Sunday, March 24, 2013

Foreign Aid Debate & Caputo's Acts of Faith

From last month's Voice of America article "Dependence on Foreign Aid Undermining Cambodia, Analyst Says:"
Too much foreign aid is used in Cambodia as a substitute for tax revenue, making it hard for people to hold their government accountable, a US-based analyst says. Ear Sophal, author of “Aid Dependence in Cambodia,” told VOA Khmer in a recent interview that when people don’t pay taxes, they don’t own their part of the democratic process. “No taxation means no representation,” he said. “In a place like Cambodia, because tax revenues are lower than foreign aid, I am wondering: who is answering to whom? Normally in a country, taxes would be collected, people would then say to their government leaders, ‘We pay taxes for services; we expect services.’ And as a result, leaders would have an accountability link between people and their government. Democracy would work.” This relationship is weakened in Cambodia by foreign aid, he said.
There have been a number of editorials on this issue in the past few years, largely focused on sub-Saharan Africa. For example, here is an excerpt from the 2009 Wall Street Journal article "Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa:"
Giving alms to Africa remains one of the biggest ideas of our time -- millions march for it, governments are judged by it, celebrities proselytize the need for it. Calls for more aid to Africa are growing louder, with advocates pushing for doubling the roughly $50 billion of international assistance that already goes to Africa each year. Yet evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that aid to Africa has made the poor poorer, and the growth slower. The insidious aid culture has left African countries more debt-laden, more inflation-prone, more vulnerable to the vagaries of the currency markets and more unattractive to higher-quality investment. It's increased the risk of civil conflict and unrest (the fact that over 60% of sub-Saharan Africa's population is under the age of 24 with few economic prospects is a cause for worry). Aid is an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster.
For a novel about this issue, I suggest Acts of Faith by Philip Caputo:
Caputo's ambitious adventure novel, set against a backdrop of the Sudanese wars, makes for a dense, riveting update on Graham Greene's The Quiet American. The American in this case is Douglas Braithwaite, a "mercenary with a conscience" who founds Knight Air, a charter airline that conveys relief supplies from NGOs to war-torn southern Sudan. Braithwaite launches his service by flying aid to the Nuba, a region in the northern Sudanese sphere of influence that is a no-go zone for U.N.-sponsored airlines. He hires Fitzhugh Martin, a former soccer star and mixed-race Kenyan from the Seychelles Islands, as his operations manager, and soon teams up with Texan bush pilot Wes Dare as well as a shady Somali financier. From Fitzhugh's perspective, we see corruption ensue from Douglas's decision to expand his air service—crushing his competitor, Tara Whitcomb, in the process—and to smuggle arms to Michael Goraende, the Nuban militia head. Douglas's support for the Nuban commander also brings Quinette Hardin, a Christian aid worker from Iowa who marries Goreande, into Knight Air's orbit. Caputo presents a sharply observed, sweeping portrait, capturing the incestuous world of the aid groups, Sudan's multiethnic mix and the decayed milieu of Kenyan society.

1 comment:

  1. Also try Ten Weeks in Africa by JM Shaw: