Rebuilding Lives and Regenerating War torn
Communities: Does Aid Work? – Part 1
Abdul R Thomas
Editor – The Sierra Leone Telegraph
20 May 2010
Just few weeks ago, the Civil Rights Champion -
Desmond Tutu of South Africa, hosted and chaired a
riveting debate on BBC television, bringing together
some of Africa’s contemporary thinkers, to discuss
the issue of Aid and whether Africa is better off
without help from the West.
In his opening introduction, Desmond Tutu said; “My
homeland of Africa is undergoing huge change and it
has led me to ask questions about the kind of future
facing African people this century. Although the
majority of Aid is given in good faith and in cases
of disaster emergencies – saves lives; many Africans
are now asking whether international Aid has turned
Africa into a giant welfare state.”
“So, does the Aid relationship between the West and
Africa sustain the idea of Africans as powerless to
change things themselves? Has the international
community actually come to view Africa in desperate
need as a natural state of affairs? And is foreign
Aid propping up failing or corrupt government, by
making them unaccountable to their people?” asked
Most of the speakers in the debate agreed that
Africa is not entirely a basket case. There are good
examples of Southern African countries that are
doing well. Before the start of the Global economic
crisis three years ago, average economic growth rate
in Africa was about 5%. This is significant, as most
European countries were experiencing negative
The panel accepted that no fewer than 37 African
countries are now democracies. According to the
OECD, for the first time foreign direct investment
in Africa now exceeds Aid. This must be encouraging
for countries that are recovering from wars, such as
Sierra Leone, Liberia and Rwanda.
Rwanda is a case study of how desperate countries in
Africa that have been blighted by civil war, are
being resuscitated by international Aid. But there
is a desperate need now, to seriously begin to wean
themselves from Aid, and propel the process of
tackling poverty through industrial and business
The President of Rwanda - Paul Kagame believes; “Aid
that does not work to make itself obsolete, is a
failure.” After the Rwandan genocide, international
Aid provided 85% of the country’s revenue. This has
been concertedly and significantly brought down to
Although the Rwandans need that 50% donor
contribution, the government of Paul Kagame is
actively working towards reducing it to 30%, by
encouraging and promoting genuine and sustainable
foreign direct investments. But local indigenous
businesses are not being left behind or marginalised
by the Rwandan government. They too are playing a
significant part in the economic recovery.
The panellists taking part in the Tutu Africa Aid
debate generally agreed that most African countries,
especially those in the Sub-Sahara need
international Aid. But they recognised that Aid
cannot continue in perpetuity. Africa needs an Aid exit
strategy. They called for reparation payment
for development that will replace benevolent giving.
The good work done in Africa by international
charitable organisations such as Oxfam, Save the
Children, World Food Programme and many others, was
acknowledged. But the need for Africans themselves
to become ‘masters of their own destiny’ by taking
over the work of the international NGOs is
paramount, said the panel.
The panel suggested that although efforts are
ongoing in some beneficiary countries to build the
capacity of African run NGOs, this must be a key
priority for the international donors, as part of a
co-ordinated strategy in making Aid obsolete. Once
the entrepreneurial capacity of African run NGOs has
been developed, they can function independently as
community businesses, with immense job and wealth
It will be remiss of any debating panel discussing
the issues surrounding Aid in Africa, not to mention
the problems caused by poor terms of trade between
Africa and the rest of the world; unfairly skewed
international trade structures; tariffs, import
protectionism, subsidies, dumping; and burdensome
conditionalities imposed by the IMF and World Bank.
The Tutu panellists were no exception.
Whilst they all agreed on the terrible impacts that
external factors such as poor terms of trade are
having on Africa’s chances of promoting sustainable
economic growth and prosperity; it is those factors
which African governments themselves can and must
manage and control – but sadly are not - that the
panel found to be ever so exasperating and
These factors they believe must now form the agenda
for debate by a new generation of Africans whose
outlook, values and dreams are of an Africa that is
not dependent upon the international community for
its survival and well being.
They spoke of the readjustment of Africa’s power
relationships with donor countries; the need for
Africa to tackle Corruption from within and by
itself without rewards from donors; to focus on
rebuilding Africa’s weak and inefficient States; a
recognition by Africans that Africans are poor but
Africa is rich; for Africans to seriously address
barriers to inter-African trade; to eradicate
Africa’s culture of dependency on donors, which is
stifling innovation and creativity.
Desmond Tutu asked the Panel; “People would say that
decades of Aid have not got rid of poverty in
Africa, nor the causes of poverty. Is it doing harm
or doing good?” The Panel agreed that ‘Aid does good
– especially emergency Aid.’ But they were equally
scathing in discussing the unintended consequences
They mentioned that; Aid prevents the adoption of
policies that addresses poverty; Aid undermines
economic sovereignty; undermines the policy state;
and that Aid creates unhealthy power relationships
that are prejudicial to the interests of Africa.
In concluding what most viewers would have regarded
as not only an enlightening television debate as to
where Africa is in the wider scheme of Global human
development, one is left wondering whether it is now
time to throw the baby (international Aid) away with
the bath water.
In his conclusion, Desmond Tutu left viewers with
this final thought: “While we can acknowledge and be
grateful for the good work being done by many NGOs
and charities, built on the best intentions of those
who give to Aid, in the hope of helping their fellow
human beings in Africa, perhaps it is now time for
us to look at what isn’t working and to redefine
what kind of relationship Africa needs with the
For most Sierra Leoneans, the question is where we
start in this big debate, drawing on from the
concluding remarks of Desmond Tutu?
In 2001 the brutal civil war in Sierra Leone was
officially declared over, exposing a massive trail
of human suffering and destruction. Hundreds of
thousands of lives lost; thousands of innocent
people left amputated; hundreds of thousands of
According to mental health experts, over a million
people could still be classed as walking wounded –
physically and mentally. The economic and social
life of most brought to a halt for almost ten years.
For communities that found themselves in the centre
of intense armed bombardment, life is slowly
beginning to return to some semblance of normality.
But the pain and trauma lingers on. Help in
rebuilding their shattered lives and dreams, and
regenerating their communities remain elusive, as
thousands continue to live as refugees in their own
Successive governments of Sierra Leone with the help
of the international community – the UN, the World
Bank, the European Commission, and various countries
acting unilaterally and multi-laterally, have worked
hard to re-build the nation state, wrecked by civil
war. Emergency Aid has been good for Sierra Leone.
More than 60% of the country’s revenue is accounted
for by international donor Aid, which pays for
education, health, the administration of justice,
law and order, the provision of clean water,
governance, and economic reforms.
But as the people of Sierra Leone come to terms with
the current economic hardship, while they
contemplate their future, the question as to the
effectiveness of international Aid must be on the
nation’s agenda for debate.
Despite the successes of international Aid in Serra
Leone, few will dispute the fact that poverty is
increasing. The gap between the rich – who are very
rich indeed, and those languishing at the bottom of
the human development index, is widening. Something
has to change.
After spending Billions of Dollars donated by the
international community for rebuilding the country’s
infrastructure and promote economic growth, the
signs and symbols of progress are too few and far
too spatially concentrated.
It appears the country is stuck or frozen in time
and space, with plenty of promises and talk of
foreign direct investment that will arrive to kick
start economic growth. $300 Million of international
Aid to Sierra Leone a year can go a long way in
stimulating economic growth, but, with some degree
of creative and innovative thinking.
The promise of industrial renaissance powered by the
newly commissioned Bumbuna is faltering, as the
project is crippling with technical problems that
ought to have been foreseen at the planning stage.
The country has been plunged into darkness once
again, as households and businesses dust off their
old noisy power generators. Electricity in many
areas of the capital is sporadic and intermittent.
Most communities have not seen clean and safe
drinking water running through their community
standpipes for many months, despite Millions of
Pounds funding by the British government’s DFID.
Simply throwing money at a problem in order to
plaster the cracks does not solve the problem.
Urban sprawl continues unabated. Images of luxurious
mansions built in the midst of densely populated
shanty communities continue to grace the skyline of
the capital Freetown. It seems no one is taking
responsibility for spatial planning and building
regulations. International Aid cannot be blamed for
the abdication of governance.
Civil society groups are complaining of an apartheid
system of education, where the best schools are
reserved for the haves; while the ill-equipped and
under funded schools barely provide a healthy
learning environment for the have-nots. Thousands of
teachers are still waiting to receive their full pay
for the months of March and April, as the Ministry
of Education tries to joggle its budgetary deficit.
International Aid is now paying for the provision of
free health care for lactating mothers, pregnant
women and young children, costing over $100 Million.
But the hospitals and doctors are finding it very
difficult to cope with demand. Yet again, these are
teething problems that ought to have been foreseen
at the planning stage, with some measure of
innovative thinking and creativity.
The agenda for the rebuilding of lives after the war
and the regeneration of shattered communities is
left in the hands of the international donor
agencies, driven by the fortitude of people living
in those communities. When Germany was destroyed by
the war, the Americans put in place ‘the Marshall
In Sierra Leone there is the ‘Agenda for Change’,
which many in Sierra Leone and in the international
community regard as woefully misdirected and
disjointed. The strategies and programmes driven by
the international community do not seem to connect
seamlessly to the government’s Agenda for Change.
As the World Food Programme (WFP) yesterday launched
its ‘Cash for Work Programme' aimed at assisting
Iraqis to get back on their feet, questions are
being asked by Africans as to whether poor African
countries recovering from war, like Iraq, could have
benefitted from a similar programme, instead of food
The Sierra Leone Telegraph will in its next
editorial put the spotlight on the World Food
Programme’s Food for Work Programme in Sierra Leone.
Could Sierra Leoneans have benefitted from similar
‘Cash for Work Programme’ instead of Food for Work?
Does ‘Food for Work’ reinforce Desmond Tutu’s notion
of international Aid, changing Africa into a basket
case and perpetuating a dependency culture?
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