Development Aid's Bitter Little Pill

The West currently lives within a prescriptive mentality. The road to efficiency is paved with check boxes and packaged solutions. Robust and complicated infrastructure props up bad decisions and resources are used like wallpaper to paper over the cracks. Relative excess generally allows people to live well within this framework.

I was struck by two pieces of writing recently. The first was from Dr. Geoffrey Douglas the CEO of the charity HETN (Health Empowerment Through Nutrition). Dr. Douglas in his blog “An Epidemic of Rickets” was commenting on a recent Channel 4 News report on the alarming increase in the prevalence of Rickets in the UK. The news report thought it was shocking that Calciferol; the pharmaceutical treatment for Rickets was in short supply. At no time did the news report mention nutrition and lifestyle. Rickets is increasing in the UK because of a change in diet and attitudes towards exposure to the sun, not because of a shortage of pharmaceutical Calciferol.

The second piece of writing was by TMS Ruge on the website Project Diaspora. In “Celebrity Stunts of Altruism are Killing Livelihoods In Africa”  Teddy argues that the current trend of sending mosquito nets to Africa, while neat and tangible for the giver, is actually doing little to tackle the underlying malaria eco-system.

Neither is saying that pharmaceutical Calciferol or malaria nets do not have a role to play within their relative eco-systems. What they are saying is that effective solutions and understanding come from looking at the entire eco-system, not through a single magic bullet.

When development projects fail in Africa, Africa is blamed for its lack of infrastructure, for its lack of understanding and for not having the right systems in place. By their very definition, developing countries do not have robust infrastructures as defined by the West. They do not have an excess of resources to paper over the cracks. Bad decisions cannot be propped up. A prescriptive mentality cannot work within development projects. Checkboxes, packaged solutions and predetermined paths lack efficiency and relevance in these conditions.

Perhaps the West needs to change its approach? Prescribing solutions based upon their ideals, norms and values has not worked in Africa. Belligerently trying to change the way Africa deals with these prescribed solutions so that she can then develop in a way that is pleasing to the West seems a little crazy to me. Would it not be easier to change the way the West approaches development in Africa? And perhaps a little more effective?

Photo by Net_Efekt