Monday, 7 November 2011

UK aid to Malawi

Nyasa Times is reporting that the UK has denied that aid to Malawi will be linked to gay rights reform. Quite forcefully and explicitly, if the report is to be believed. One wonders if there is dissent in the ranks or if the UK is pulling back on their threat?

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office has apparently also said that far from reducing aid to Malawi, funding towards assisting the people of Malawi has in fact increased but that aid is being channelled through NGOs directly to the community rather than being given to the government. I'm ambivalent about this. On the one hand, the people of Malawi who are trying to make a living will probably be glad to hear that the aid hasn't all dried up. But channeling aid through NGOs doesn't fix two major national crises - lack of fuel and lack of medicines - which are precipitated by lack of foreign exchange.

Also, NGO programmes are never going to be as comprehensive as the Farm Input Subsidy Programme (FISP). Maybe this is a good thing - many experts think that FISP is a bad idea. But it will limit the number of people who are reached.

Of course, there is also the other ever-present elephant in the room: undermining democracy by by-passing the government. If the people in Malawi get their fertilizer and seed from the government, some people argue that they'll never vote for anyone different in government. Protests over the last few months suggest this might be an overstatement, but even if they don't directly vote out the people who give them stuff, at least people have a strong, direct relationship with government. When government is a powerless, sidelined organisation, unrelated to the every-day needs of the people (as can happen when NGOs get too strong), that relationship disappears. Multiple centres of power all equally unaccountable to the people on the ground.

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