This afternoon Marian Tupy of Cato hosted a fascinating discussion on foreign aid and what is has and has not done for developing nations in Africa (podcast/video available here). The star of the day was Ugandan journalist Andrew Mwenda, who gave a devastating critique of the entire global system of foreign aid.
In Mwenda’s view, international aid loans and grants have been exactly the problem standing in the way of economic development on the continent. As he pointed out, aid programs allow corrupt and despotic politicians to cement their power and, perhaps even worse, create a fundamental disconnect between rulers and the citizenry. Even a corrupt dictator wants to see economic growth if only because he wants to get his hands on the increased tax revenue. But a corrupt dictator who can line his pockets with American, British, Danish and Japanese tax dollars isn’t kept in check by even that basic level of self-interest.
The next time you get into an argument with someone who thinks Bono deserves a Nobel Prize in economics (or peace) for campaigning for billions more in aid and debt forgiveness, refer them to Mwenda. Once you’ve heard his arguments, you’ll never think of foreign aid the same way again.