Many critics argue that Africa is trapped in a cycle of corruption and economic poverty as a result of the numerous pitfalls associated with foreign aid. There have been increased calls for leaders in the continent to cut the flow of foreign aid as it has caused more harm than good.
The question of the effectiveness of foreign aid is an old and controversial one. Many critics claim that foreign aid is critical to economic development, while some believe that it increases undue exploitation and reduces African development.
Throughout his reign as president of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara did not hide his distaste for foreign aid. He promoted the concept of self-centered development – a process of economic, social, cultural, scientific, and political transformation, based on the mobilization of internal social forces, knowledge, and resources in improving the standard of living of Africans.
Sankara was a big critic of foreign aid and often called on other African leaders to become active agents in the transformation of the continent.
According to him, African leaders should project pan-African values they were in control of, rather than remaining spectators outside a political system inspired by foreign models.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, foreign aid programs are not purely altruistic as the intentions are often driven by political self-interest or other selfish ambition.
It is not news that many nations use aid as political leverage in penetrating smaller nations. Also, international financial institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been accused of using large-scale programs in low-income countries as a penetration tool to exploit the resources of these countries.
Recent events, such as the military coup that overthrew former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, spurred a heated debate about whether Western interests in Egypt would best be served by a continuation of aid or its suspension. The debate illustrated how foreign aid is fraught with conflicting interests.
The concern that aid is being used to buy political support of local elites illuminates the possibility that foreign aid might contribute to greater inequality in countries that receive aid. If this turns out to be the case, it may call for a radical rethinking of the need for and usefulness of foreign aid as a development strategy.
In December 2017, Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo stressed that Africa nations should no longer make policy based on foreign financial aid, emphasizing that it “won’t work, it has not worked and it will not work.”
Likened to the September 2011 United Nations General Assembly address by former Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, President Akufo-Addo emphasized that 60 years after gaining independence, Ghana – and Africa in general, should not rely on the generosity and charity of European taxpayers.
Speaking during an official state visit of French President Emmanuelle Macron – who was visibly caught off guard by the president’s remarks, Akufo-Addo underlined how Africa should be helping itself, instead of leaning on foreign counterparts.
Akufo-Addo stressed that it is the responsibility of African leaders to charter a path for their respective countries. The Ghanaian leader said there needs to be a conscious effort to young African opportunities at home rather than abroad; stressing that foreign aid has reduced Africa’s diversity.
Among many things, President Akufo-Addo’s remarks confirmed the assertions of many critics that foreign aid has done more harm than good in Africa.
Considering the numerous selfish agendas associated with foreign aid, the question however remains why African leaders have allowed it to continue knowing fully well that it is harming the continent more than it is helping it?