Wikipedia defines aid as “a voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another, given at least partly with the objective of benefiting the recipient country.“ There are thousands of charities around the world that want to do good in Africa. Some of them are having a positive impact, working extremely hard to make a difference and meet people’s needs. But others are failing Africa because they have no real understanding of the continent and its complexity, they are unsure of the right strategies to adopt, or they simply lack the right resources.
Every year millions are poured into very impoverished countries with the objective of helping the poor. This has been going on for decades.
But much of this money is not getting into the hands of the right people. I could list a million reasons why this is happening, but I will mention just a few and suggest some solutions.
Not everyone will be surprised to learn that the people it is intended for are seeing little or no benefit from this AID. I certainly see it when I meet poor people every time I go to Africa. It drives me mad that money raised in countries like the UK, France and the US, sometimes through live TV shows, sometimes through organisations with world-famous celebrities at their head, is not getting to those who need it the most. The show or concert finishes, the money is counted and perhaps distributed to the chosen charity’s bank account and… that’s it. Perhaps a handful of projects are followed up, but a closer look reveals few signs of real continuity and the end result falls far short of the hopes raised by the huge sums involved.
There are thousands of NGOs in Africa that are looking to do good, giving their time to help those in need. But some of them are doing more harm than good or actually helping to destroy Africa. Little is achieved or efforts are badly targeted and with time, the poor end up exactly where they started. Perhaps, given that all the money we give passes through their hands, it is time to start monitoring NGOs, reviewing their status and accountability.
A BBC report on Wednesday 3rd of March suggested that some of the money given in the famous 1984 Live Aid campaign for Ethiopia organised by Bob Geldof was spent on weapons. This has created much confusion in the International development community and led many donors to wonder whether they should continue giving to charities. Nobody will blame them.
The entire aid industry needs to be reviewed as a matter of urgency, in my view. It is worth reading Zambian author Dambisa Moyo’s recent book ‘Dead Aid’, in which she calls for a radical change in the way that AID is distributed in Africa. Here are a few ideas that I feel could help to make NGOs in Africa more effective. They should:
* Spend more time in Africa and do thorough research before embarking on a project
* Learn how to manage funds properly and how to distribute those funds in poor countries
* Find and empower local partners on the ground
* Learn and gain knowledge from Africans
* Not be motivated by a misplaced sense of pity
* Focus on bringing new technology to ordinary Africans
* Speak to the people – including other existing reputable NGOs – who already have success stories
* Use the appropriate ICT tools, or mobile technology
* Communicate, learn and share with individuals on the ground
* Get training in cross-cultural issues,
* Do not think that aid alone can solve Africa’s problems
I think that by adopting some or all of these ideas, NGOs could play a more productive role and help to bring real and lasting change to Africa.