment resulting from the international financial crisis combined with growing social inequality raised concerns that protests may turn violent in countries like France and Spain as well, but no such outbreaks occurred.