Within the aid and development community, there are two camps whose views on the subject are diametrically opposed. One side, led by economist Jeffrey Sachs and indie rock star Bono (one name), believes in a top-down approach, providing governments with aid money to implement programs that improve the welfare of the population. The other side, under the spiritual guidance of economist Bill Easterly and championed by Dambisa Moyo, an economist with the conviction and warmth of Ayn Rand, and others, considers unconditional aid transfers to be counterproductive, further entrenching corrupt governments and exacerbating the very problems they are intended to solve. Easterly and company support a more bottom-up approach, empowering the population to create sustainable economic growth and development.
The latter group derisively refers to the former’s approach to aid as “charity,” which, in this context, is not a good thing. Charity, they argue, creates dependency and produces unsustainable solutions to long-term problems. They believe in using capacity-building and commerce as tools of economic growth, allowing nations to pull themselves up from their proverbial bootstraps. After all, every first-world nation, with the exception of maybe Singapore, has ridden the tiger of manufacturing to prosperity. Why should that path be any different for developing countries today? China has lifted hundreds of millions of its own people out of poverty and is currently making strides toward the same end in Africa. African nations are increasingly looking to the east for partnerships that offer a path to prosperity through participation in global economy.
Sachs and company would counter by pointing out that, while China may be offering massive infrastructure projects to African countries in exchange for raw materials, it has entirely motivated by profit and is unconcerned with the welfare of the people. China has taken a controversial “ask no questions” approach to dealing with repressive and genocidal governments in achieving its aims. (Interestingly, China has traditionally avoided supporting independence movements for fear of emboldening domestic separatist groups, but this is an aside). The Wall Street Journal discussed China’s recent overtures to Southern Sudan, and explains its approach in the past:
Beijing seeks to maintain its longstanding economic ties with Khartoum, the seat of Sudan’s government and center of northern power. China armed and supported the north in the 23-year civil war against the south from 1983 to 2005, in which two million people are believed to have died. It continues to arm Khartoum and has built the north infrastructure projects, including the largest hydroelectric dam in Africa.
China’s predicament in Sudan underscores the perils of its push into Africa, as it attempts to lock down resources to fuel its double-digit economic growth. The resources that have attracted big investments from abroad have also stirred political turmoil in other countries such as Guinea, a leading producer of bauxite, and Niger, home to huge uranium reserves.
Bono and Sachs would have a conniption when presented with these grim realities, while Moyo might be forced to admit that this is the cost of doing business. After all, the mills in the United States during the Industrial Revolution weren’t exactly model corporate citizens, and the American extermination of the Native Americans during the 18th century makes Darfur look like a fencing match. In addition, explaining to a woman whose child is dying of malaria that, by providing free mosquito nets, aid organizations are actually undermining local manufacturers, is probably pretty tough.
But Easterly and others agree that the key to success in development is sustained economic growth through trade, manufacturing, and investment. This brings me to my point. Osama Bin Laden, everyone’s favorite psychopathic super-villain, just released the most recent installment of his direct-to-DVD, “Call to Jihad” set. Here is the plot:
Osama Bin Laden is a street-wise orphan who’s about to be adopted by a family who uses children for their own selfish gain. Her case worker, Diane, loves Osama and would like to adopt her, however, since she’s single and doesn’t have money, she is unable to do so. Alyssa Calloway is a rich girl home from boarding school for the summer and she and her dad, Roger, go to their summer home. There, Roger tells Alyssa that he is marrying Clarice – a child-hating gold digger. During an attempt to run away, Alyssa stumbles on a summer camp where she runs into Osama, who looks EXACTLY like her. The two then switch places to get rid of Clarice and unite Roger and Diane.
Just kidding. The video is actually an attempt to exploit the devastating flood in Pakistan that left millions homeless in an effort to rally troops for his Jihadist mission. But what makes this video different from Bin Laden’s other videos (which get an F for originality) is that he discusses aid for Pakistan. Titled “Reflections on the Method of Relief Work,” Bin Laden expresses his thoughts on effective economic development strategies:
Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden sought to drum up support by taking advantage of Pakistan’s flood tragedy with a new audiotape released Friday criticizing Muslim governments for their slow response and calling for the creation of a new relief body to aid Muslims…”What governments spend on relief work is secondary to what it spends on its armies,” bin Laden says on the 11-minute tape called, Reflections on the Method of Relief Work… “Merchants are the knights who will save this region from famine and must avoid investing in worthless projects,” he said.
Suck it, Bono! Considering we provide Pakistan with a massive amount of aid, mostly military-related, which is then funneled to the Taliban and similar organizations, maybe there is a better way. The announcement of $2.29 billion in aid to Pakistan less than two weeks after the Pakistani military halted a NATO supply line, resulting in an ambush on several oil tankers by the Taliban, seems troubling, but I am no expert in counterterrorism and don’t pretend to be for fear of reprisal from Dick Cheney and the rest of the fallen angels. But, I never thought I’d agree with Osama Bin Laden on anything, but his use of extended metaphor in describing merchants as “knights” resonates with me, and probably with Bill Easterly too. Meanwhile, Bono remains the ire of development theorists like Bin Laden and continues to put out sub-par albums after peaking in 1987 with The Joshua Tree, the album for which I was named.