Is financial aid helping Africa?

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day ; teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”. In simple words this saying explains the complexity that lies behind financial aid. Back in 1970, the United Nations General Assembly adopted resolution 2626, it was agreed that: “Financial aid will, in principle, be untied […] Developed countries will provide, to the greatest extent possible, an increased flow of aid on a long-term and continuing basis.”

Half a century later, hundreds of billions of dollars have been transferred from rich countries to Africa, yet as the percentage of its population living under the poverty threshold ($1.90/day) has decreased, the total number of people living under this same threshold has increased ; a real paradox. An explanation alone will not do, there is a need to find a solution as well. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in its 2015 edition report recorded that $55 billion were given by its member to Africa. Contrary to popular belief, the biggest receivers are not African countries but Asian countries. Afghanistan, Myanmar and Vietnam are the top receivers of financial aid in the world, whereas in Africa the biggest receivers are Egypt ($5.5 billion), Ethiopia ($3.8 billion) and Tanzania ($3.4 billion).


Of the $55 billion given to the continent, the biggest donators are the United States ($8.9 billion), the International Development Association (IDA) ($6 billion) and the European Union ($5.9 billion). Almost half of these $55 billion were allocated to the social sector which includes education, health and water treatment. This choice is not random, focusing on such a crucial sector facilitates the development of a country through the expansion of its production function which is allowed by improving the available factors of production. Furthermore, it can be argued that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were directly targeted through such policies. Surprisingly, the economic sector accounts for only one fifth of the $55 billion given. This raises many questions especially when considering that under this category fall transport, communications, energy and banking. By leaving aside such important components, economic growth is hindered and development is in harm’s way.

Usually, the receivers are blamed first when there is a lack of effectiveness from financial aid. Bad governance is pointed out; it is true that some leaders did not hesitate to embezzle financial aid. No one really knows how much wealth Mobutu Sese Seko gathered (even though some claim it to be $13 billion) while his country was running at the time with a debt of no less than $13 billion… Although, even when good intentions are present, mismanagement is another problem. Sadly, the white elephant (Expensive investments that serve no purpose) has become the most widely observed animal in Africa as financial aid is spent on non-essential sectors, due to a lack of expertise. Yet, this should not mean that the responsibility falls solely on the receivers.

The roles of the donators can also be questioned. 46 years ago it was agreed between the UN and the donating countries that each year, they would donate 0.7% of their gross national product (GNP) to developing countries. As of today, only five countries meet this criteria: Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom… Then again, giving too much money can also be a problem as it causes a dependency on financial aid. Even more troubling is tied aid, its consequences are gruesome as entire populations are deprived because their governments do not satisfy the political criteria established by the community of donators.

Last but not least, the arrival of new donators should be welcomed cautiously. Even though most of the donators are western countries, new ones are emerging. The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) as well as Turkey are more and more contributing. Furthermore, with economic downturns for the western economies, their donations has substantially decreased. This has allowed these new actors to rise, China for instance has pledged to donate $60 billion to Africa during the last China-Africa summit. However, the arrival of new donators does not necessarily lead to a more favorable situation for the receivers ; in the end good governance and inclusive growth are both the reactants and the products in this equation.  


Meanwhile, Africans living outside the continent send more and more money home to their families. It is only a question of time before remittances outweigh financial aid given to the continent… A strong reminder that Africans have the power to change Africa foremost.





OECD, Development Aid at A glance, Statistics by region, Africa, 2015 edition.

MOYO Dambisa, Dead Aid: Why aid is not working and how there is a better way for Africa, 2009, p.208

Poverty in Africa

The World Bank recently stated that the number of poor people in the world has declined by 3.2 points from 2012 to 2015 and now reaches 702 million people (a little less than 10% of world population).  At this pace, the World Banks predicts that extreme poverty could be eradicated by 2030. Theses numbers are even more impressive as the international poverty line has increased from 1.25 USD a day to 1.90.

It should be noted that in reality, this line remains unchanged. The principle used by the World Bank’s analysts is to keep the purchasing power parity rate and to inflate it at the 2011 prices. In other terms, purchasing and consumption haven’t changed but the prices have. This new line reflects inflation and not an upward variation of real capacities and that is for the best. World Bank’s estimates results are not linked to the methodology.

Concerning Sub-Saharan Africa, poverty rate went down from 56% in 1990 to 35% in 2015. The figures show that in African countries the fight against poverty is actually effective. Yet, on the 702 millions of people, about 346 millions of people are from Sub-Saharan Africa. Comparitively, they represented 285 millions in 1990. 

So, the 35% poverty rate announced for Sub-Saharan African may be due to a base effect. Over this period, African population has considerably grown and went from 523 millions people in 1990 to almost 1 billion in 2015. In comparison to other countries with a similar poverty level in 1990, the result is that the growing of African population came with a less pronounced increase of poor people. Indeed, in South Asia or East Asia and The Pacific, the number of people living in extreme poverty respectively went from 582 millions and 1 billion in 1990 to 225 millions and 84 million in 2015.

Obviously, the situation differs from country to country. Some have been through many years of socio-political crisis which have interfered with any solutions that would have improved the poorest’ living conditions. Besides, the numbers are only estimates that might be revised up or downwards when more precise data will be available. Beyond these methodologies, the numbers reflect the failures of the different programs (including Millennium Development Goals (MDG), private initiatives of NGO aimed at reducing poverty. Is the African context the problem, especially when these exact programs seem to work effectively in other countries? 

We already gave an answer in a previous article, insisting on the fact that these programs are focused on economic growth and do not take in account transmission channels and are not really adapted to local realities. Corruption (misappropriation of money) and socio-political tensions are many factors that counter the efficiency of these development programs. The lack of independent, autonomous development planification is another obstacle. Many countries undergo the evolution of their population without being able to give an appropriate solution. For example, the lack of urbanization policies results in the concentration of rural into non-inhabitable areas. These people are facing recurrent problems of flooding, which create sanitation problems, and then create delays in back-to-school seasons, which prevent the rising of living conditions of these people, who are going to be reported as poor. 

African economies are extroverted and outward looking but the recent economic performances had only a small impact on the situation of the poorest, because they do not participate at the improvement of the economy.  The solution to poverty strongly relies on the capacity of the countries to establish autonomous economic policies that will improve the conditions of the poor, just as other countries did. 

Is nothing had been done for more than 20 years? The answer could be: a lot but not enough. Obviously, if nothing had been done, the number of poor people in Africa would be way more important. The fight against poverty should be deepen, and it would take more responsible politics (economic, social and management) that aim a global well being of the society. If the financial approach of poverty is questionable, it may not constitute an argument. The approach used is based on an Western way of living, but an “African way of life” (even if it is difficult to give a definition in this era of globalization) is not a life without access to decent living conditions (education, nutrition, access to health care…).

Translated by Anne Sophie Cadet