Kenneth Kalu is an assistant professor at the Department of Global Management, Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada. In this interview with REGINA OTOKPA, he urged foreign donors to channel their aid into building institutions to outlive the billions of funds spent on providing drugs and other ongoing health interventions
Nigeria is a huge benefactor of foreign aid targeted at health interventions.However, your recent book ‘Foreign Aid and the Future of Africa,’ reveals that donor agencies are on the wrong path. What do you mean by this?
Over the past three years, I have spent considerable amount of my research time looking at how foreign aid has failed in African countries. The book contains a key study of six African countries that have received lots of money in foreign aid over the past several years; the countries are Angola. Chad, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria. I set out to find out if foreign aid has the capacity to do what the global aid industry believes it should do. The United Nations (UN) under the UN Millennium Account believes that sending more aid to African countries should cut poverty by half but evidence, unfortunately, is saying something different.
Over the past five decades; since the 1960’s till now, sub Saharan African countries have received more aid per capita than every other country in the world. The numbers are showing that the average person per capita, has received more than eight times what an average Asian countries citizen has received in foreign aids, but we see what the economic growth and poverty rates are showing. With less foreign aid, China, India and so many other countries in Asia have moved far ahead than some African countries.
Some people argue that foreign aid has failed but my research shows that foreign aid has not failed, but it cannot eradicate poverty as believed by donors.
What amount of money have been accruable to Africa, especially Nigeria within the period of years you carried out your research?
What we know is that in terms of Official Development Assistance (ODA) to African countries, no other region has received as much as African countries have received.
What are the implications for Nigeria?
The major implication not just for Nigeria, but for every other African country, is to depend less on donor funds, to find ways to create environments that would enable every citizen to play active role in the economy. We need to restructure our domestic institutions to make the states able to deliver development programmes to its people and not just to serve government officials.
Are you suggesting aids should be channeled to restructuring the states rather than on the purchase of drugs and other health interventions?
It has helped in the public health arena but it cannot produce development or reduce poverty; they should redesign a different type of development assistance, rather than giving money. These multilateral agencies that have been generous enough to send billions of dollars to African countries should come together and help to change the orientation of the African states from being an agent of exploitation to being an agent of development by ensuring that state Institutions exist to work for the benefit of the citizens.
Would you say there are traces of corruption trailing the use of these funds?
It is not about the use of the funds but what they are meant to do. Donors give guidelines on what and how to spend the money but what they are spending the money on only manages failure. There are no public health facilities; there are no hospital facilities that work. Donors will bring money to buy ARV drugs, malaria drugs, procure vaccinations and give to people to take, but besides that there is nothing else. The fundamentals are faulty, that is why when the donors leave everybody goes back to zero. We have to be grateful to our donors; they are trying but those money to buy HIV drugs, vaccination for children are helping, but they cannot go far because they do not go down to the roots of our problems.
In what areas can your book help Nigeria?
My major intention is not just to raise awareness in Africans but also to tell development partners and donors to stop beating themselves for giving money and not seeing a change in development level. What you are giving does not have the capacity to change poverty level, treat the root cause of the problem,
Would you be advising the Federal Government do away with foreign aids?
As it is, telling any country to do away with foreign aid will be a mistake because foreign aid is still filling a gap, otherwise, the pains of poverty will be too much. My advice to all African countries locked down in this mass poverty, is to look inwards towards conscious national efforts and focuse on improving the conditions of citizens and giving every citizen regardless of their tribe, religion or race, an opportunity to play active roles in the economy. China has been able to move over 200 million people out of poverty level. That is transformational growth and that is the type of growth we need, but you can only achieve that by conscious national development programmes.
Donors can help cement that programme, but the states must consciously design policies and programmes that will lead to inclusive growth in the political economy.
How then can donors make an impact on health interventions?
Nigeria is the biggest recipient of donor funds but institutions are key. The donors should invest in building lasting legacies that will support and enhance our public health system, and work with government to create health systems by building institutions, creating environments that will outlive such donors. Just buying drugs for a malaria programme is not enough.
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