Dilemmas in Development: Is aid always a good thing?

The question “does aid really help?” has recently become one of the most popular amongst development studies. Whilst rich countries in the West have been donating aid to less developed countries since the 19th century, when Britain and France sent aid to former colonies (The history of foreign aid, 2013), it has only been in the past few years that people are wondering whether aid is the most successful and appropriate option. The argument in discussion is extremely complex, so in this blog I will discuss just one of the controversial issues within this ongoing debate; the idea that through sending aid, it puts the power into the hands of the donor, and often will only benefit the elites in society.

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In a Ted Talk, regarding aid in Africa, Andrew Mwenda argues that it is not about reducing poverty, but about creating wealth. Mwenda argues that aid is not the right catalyst to allow this –  Within his talk he refers to the quote “he who pays the piper plays the tune” (Mwedna, 2007). Here he argues that aid strips countries of self-initiative, and side-lines them from policy making and policy implementation, as they listen to international creditors rather than their own people. This has many issues as the progress which is occurring won’t benefit those who are most in need, as it will be aimed towards international co-corporations, and bureaucrats. However, Barder argues that whilst you are not giving the country itself the opportunity to choose what it wants to do, this may have more benefits as it will encourage economic reform – this means that it will provide money for what the donor countries see as essential for economic development, and will accelerate the changes. (Barder, 20013)

A common argument regarding aid, is the type of aid and the way it is distributed. An online article by Phil Vernon addresses the issue with Top-Down aid, and argues that it only benefits the elites in society, such as those working in the government, where it is used to protect their own privileges rather than providing progress for the country itself, through supplying security and welfare. (Vernon, 2009) Furthermore, Vernon also argues that aid should enable and promote transformation; This encompasses social and political progress which is required in order for the country to move forward. (Vernon, 2009).

The responses to Vernon’s article provide an agreement with what Vernon writes, whilst also suggesting other issues regarding the subject. In regard to conditionality’s Rabinowitzs, continues on from Vernon’s message and argues that conditionality’s with aid are put in place without the recipient country in mind; here Rabinowitz writes “is it not used sensitively enough to ensure it does not weaken accountability of governments to their citizens” (Rabinowtiz, 2010).

In his book, Moyo writes that’s whilst the idea of conditionality’s may seem positive, due to the idea of it giving aid a purpose and direction, when put into practice they are often much less successful. On the subject of the failure of conditionality’s Moyo writes “Paramount was their failure to constrain corruption and bad government” (Moyo, 2010, 39). Here he argues that, whilst ties are initially put in place to ensure that the money sent reaches its intended purpose, in reality this does not occur, due to the conditionality’s being set out in a way which still allows exploitation. This argument is backed through data from the World Bank suggesting that over 80% of aid does not reach the purpose which was originally planned. Svensson explains that tied aid, and conditionality’s “act as a constraint that reduces inefficiency”. (Svesson, 2000, 72)

In conclusion I believe that despite aid having the ability to help countries development, it is not being implemented in the most effective way. As long as the donor countries have their own intentions at the core of their conditionality’s aid will never fully benefit the recipient country, and allow them to develop successfully and most efficiently.


Barder, O. (2013) What sort of conditions should there be on aid? – Owen abroad. Available at: http://www.owen.org/musings/conditionality(27 November 2016).


Edwards, M., Evans, A., Wallace, T. and Rabinowitz, G. (2010) Four immediate responses to Phil Vernon. Available at: http://www.opendemocracy.net/michael-edwards-alison-evans-tina-wallace-gideon-rabinowitz/four-immediate-responses-to-phil-vernon (24 November 2016).

Moyo, D.F. (2010) Dead aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Mwenda, A. (2007) Aid for Africa? No thanks. Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_mwenda_takes_a_new_look_at_africa#t-721401 (16 November 2016).

Svensson, J. (2000) ‘When is foreign aid policy credible? Aid dependence and conditionality’, Journal of Development Economics, 61(1), pp. 61–84

Vernon, P. (2009) Overseas development aid: Is it working? Available at: https://www.opendemocracy.net/phil-vernon/overseas-development-aid-is-it-working (17 November 2016).

 The history of foreign aid (2013) Available at: http://reliefweb.int/report/world/history-foreign-aid (16 November 2016).


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