Mis-guided Food Aid?

Discussion in 'Globalization' started by Motion, Jan 17, 2005.

  1. Motion

    Motion Senior Member

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    How Western Aid Helped Destroy Somalia

    By George Ayittey

    Somalia is probably the most egregious example of Western patronage gone berserk. Huge amounts of economic relief aid were dumped into Somalia, transforming the country into the "Graveyard of Aid." But the massive inflow of food aid in the early 1990s did much to shred the fabric of Somali society. Droughts and famines are not new to Africa, and most traditional societies developed indigenous methods of coping. Those methods were destroyed in Somalia, and the country became more and more dependent on food imports...

    Food aid depressed grain prices giving local farmers fewer incentives to farm. It became easier for them to trek to the refugee centers for their food rations. The young, armed with AK-47s, saw an opportunity. Relief supplies could be looted. One Somali, Abdirahman Osman Raghe, complained bitterly, "We would talk about how food aid destroyed our systems. For many years we weren't dependent on food aid. We had droughts before."

    Somalia had had a well-developed credit system. Nomads would come to urban centers during times of need in order to borrow money, which would then be repaid during good times. Such credit systems, indigenous to Somalia, were largely destroyed by massive aid sent by Western nations...

    Piero Ugolini, a Florentine agronomist who worked for the technical unit of the Italian Embassy in Mogadishu from 1986 to 1990, revealed that most of Italian cooperation projects were carried out without considering their effects on the Somali population. "Italian aid programs [were] used to exploit the pastoral populations and to support a regime that did nothing to promote internal development and was responsible for the death of many of its people," he said.

    Italian construction and engineering companies that were given lucrative contracts for projects in Somalia provided kickbacks to politicians in Rome and Mogadishu...

    Somali president Siad Barre used this aid to purchase arms and military advisors for his armed forces, which declared war against their own people. Northern Somalia, a hotbed of opposition to Barre's tyrannical rule, was bombed on several occasions, even with napalm. Barre's eldest son, Colonel Hassan Mohammed Barre, who handled aid money, acquired property and bank accounts in Switzerland...

    When the Somalia crisis erupted in 1991, a swarm of foreign non-governmental organizations descended on the country. Why so many? According to U.S. AID official Michael Maren, "There was money available from donors, so they came. The Somali government loved it as well. More NGOs meant more headquarters in Mogadishu. Most of the major landlords in the city were relatives of the president [Barre] or other high government officials."

    Very quickly the aims of the humanitarian mission became perverted. Each group or organization involved in the relief efforts saw in the famine/war crisis an opportunity to advance its own sectarian agenda. Refugee aid became such an important source of foreign exchange that the Somali government grossly inflated the number of refugees. According to US AID official Maren:

    The million and half refugees who were allegedly in Somalia didn't exist. The Somali Government liked to say 1.5 million. Journalists liked to say 1.5 million. It looked good and added a weightiness to their stories. Several pres reports even took the liberty of pushing the figure up to 2 million. My own rough estimates from the time spent in the camps made me suspect that even 400,000 was generous.

    Nor was the Somali government interested in resettling or solving the refugee crisis, as that would eliminate its source of foreign currency... In addition, relief aid provided Somali soldiers with a means to supplement their income.

    A large part of donor funds often goes to feed a hungry bureaucracy. Aggressive lobbying campaigns often are launched to provide justification for the continuation of food relief aid...

    How much of the food actually reaches the needy? In the case of Save the Children, in 1994 less than 50 percent of the total of sponsors' dollars actually went in grants to field programs. Of that amount, about half was given in grants to other organizations, which also had their own salaries and expenses, to actually implement relief programs.

    Even then, not all the programs on the ground were defensible. Michael Maren, the US official, provides examples of such "idiotic projects":

    Oxfam was teaching refugees to grow onions and cabbages and peppers in the refugee camp. The two Oxfam agriculturalists discussed their dilemma nightly: The idea behind their project was to make refugees more self-sufficient. But if the refugees were going to return to their nomadic way of life, these skills wouldn't be very useful. And if they were going to settle down and become farmers, they'd need to know a lot more about agriculture than how to grow just a few cash crops. The Oxfam team drank their whiskey every night and wondered aloud why they were doing what they were doing that day."

    Because of Africa's social system of extended families, there is no such thing as an orphan. A child without parents can always find an aunt, cousin or some distant relative to serve as a guardian. Yet Maren points to "a Canadian group [that] arrived one day looking for orphans. They checked into the local office of the [Somali] National Refugee Commission and were given permission to collect whatever orphans they found. Thirty or forty children were gathered together and loaded onto a truck and carted off to an orphanage in Mogadishu, while their clan elders protested."
  2. alB

    alB Member

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    Feed a man fish, he'll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, he'll waste all his time goofing off and drinking beer.
  3. Soulless||Chaos

    Soulless||Chaos SelfInducedExistence

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    That's the general idea, our aid keeps them from developing any sort of infrastructure to support themselves, and as such they are always dependent on us. It is no accident.
  4. alB

    alB Member

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    I don't know if it's to foster dependnce or to create opportunities for businesses in developed countries to get the cheap labor of the poor country. Take Haiti, for example. It's been pretty much deforested and erosion has nearly destroyed the ability of the country to feed itself. Now, food aid does make it possible for people to eat and will tend to chase them into the cities where they are a labor force for sweatshops where the notion workplace safety laws is sneered at as is workman's comp insurance. If one wanted to take a long view as to what would be best for the people would be something low-tech like terraced agriculture which would also be relatively cheap but would have almost zero returns for busineses in developed countries.

    However, no form of aid is all that altruistic. Half of all US foreign aid comes right back to the US in the form of orders for armaments.

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