The Gospel of Foreign Aid: A Theoretical Note
After handing out more than USD 1 trillion in aid packages – including charitable giving – to Africa over the last fifty years, only few countries are registering modestly improved Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth and are making some headway in reducing poverty. But for many sub-Saharan African countries, GDP growth remains insufficient to establish the momentum they need to exit from profound poverty. Worse still, in many cases, poverty is deepening. Understanding this reality is the hallmark of successful aid for both donors and the world’s poorest countries. The aim of this paper is not primarily to ask whether or not aid works, or in which cases it does, but to contribute to a much needed process of understanding of foreign aid as an idea invented to overcome the problem of the poor. This requires a research strategy that develops theoretical/analytical frameworks that capture the complexity of Western and current Chinese generosity, namely the underlying motivation, rational and objectives. Drawing on the vast literature on foreign aid, the essay explains how the idea was framed, and how it has manifested itself in contemporary debates as a new type and more complex instrument of foreign policy and economic development. The paper demonstrates a great degree of continuity in the policy concerns of the aid discourse from the Antiquity to Modern era where development assistance becomes a state responsibility, and politically organized as a balancing act between donor/receiver relationships and partnership. The paper concludes that, historically, charity, poor-relief, foreign aid, development assistance – whatever it may be called – has served a multitude of objectives in order to address specific policy concerns of each period. Whether at its best or at its worst, foreign aid is here to stay as poverty still grips over a billion of world population.