While some US$50 billions of dollars continue to inundate African coffers each year, overwhelming evidence demonstrates that Africans are getting poorer and sicker. While reports of misappropriation of foreign aid funds and subsequent corruption are increasing at dizzying rates, donor nations stand idly by while taxpayers continue to foot the ever-increasing “humanitarian” aid bill.
In rural Tanzania, nearly four out of five children who died of malaria sought, but didn’t find, medical care from modern healthcare facilities, reported a 2008 study. In Uganda, a direct observation study found a whopping 37% of Africa’s frontline providers, mainly doctors, were chronically absent from their primary health clinics. These grim observations help to explain why the African “people stop looking for health care because they know they wont get it”, reports The Vancouver Sun.
These dismal observations, among many others, are rooted in what the World Bank calls “quiet” corruption, when public servants fail to deliver services or inputs that have been paid for by the government. This unique form of corruption manifests itself in “the absence of diagnostic equipment, drug pilfering, provider absenteeism and very low levels of diagnostic effort”, reports The Vancouver Sun. In a 2010 report, the World Bank reports that this form of corruption is rampant and present in a large share of public sectors. At the frontline of public service provision is the healthcare sector, which figures among the hardest hit despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid injected yearly in Africa, intended to directly develop this sector.
Experts are increasingly dubbing foreign aid a humanitarian disaster that is fueling this silent and lethal form of corruption, which explains why healthcare systems continue to crumble despite increasing foreign funding aimed at developing them. Although estimating the degree of resource and leakage in health care is very challenging, the World Bank has noted that considerable foreign aid funding increases have not resulted in improved human development indicators in Africa due to corruption and poor governance, which disproportionately hurts the sick, the poor, but even also the average African. Despite such dire observations, “no serious efforts have been made to wean Africa off this debilitating drug” that is foreign aid, states Dambiasa Moyo, a former economist at Goldman Sachs and author of “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa”. Yet this “free” aid keeps rolling in at ever-increasing rates.
Adding to this grand scheme of corruption is the majority of donors’ deafening silence in demanding liability from its aid recipients. In most countries, the World Bank reports that aid recipient governments do not state how much of their budget is apportioned to healthcare inputs. This is in turn deprives analysts of vital data to assess the exact degree of aid resource leakage. One thing however is sure: most Western donors seem to be handing their aid recipients a virtual carte blanche and appear largely to be unwilling in calling for real accountability about the use and misuse of these aid funds. By blindly providing aid with few or no strings attached, “it has been all too easy for these funds to be used for anything but the developmental purpose for which they were intended”, says Diambiasa Moyo.
An urgent demand for a paradigm shift in foreign aid is increasing. Tackling this problem will require extraordinary efforts in combining strong and committed leadership, policies and institutions to increase accountability of aid donor and aid recipient nations. As the Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Louis Brandeis famously said in 1914 in reference to the indisputable benefits of transparency in the public sector:
“Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
(Featured photo: Oxfam International, Creative Commons, Flickr)