Friday rant: ‘development’ is not the same as ‘aid’. Got that?

November 25, 2016

     By Duncan Green     

A recent headline in my RSS feed flicked my ‘Activate Rant’ button. ‘This Video from Uganda Highlights Everything ranting-homerWrong with Global Development’ it shouted. I knew what the video was about – some young white American missionaries getting into trouble for ‘dressing up native’ and singing ‘get your mission on’ provoked outrage in various quarters. I hadn’t found it interesting enough to blog or even tweet about.

But what got me riled was the headline’s claim that this had something to do with ‘global development’ – you know, that amazing process whereby billions of people have worked their way out of poverty, sometimes with the help of/sometimes in spite of their local nation states. What on earth did these kids capering about in a road in East Africa have to do with that? Answer, nothing. Once again, we seem incapable of grasping that ‘aid’ and ‘development’ are two largely (and increasingly) separate things.

I have a similar beef with the term ‘development effectiveness’. If you take Amartya Sen’s definition of development as the expanding freedoms to be and to do, then development is always effective – the combination is redundant. What the phrase really seems to mean is ‘effectiveness of aid, plus other international flows that don’t qualify as aid, like foreign investment’.  OK, we need a new term for that wider flow of money, but why on earth call it ‘development’?

caution-rant-in-progressShackling something huge and life-changing (development) to something much less important (aid) is a form of self-aggrandisement by the aid sector that takes me back to my disgruntlement with the overclaiming around the Make Poverty History campaign. Sort out aid, trade and debt and ‘we’ (whoever ‘we’ are) can MPH. Um, no ‘we’ can’t – does anyone really believe that? What will make poverty history is national development, politics, the evolving social contract between citizens and states, with ‘us’, as in the aid business in a role that is always secondary and sometimes (think China) irrelevant. That makes campaigners, aid workers etc always a sidekick in the drama – we can aspire to be Robin, but never Batman.

Words matter, and conflating development and aid is both politically and factually wrong. Rant over. Very therapeutic – do you mind if I do more of these?

And here’s the offending video for anyone who missed it (sorry, it’s been removed from youtube after the furore, so can’t embed it)

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November 25, 2016
Duncan Green