Ian Birrell of the Independent asks a question that’s worth a ponder: why do the British give money to repressive countries?
Why, he asks, is Britain handing out so much aid to [Rwanda] when its ruler is fighting a proxy war in the Congo; when its elites are getting rich on stolen minerals; when democracy is a sham and dissent is stifled?
And aid flows into Uganda, where Yoweri Museveni’s regime has been accused of torture and repression. Britain increased total aid to Ethiopia even after Meles Zenawi, another poster boy for this supposed new wave of African leaders, oversaw a brutal clampdown following a blatantly rigged election and waged war on Somalia. A strange paradox seems to be emerging: the more money spent on aid, the less chance of criticism.
Birrell also highlight’s DFID’s growing power in Anglo-African relations:
The most outrageous example was in Kenya, where Dfid officials tried to prevent the British ambassador from speaking out against obscene corruption. Only last week I heard of a senior minister who, told he was signing agreements with one of Kenya’s most corrupt politicians, glibly replied that he was less interested in the man’s record than the desire to get children into education. Little wonder Kenya remains plagued by corruption.
The problem is that out of the many reasons we give aid, the only two that are (arguably) unselfish often conflict with each other:
- giving aid to hammer away at poverty and inspire economic growth and
- giving aid to incentivise governments to stay free, accountable and democratic.
Does our pursuit of poverty reduction collide with our preference for a free and democratic world (the titular two bones)? We’d like our decisions to be clear-cut: When governments are both repressive and bad at governing (or free and follow good policies) the decision is pretty easy.
However, when we’re dealing with countries that are relatively free but still have incompetent governments or those that are repressive yet follow good development/economic policies, our decisions will be marked with flecks of grey.
Sometimes I feel like I’m closer to the “give effective aid even if it gives you icky feelings” camp. Effective governments are arguably more important than free ones – Robert Mugabe’s economic policies did far more damage to Zimbabwe than his brutal methods of staying in power.
On the other hand, it does feel particularly icky to look the other way when successful governments begin to look more authoritarian, as they have in Uganda, Rwanda (and as donors in Malawi often did while I was there).
What do you think?