page top
Home / Blog / CEO Blog / Misplaced charity

Misplaced charity

Attention: open in a new window. Print

Eradicating poverty in Africa is a noble ambition. Yet, despite the billions of dollars of development aid injected into Africa, an end to poverty is nowhere in sight. Foreign aid has long been problematic and aid-watchers row bitterly over whether aid does more harm than good.

Two of the leading (and long-standing) combatants in the aid-to-Africa debate are academic heavyweights – Jeffrey Sachs, Professor of Sustainable Development at Columbia University and William Easterly, a Professor of Economics at New York University. Both thought leaders want to eradicate poverty in Africa but disagree acrimoniously on how to go about it.

The vitriol between Sachs and Easterly is palpable and they colour their criticism of the other’s position with personal attacks. Their rival opinions are expressed in their respective books in which both mount strident arguments. Sachs is the author of The End of Poverty while Easterly is the writer of The White Man’s Burden.

Sachs is pro-aid while Easterly does not believe in development aid. Sachs contends that rich countries should inject massive flows of aid into Africa. Easterly, on the other hand, asserts that the billions spent on African aid have produced meagre results.

After reading The End of Poverty I came away with a nagging sense that the effectiveness of foreign aid has been exaggerated. This troubled me to the point of seeking out a third view. So, I turned to a book by another international economist, Dr Dambisa Moyo. Like Easterly, Moyo believes that aid is more bad than good.

What makes Moyo different from Sachs and Easterly is that – as a black African woman – finding a solution to Africa’s woes is “a personal quest”. Born and raised in Zambia and educated at Harvard and Oxford, she worked for the World Bank as a consultant and then moved to Goldman Sachs. With such credentials, it is difficult to ignore Moyo’s views on Africa.

In Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, Moyo argues that aid has compounded Africa’s problems. “Millions in Africa are poorer today because of aid; misery and poverty have not ended but have increased. Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster.”

Moyo cites political corruption as one of the reasons for aid’s troubled history. “The list of corrupt practices in Africa is almost endless”, writes Moyo. “But the point about corruption in Africa is not that it exists: the point is that aid is one of its greatest aides. … Foreign aid props up corrupt governments – providing them with freely usable cash.”

Moyo proposes aid-free, market-based solutions to development. She encourages African countries to look to international bond markets to finance major public-sector investments, to foreign direct investment to finance large scale private sector growth and to micro-financing for local entrepreneurial development.

Moyo also believes that aid should be undertaken with less fuss and fanfare. She is concerned that rock star campaigners, such as Bono, have dominated the public discussion of aid to the exclusion of Africans with experience and expertise. While celebrity shots with impoverished children make for great television, they don’t actually solve the problem.

Outside of development aid, there is a more sinister problem with disaster aid. Disaster aid workers have been accused of exploiting local children for sex. This vile practice occurred after the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster and the Darfuri refugee crisis in Chad several years earlier.

Aid agencies, including Oxfam, were warned a decade ago that aid workers were raping and sexually exploiting children in Haiti. Even though the abuse was on a “significant scale”, Oxfam failed to act. Earlier this year, an Oxfam executive resigned after accusations surfaced that its workers prostituted survivors of some of the worst disasters this century.

Haitian President Jovenel Moïse condemned those involved in the scandal saying that “there is nothing more outrageous and dishonest than a sexual predator who uses his position as part of the humanitarian response to a natural disaster to exploit needy people in their moment of greatest vulnerability”.

When the sexual misconduct claims hit the headlines, one newspaper claimed that the scandal was not limited to the British-funded charity, Oxfam. British politicians demanded an investigation “across the wider aid sector”, as further reports claimed that vulnerable women were prostituted across multiple charities and countries and that warnings went ignored for much of the 21st century.

In the wake of the Oxfam exposé, one of the world’s largest humanitarian organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross, preemptively released a statement revealing that it had dismissed 21 staff members who had paid for sexual services. Aid agencies, Save the Children and Christian Aid, also confirmed reports of inappropriate sexual behaviour involving their staff.

A former senior UN aid worker stated that the prostitution scandal that engulfed Oxfam is a symptom of a “global problem” in the aid industry. Alarmingly, some of the men involved in the Oxfam sexual misconduct scandal went on to find work elsewhere in the aid sector.

A glaring light now shines into the darkest corners of the aid/charity sector. The aid industry itself is in crisis and needs to overcome its own self-made disaster. I genuinely hope that the deplorable actions of a few do not irreparably damage the good work of many. But make no mistake: There is a big mess to clean up.

Paul J. Thomas, CEO


avatar Des Tubridy
Thank you Paul for an update on this important perennial problem. Your article describes this sad situation very well.

I remember the days when Tony Blair, the UK PM many moons ago, thought that poverty in Africa could be solved by a concentrated effort by a number of developed nations. After carrying out research, he found that endemic corruption in Africa would make this goal completely impossible. Also that corruption reduces the average family income in Africa from between 33% to 50%.

Many thanks, Des
Name *
Submit Comment
Name *
Submit Comment

Subscribe to our CEO Blog

* indicates required

CEO Paul Thomas