19 December 2013


Pieces of Samir Amin, 2009, ‘Aid’


a Complementary Instrument to Control Vulnerable Countries

"International aid," presented as being indispensable for the survival of the "least developed countries" (UN terminology for many African countries and a few other ones), plays its role here.  Because its real objective, aimed at the most vulnerable countries of the periphery, is to create an extra obstacle to their participation in an alternative front of the South.12

Concepts of aid have been confined within a straitjacket.  Its structures were defined in the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005), which was drawn up by the OECD, then imposed on the beneficiaries.  The general conditionality, alignment with the principles of liberal globalization, is omnipresent.  Sometimes it is explicit: promoting liberalization, opening the markets, becoming "attractive" to private foreign investment.  Sometimes it is indirect: respecting the rules of the WTC.  A country that refuses to subscribe to this strategy - which has been unilaterally defined by the North (the Triad) - loses its right to be eligible for aid.  So that the Declaration of Paris is a step back - and not an advance - in comparison with the practices of the "development decades," the 1960s and 1970s, when the principle of free choice by the countries of the South to follow their own system and economic and social policies was recognized.

In these conditions, aid policies and their apparent, immediate objectives cannot be separated from imperialism's geopolitical strategies.  For the different regions in the world do not have the same functions in the globalized liberal system.  It is not enough to mention their common denominator (liberalization of trade, opening to financial markets, privatizations).

Sub-Saharan Africa is very well integrated into this global system, and in no way "marginalized" as it is claimed, unfortunately all too often without thinking.  Its foreign trade represents 45 percent of its Gross National Product, compared to 30 percent for Asia and Latin America and 15 percent for each of the regions constituting the Triad.  Africa is thus quantitatively "more" and not "less" integrated, but in a different way.13

The geo-economy of the region depends on two production systems that determine its structures and define its place in the global system:

1.      the export of "tropical" agricultural products: coffee, cocoa, cotton, peanuts, fruits, oil palm, etc.; and
2.      hydrocarbons and minerals: copper, gold, rare metals, diamonds, etc.

The former are the means of "survival" (apart from food for the auto-consumption of peasants), which finance the transplanting of the State onto the local economy and, through public expenditure, the reproduction of the "middle classes."  This kind of production is of more interest to the local governing classes than to the dominant economies; in contrast, what interests the latter is the products of natural resources of the continent.  Today it is hydrocarbons and rare minerals.  Tomorrow it will be the reserves for developing agrofuels, the sun (when long-distance transport of solar electricity becomes feasible, within a few decades), water (when its direct or indirect "export" becomes possible).

The race to convert rural areas for the expansion of agrofuels is under way in Latin America.  In this field, Africa has tremendous possibilities.  Madagascar has started the movement and already conceded large areas in the west of the country.  The implementation of the Congolese Rural Code in 2008, inspired by Belgian aid and the FAO, will no doubt enable agribusiness to take over agricultural land on a massive scale to "exploit" it, just as the Mining Code has already enabled the pillage of the mineral resources of this former colony.  "Useless" peasants will pay for it, and increasing destitution that awaits them will perhaps attract future humanitarian assistance and "aid" programs to reduce poverty!  In the 1970s I learnt about an old colonial dream for the Sahel, which was to expel the population (useless Sahelians) in favor of extensive, Texas-style ranches raising livestock for exportation.

The new phase of history that has opened is marked by the sharpening of conflicts for access to the natural resources of the planet.  The Triad intends to reserve for itself the exclusive access to this "useful" Africa (that of natural resource reserves) and to prevent such access by the "emerging countries" whose needs in this respect are already great and likely to increase.  Guaranteeing exclusive access means political control and reducing African countries to the status of "client states."

It is not therefore wrong to consider that the aim of aid is to "corrupt" the governing classes.  Apart from the financial appropriations (which, alas, are well known and for which we are led to believe that the donors are in no way responsible), aid has become "indispensable" as it is an important source of financing budgets and fulfils a political function.  It thus becomes necessary to think of aid as being permanent and not prepare for its elimination through a serious development effort.  Hence it is important that it is not reserved exclusively and wholly for the classes in power, for the "government."  It must also give stakes to "oppositions" that are capable of succeeding them.  The so-called civil society and certain non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have a role to play here.  The aid in question, if it is to be really effective politically, must also help to maintain the entry of peasants into this global system, this entry bringing another source of revenue for the State.  The aid must also be concerned with progress in "modernizing" export crops.

Right-wing criticism of aid is based on the notion that it is for the countries concerned to take action to liberate themselves from this dependence by opening up still more to foreign capital.  This was the substance of Sarkozy's speech at Dakar and Obama's at Accra.  This oratorical appeal avoids the real question.  For aid, an integral part of the imperialist strategy, in fact seeks to marginalize the peoples of Africa who are useless and troublesome, the better to continue their pillage of African resources!

The critique made by the "do-gooder" left, which is that of many NGOs, accepts that the "donors" will honor their pledges.  It limits itself to pointless talk about "absorption capacity," "performance," "good governance," promoted by "civil society."  It calls for "more" and "better" aid!  Radical critique, on the contrary, supports autonomous development.  One can imagine that aid in this context would derive from peoples' international solidarity, confronting (and against) the cosmopolitanism of capitalism.

12  Samir Amin, "Aid, for What Development?" (in a book published in English by Fahamu, forthcoming in 2009)
13  Samir Amin, "Is Africa Really Marginalized?" in, Helen Lauer (ed), History and Philosophy of Sciences for African Undergraduates, Ibadan: Hope Pub, 2003.


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