Discussing ‘African aid: helpful or hazardous?’ on Al Jazeera’s The Stream

Yesterday, I had the pleasure being invited to sit on the famous orange sofa so familiar with The Stream’s audience. The topic of discussion was ‘African aid: helpful or hazardous.’ I was joined by Joel R. Charny, Vice President of Humanitarian Policy and Practice at InterAction, and a cast of supporting commentators who joined us via Twitter, Google Hangout and Skype. My Twitter pals Dr. Laura Seay and Karen Attiah (whom I have yet to actually meet in person) were a pleasant surprise and provided some great questions to further the discussion.

There’s not much more to add that wasn’t in the show above, or hasn’t been said over the last two months of discussions regarding ethical social engagement. I’ll leave you with a comment that Joel contributed to the conversation. What do we do with all this good will that truly, genuinely wants to help the right way but don’t have resources available to them? How can we better mobilize their efforts more positively? Furthermore, for those that want to help, how can we provide them resources on how to help ethically?


Sean April 22, 2012 at 9:55 am

Interesting discussion, but I’m very surprised that corruption and greed amongst African leaders didn’t feature as a major topic.

One example that springs to mind out of an infinite amount:

1. Kenya’s Free Primary Education Scandal last year (50million donor-dollars disappeared into thin air).

Who is at fault here? The West, who tried to give assistance? Or the Kenyan elite, who stole the money.

This critical analysis of foreign aid is relevant, but unbalanced unless you include the role of corrupt African governments.

tms ruge April 22, 2012 at 11:07 am

Hi Sean, if there there’s nothing for you to steal, then corruption wouldn’t be a problem. If you continue throwing money at corrupt officials, you get what you give. Nothing.

Sean April 22, 2012 at 5:14 pm

So the discussion takes a u-turn and is brought right back to focus on the behaviour of the west, treating the corruption of African governments as an unavoidable fact of life.

I’ve flicked through your articles, and forgive me if I have missed one or two, but they all seem to be critical of various aspects of the White Guilt Industrial Complex (which I mostly agree with), but not one focuses on the Black Corruption Industrial Complex. ;)

Is the only way forward a paradigm-shift in western attitudes to foreign aid? To find a way of sneaking the empowerment of wananchi around corrupt officials?

tms ruge April 23, 2012 at 10:47 pm

Great observation Sean, perhaps I’ll write a series in that regard in the future. That’s delicate line to cross. And one that requires factual evidence. And that takes time to assemble.