Foreign Aid has been raised to the top of the public’s mind this week after the UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom made a speech which many found offensive. This is a part of what he said:”We’ve been let down time and time again, and how we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month when we’re in this sort of debt to bongo-bongo land is completely beyond me. To buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid. F18s for Pakistan. We need a new squadron of F18s. Who’s got the squadrons? Pakistan, where we send the money.” Much has been made of his use of the phrase “bongo bongo land” which many would consider pretty offensive, presumably been a generic term for countries inhabited by black people.But on Today this morning Mr Bloom made no apologies for the sentiment of his statement and judging by the comments I have been reading underneath the on-line newspaper articles, I think he is probably right when he claims to be “standing up for ordinary people at the pub, the cricket club, the rugby club – the sort of people who remain completely unrepresented in the political system that we have.”
I think it is fair to say that most people are confused or at least bemused by the government’s commitment to foreign aid spending and the activities of DFID, the Department for International Development.It is bizarre because the Prime Minister and the press present foreign aid as if it’s all about famine relief and saving children’s lives. But he and his Cabinet are intelligent and worldly enough to know that the real world of aid resembles not a jot the one celebrated in DFID pamphlets which resemble promotions for Oxfam. Most aid is ‘development aid’ intended not to help in emergencies, but to foster prosperity.It has been demonstrated (and argued compellingly in Dambisa Moyu’s book, ‘Dead Aid’) that this development aid is at best useless and at worst counterproductive.
But to write this and to make inflammatory comments like that of Godfrey Bloom is to perhaps get out of proportion the money we are actually spending on Foreign Aid which is 0.7 % of our GDP. The top six recipients are Ethiopia,India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan.India has received aid for many years but its economy has grown exponentially and aid from the UK will cease in 2015. It is apparent that the need for aid is changing rapidly as countries develop.And the man in the street feeling the pinch of the austerity cuts can’t understand why the country is borrowing money and giving it away at the same time.
It is a well-recognised paradox that some of the world’s poorest countries are rich in the natural resources that drive the global economy. But resources like this have proven more curse than gift to local populations who were living just fine before a whole bunch of people started invading over several centuries. And though of course one hates to be cynical, it is surely no coincidence that these countries which are rich in natural resources are the same ones to which we kindly donate the aid so they can do the right thing and sell it to us, resulting in our country looking humanitarian whilst getting the resources we need. Bingo! Or should that be Bongo!