Can aid end aid?

We put the question to six campaigners and opinion-formers.

A Nigerian refugee plays football at a UNHCR camp in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, near th
A Nigerian refugee plays football at a UNHCR camp in Ras Ajdir, Tunisia, near the border with Libya. Credit: Nadia Shira Cohen/New York Times/Eyevine

Jock Stirrup

Former chief of the defence staff

It is hard to envisage a world in which nobody needs help – in which aid is unnecessary. The overall level of need can, though, be reduced through timely and well-directed aid. I have seen sufficient outcomes over the years – both good and bad – to convince me of the truth of the proposition. Hardship and want often lead to conflict, and conflict undoubtedly breeds hardship and want. So, addressing the appropriate needs in the first place will almost certainly reduce the longer-term requirement for aid, as well as avoiding much of the human and material costs of conflict. And it will contribute to our security and prosperity.

Many regions where the UK’s national interests are most closely engaged suffer from instability, poverty and poor governance. Helping people in these areas to self-reliance, helping them to develop fair and effective institutions, to lift themselves out of poverty and to counter ignorance, will reduce the risk of conflict. And that, in turn, is good for our own interests. So, whether you’re being selfless or selfish, timely and well-targeted aid makes sense.

Annie Lennox

Singer and HIV campaigner

Last World Aids Day, President Obama spoke about the beginning of the end of Aids – when an Aids-free generation is born and 15 million people are on treatment. That we can even contemplate the beginning of the end of Aids is thanks to aid. Global aid efforts, such as those delivered through the Global Fund and the US Pepfar plan, mean that today 6.6 million people receive live-saving treatment for HIV, and we can prevent a mother passing HIV on to her unborn child.

When aid is spent on global health it doesn’t just fund treatment but helps countries scale up their response and spurs the private sector to take action. It gives millions the prospect of a healthy future in which they can contribute to society. This is the key to ending aid. But we can’t get ahead of ourselves: every day 1,000 children are born with HIV. We can’t stop yet.

Adrian Lovett

Europe executive director, One anti-poverty campaign

The aid story is an incredible one, but aid alone will not end aid. The next step is to ensure Africa’s vast resources benefit its citizens – including the poorest. It starts with international oil, gas and mining companies being open about payments they make to governments. Lawmakers in Europe and the US have the power to make that happen. In all of this, we must make sure citizens have the tools to hold their governments to account, so that this income is invested in services such as schools, roads and health clinics. When you tell people you are an anti-poverty campaigner they think you just want to talk about aid. Aid is a vital safety net; it gives the poorest people a chance to get a foot up. But being an anti-poverty campaigner is about justice, which means keeping our promises to the poorest and insisting that everybody plays by fair rules, so that Africa can use its own resources to determine its future.

Tony Blair

Founder and patron, Africa Governance Initiative

I believe in aid. That’s why, as prime minister, I negotiated the doubling of aid to Africa at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005. And we can see the difference aid has made. To take just one example, the UK’s financial contribution to the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (Gavi) will immunise 80 million children over the next five years, saving 1.4 million lives. That is why it’s critical that the rich world continues to meet its obligations on aid.

But aid alone is not enough. Ultimately, development depends on two things: governance and growth. By governance, I mean governments having the capacity to deliver for their citizens, to improve health and education and tackle poverty. All countries, even rich ones, need governments that can do this. And when I speak to African leaders they tell me this issue of governance capacity is the biggest they face. This is why I have made it the focus of my charity the Africa Governance Initiative.

Developing countries also need growth, which generates jobs and income. And to get growth, leaders of emerging economies need
to attract high-quality, sustainable investment; make sure that the rules are clear and followed; and work together to remove regional trade barriers. For our part, the rich world has to open up its markets and ensure that global trade rules are fair. With every stride African countries make on growth and governance, their reliance on aid diminishes. We are not there yet, but the end of dependence on aid can be achieved within a generation.

Tutu Agyare

Managing partner, Nubuke Investments LLP

Depending on your starting point, aid can definitely end aid. With countries coming out of the ravages of war or famine, the institutions necessary to rebuild a stable economy cannot be financed out of thin air. This is where aid comes in – to kick-start these processes. As we have seen in Rwanda and Sierra Leone, the end to a war is not enough.

The issue I have with this aid, though, is that it has no blueprint for success and no exit strategy. Most global NGOs will meet you with a blank stare if you ask them whether they know what they consider a successful programme to be and whether they have a target for local institutional capacity-building, or whether they have a finite date for exit. Unfortunately, the onset of aid seems to mean those white 4x4s with their expat NGO masters are here to stay. We need them to come in, build sustainable local institutions and leave!

Mo Farah

British athlete and founder, Mo Farah Foundation

The point of aid is to end aid – it shouldn’t be for ever. But talk of the end of aid seems a distant dream for the people who are going to bed hungry tonight in Somalia, and in West Africa, where a new food crisis is growing. Aid is vital in times of emergency – when famine struck Somalia last year UK aid kept people alive. But it is not just about feeding the starving, it is also about rebuilding for the future. It’s why my wife and I set up the Mo Farah Foundation to raise money for the relief effort and to work for long-term solutions.

Drought is inevitable but famine is not, if we invest in the right solutions such as water wells, crop storage and support for farmers. My daughter has had a great start in life: health care, education and the right nutrition. When my twins are born later this year, they will, too. Every child deserves the same. Until this is reality, the job of aid is not over.

We should be proud of our aid: it saves lives. And when the day comes when aid is no longer needed, we should be proud of that, too.