The goal of development aid is to enable a country to eventually reach a state of self-sufficiency. However, in many cases, aid has led to a perpetual state of dependency for many developing nations. So, how can aid ultimately empower these countries, instead of hindering their ability to rise above? The answer is not easy and the complexities can be summed up by an idea found in an article entitled, The New Colonialists: “New colonialists need weak states as much as weak states need them.” New colonialists, defined as development groups like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, The Bill and Melinda Gates Fund, etc., remain a powerful force in many developing nations. They command policies much like the European Empire did in the 19th century.
Realistically, these agencies and international organizations thrive on weakened states and do not want to be out of a job. While NGO’s and aid agencies are well intentioned, they do their job at the cost of empowering local governments and communities. They shape and sustain the institutional framework within developing countries that support programs for education and healthcare. Countries such as Afghanistan, Georgia, Botswana and Cambodia, are being held together by the assistance and labor of development organizations. This state of mutual dependency contributes to the reason why foreign aid has largely been ineffective.
Stronger confidence in larger government systems within developing countries should be established, instead of undermining their ability to progress. Donors tend to avoid larger governments, giving their aid directly to certain agencies, regions, or sectors, which ultimately discourages trust in the larger government system to support their people. Reforming aid distribution is essential. Agencies and NGO’s should not build their own successes, but rather build on and strengthen programs that might already be in place. Leaders should be found within the local communities and supported by their governments, not the international aid organizations. New systems of accountability need to be established among these countries in order to deter corruption and dependency.
Aid does not have to be detrimental. However, when weak states would undoubtedly collapse without the help of aid agencies and NGO’s, it’s a sign that the system needs to change and the change should come from within.