“We want to move away from aid dependency. It’s become like a bottomless pit. Most if the aid finds its way back to the country it came from.”
-Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said today in Nairobi
Now this is what I want to hear from the leadership in Kenya. There is a good chance that it is simple posturing, as it seems that every leader is doing it in the race for 2012, but maybe there is something behind the remarks. Can Kenya remove itself from the grip of international aid?
Spending a little more time in Nairobi has confirmed two things for me. I hate the city of Nairobi and a large portion has to do with aid. My main reason for hating the city is in its planning. With numerous circles and no real planning, the city is a cluster-fuck of people and cars. You have to challenge the cars when you want to get from one side of the road to the other. Traffic lights are installed and serve no purpose other than to waste electricity. Police help with traffic when the removal of a circle in the middle of a highway could solve a lot of problems.
That is where it is a logistical mess. Then come the people. There are generally three types of foreigners in Kenya. You have the tourists, the business people and the NGO/voluteers. Everyone in Nairobi is lumped into one group that is dominated by the common denominator of money. Tourists arrive to spend money, businessmen to invest and make money, and voluteers to work in organizations that provide services and even money to people. The basic white=money is most evident in the crowds of Nairobi. This is troublesome when trying to simply walk from one point to the next. A man will approach and tell you his story of being a Lost Boy of Sudan or a Somali refugee. School fees are requested, a small loan here and there, or just straight forward food.
No is never enough when you are stopped. Which makes it impossible to do so. It is not easy when moving, but continual motion will help. I applaud the remarks of Raila because he sees the problem of aid money. It creates a system of reliance. Instead of finding partnerships in investment in Kenyan industry, NGO’s crowd Kibera and give out free bed nets. David Beckham kicks a ball into a net and tells you to donate so that children can have a net when they go to sleep. The economy of Kenya stagnates because it is not allowed to truly flounder. In my hack opinion, there is something to be said for economic failure. Would people be more reactive if the system around them was to fail?
The status quo somehow is good enough for most Kenyans. At the very least, good enough not to demand true reforms. I believe that this is buoyed by aid. Loans can and should exist, but free money must be removed. I say this with a understanding that I contribute to this complex. I have mentioned before about my concerns with aid, and the past few weeks has begun to solidify my position.
I occupy a position that could exist for another person. My job is in no way highly skilled. Yes, my education has contributed a bit, but there are plenty of young Kenyans who are without work and could easily replace me. My aim was to use the experience to learn about the ways that aid can help or hurt a place like Kenya. Seeing it first hand, I have now come to realize the ways that aid can hurt and help.
Do not get me wrong. There are great things being done here. I have not been to every NGO in this country. However, the culture of aid has become unquestionably harmful. The areas with the most aid groups (re. Nairobi) continue to be the most troubled. After a half century of aid on the continent what real growth has taken place? I may be wrong, but have not most of the developed nations achieved progress through mostly independent means?
The results of pulling aid will be terrible in the short term. There is no question about that, but what is the cost right now? The level of living here remains poor for most and shows no hope of improving. Is it better to suffer horribly for a short period or to wallow for decades or longer? Right now I lean towards the short term. The way things look, a long term solution is not possible.
Raila, please follow your own words. Reduce aid money and begin to invest in the country. Start off by cleaning up Nairobi. Get people out of slums, have a real source of electricity and water, make city water drinkable, take out all the circles, have police do their jobs and prevent hijackings, and tell all the NGO’s “Thank you, but you need to go home.”