Europe is in the grip of one of the worst economic disasters of a generation. Across the Eurozone austerity measures are being pushed through at a rate never seen before. The continent is becoming more right wing and policies which would have seemed unthinkable a few years ago are now in place.
The UK itself has seen rises in student fees, increases in VAT, government pay freezes, pension cuts, scaling down of child benefit, caps on benefits and a whole host of other initiatives to balance the country’s books.
The international development (aid) budget was untouched in a bid to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world. The UK spends 0.7% of gross national income on foreign aid. However on the airwaves and on the streets, the average person does not believe that foreign aid should be ring fenced. Certainly not for Africa. Talk radio is a medium through which ordinary, grass-roots citizens can speak openly about the topics of the day. Aid to Africa is guaranteed to jam the airwaves. It is rare to hear a single voice in support of keeping the African aid budget. The reason being that people feel that after decades of billions of cash inflows into the continent, nothing has really changed. It is still seen to be as poor as ever. The images of starving rural children continues to be the dominant image. The ‘Africa Rising’ concept is not a universally acclaimed notion on the streets of British cities and the idea of a growing middle-class with high spending power is laughable when so much of the continent lives on less than a dollar a day. Newspaper articles bang on about the waste, lack of accountability and poor value for money.
Here’s an example of one from the UK Daily Mail.
Recently the BBC screened an animation on it’s website with the question ‘Where does the UK’s aid money go?’
Critics vociferously point out that the money funds an aid industry where consultants can earn vast sums of money that does not lead to any meaningful development even though it is accepted that some low level good is gained from it in terms of education and health. Even Africans do not believe it is money well spent, except in times of emergency, like the Ebola crises.
Why is this all important? As austerity bites further, the pressure on the aid budget will become more intense. Should the economy not pick up in the medium term, there may come a time when aid will be significantly reduced, if not gotten rid of altogether.
Perhaps this is a good thing. Africa seems locked into a dependency cycle and unhinging the continent from aid may force it to focus more on other forms of investment. A world where aid is not part of the mix.
People really are tired of giving aid to Africa. It makes ordinary people angry. Leaders need to act now before the pipeline really does shut down. Africans in the diaspora are tired and embarrassed by the images and defensively counter the poverty images with the alternative narrative of the poverty images not being the whole story. They are certainly not the whole story, but they are a large part of it. If the narrative is to be changed. Africa needs to change first. Visibly, for the whole world to see.