Waylaid Dialectic

January 3, 2015

Losing the battle, losing the war…

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 6:59 pm
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Amidst an impressive, depressing review on how the British lost the (this millennium’s) war in Afghanistan James Meek has a good little development relevant snippet:

Although it is about how poorly Britain understands Afghanistan, it is also, implicitly, about how poorly Britain understands Britain; about how, that is, Britain became the country it is in 2014, with its schools and hospitals and bareheaded women, its weak ecclesiastical law, its gunlessness, its multiplicity of roads, its sewers, its literacy. A thousand years passed between the famously literate King Alfred of Wessex’s victory at the battle of Edington in Wiltshire and England’s introduction of universal education. Afghan children shouldn’t have to wait that long; it would be wrong to suggest Afghanistan is at some pre-set historical ‘stage’ which it would be better enduring in isolation. Afghanistan needs help, encouragement, advice, money. It’s just that next time we think about military intervention in a foreign country that hasn’t attacked us, it might be worth running a thought experiment to work out at exactly which moment, in the many internecine conflicts that have afflicted the British Isles, our forebears would have most benefited from the arrival of 3500 troops and eight helicopters, and for which ‘side’ those troops would have fought.

February 15, 2011

Aid Can Work, and it Can Fail

Filed under: Aid,Conflict,Governance — terence @ 7:52 am

Having defended aid a lot recently, I should also emphasise that I also think aid can fail. There are some tasks that are simply beyond it, and others that are beyond it in some circumstances. And if it’s given poorly, it will almost certainly not help.

I’m no expert on Afghanistan but this must read piece by Nir Rosen and Marika Theros in OpenDemocracy gives what seems to be a good example of (some) aid making things worse rather than better. Admittedly in an incredibly difficult environment. But I think that it’s likely that the way much aid in Afghanistan has been given, and the overreach in terms of objectives for it, has hindered rather than helped things there (with the caveat again that I’m most definitely not an expert on the place and so could be wrong in my assessment). From the article:

First, the international community must recognize that the money it is pumping into Afghanistan is a primary source of corruption and conflict.  Despite their very real needs, most Afghans consulted call for a reduction in aid to levels within the absorptive capacity of the country, because wasted aid assistance fuels corruption and predation.  Equally important, the international community must ensure that aid produces tangible results on the ground and not simply be measured by the metrics of money spent within the fiscal year and units of production.  The number of school rooms built is much less important than the number of children who complete the school year.

September 27, 2010

Fixed That For You

Filed under: Aid — terence @ 3:25 pm
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I actually agree with the substantive point Lant Prtichett is making here (development is difficult, we don’t yet have a great handle on what really works). However the example he chooses to illustrate this point really doesn’t fit. Pritchett:

The fact that the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world has just spent eight years devoting fantastically high level of resources to “develop” Afghanistan (with security as one element of that) with results that range from mixed to shambolic should make it obvious that we need much greater openness within the development community to an approach of structured experimentation–on all fronts.


The fact that the wealthiest and most powerful country in the world, governed for most of this time by the neo-cons has just spent eight years devoting fantastically high level of resources, through its notoriously ineffective tangle of aid delivery bodies, for the putative purpose of developing Afghanistan (one of the world’s most fragmented, violent, poor and ungovernable countries, which also happens to be in the middle of several wars) with results that range from mixed to shambolic provides some weak contestable evidence that we need much greater openness within the development community to an approach of structured experimentation. More importantly though, it provides compelling evidence that when a bunch of dangerous, inept, ideologically-driven, chumps invade a country with no real concern for the welfare of its people, and tack on some development stuff as an afterthought, the results are probably going to be depressing.

FTFY Lant.

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