Sunday, January 27, 2008


You know the type. The woman who writes love letters to convicts on death row or to men of habitually vicious criminality. The neighbourhood cat lady who the SPCA finds in a house of 19 cats coated with feces and filth because she can’t turn a stray away. The dog-lover who always selects the lame dog at the animal shelter when corrigible, healthy dogs are available. Such is the lame dog syndrome, and in the field of foreign aid, Canada is a chronic patsy.

Foreign commentator Harry Valentine observed that “Elected Canadian leaders believe that Canadian foreign aid buys Canadian government influence at high government levels in developing nations. Despite receiving Canadian foreign aid, Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe told nations like Canada to “mind your business” very bluntly and very directly, in matters pertaining to his genocidal policy of confiscating farms and handing them over to his relatives and supporters. Other African leaders have at least been more diplomatic when essentially saying the same thing. Yet the Canadian government chooses to increase its foreign aid commitment…”

Canada supplied Julius Nyerere with foreign aid during a famine while Lake Tanzania was full of fresh water while our Prime Minister toasted him as “Mwalimu” or “Wise Man”. Malawi was also rewarded with aid for denying farmers the choice of which crops to grow, while Lake Malawi, comprising 30% of the country, was full of water during that country’s famine.

It is no wonder that a Canadian Senate report in 2007 found that $575 billion spent on African development aid has left the continent in worse shape than it was when the aid was first dispensed forty years ago. It revealed that the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) spent $12.4 billion since 1968 to sub-Saharan Africa with little in the way of demonstrable results. What former planning minister Ramazan Bashandost, said of Canada’s most favoured beneficiary, Afghanistan, is most probably true of the scores and scores of countries our taxpayers have sent our earnings to. He remarked that the billions of dollars Afghanistan has received from donor countries has not resulted in “the least improvement” in the lives of Afghani people.

It is clear that Canadian foreign aid has not been working. Why? Several answers have been offered. The former Liberal government vowed to deliver “smarter and better aid”, focusing on basic education, health issues like AIDs, developing the private sector, environmental sustainability. There was a wide consensus that Canadian aid was scattergun and that fewer countries should be favoured with more assistance, half of them African. CIDA itself was too centralized and bureaucratic, spending 15% more than its peers to distribute each dollar of aid. The Opposition critic Keith Martin, a doctor who worked in the region, said that “billions are poured into CIDA and only a trickle of it is seen on the ground.”

Yet, despite the waste and the corruption, the clarion call is to spend even more than the $4 billion Ottawa currently spends. In fact, the Harper government intends to double its African aid from 2004 to $2.1 billion next year. It is thought disgraceful that an affluent country spends more on the military than on foreign aid, particularly when “phantom aid” accounts for over half of that spending in Canada. During last year’s famine in Niger, for example, 90% of the food money given by Canada had to be spent on food from Canada. Canada signed on to a UN mandate to have overseas aid reach 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI), yet still spends well below that. What kind of humanitarianism is this?

But the volume of aid cannot be the measure of its effectiveness. Surely it must be both generous and effective. What is striking about Canadian aid reform proposals are their stunning omission: Family planning. The Martin Liberals spoke of “Health” in terms of tackling AIDS. But death prevention without birth prevention as we have seen so many times is a recipe for disaster and misery on a grander scale. They also spoke of “environmental sustainability”. How can an environment be sustainable without population stability? The Harper Conservatives now talk of rewarding those countries that pursue “clean government and democratic values”. A good step but runaway population growth will undermine even sound government. What does Harper reward? In 2007 he flew to Port Au Prince and rewarded the Haitian government with $353 million in CIDA aid for presiding over a nation with a Total Fertility Rate of 4.94 and a population growth rate of 2.5% per annum. Haiti becomes Canada’s second most favoured aid recipient for having no handle on growth that will negate all the benefits of the aid package.

And who are among Canada’s new, narrowed list of favoured “development partners”? Ghana (TFR 3.89), Tanzania (TFR 4.77) Mozambique (TFR 5.29). And Ethiopia (TFR 5.1) and Kenya (TFR 4.82) are cited by Canada now as “good performers”.

It is my considered opinion that these “good performers” are more like lame dogs. My question is this---would you give money to an alcoholic panhandler, or would you tell him to go home and clean up his act?

I rather think that Haiti, Ethiopia, Kenya et al should be told to go and screw themselves. Then again, it seems that is about all they have been doing anyway.

My prescription? Increase foreign aid dramatically, but make it strictly conditional on compliance with our birth control guidelines. If Mr. Mugabee tells us to mind our own business, then let’s do that. And we’ll mind our money as well.

Its like this Oh Wise Mwalimu: No condoms, no food. Get it?

Tim Murray

Quadra Island, BC

Jan 18/08

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