What Does Development Aid Really Mean?* (a poem)

What does development aid really mean?

Does it mean managing money to mobilize against HIV

Or driving through southern Sudan in an SUV?

Does it mean the improvement of life,

Since many join the development enterprise to improve their lifestyle?

Does it mean giving 1/10 of 1% of your GNP

And having 1/3 of that funnel its way to those in need,

Since most of the aid goes to pay aid agency staff salary?

What does it mean?

Development aid is well-intentioned

But in this new millennium we have to learn our lesson

Because I’d rather have no aid than slow aid or low aid

If it means that development agencies will give funds

To governments for pipelines and pesticides

But indirectly support a genocide

Or have we forgotten the extreme case of Rwanda,

Where 80% of development aid went to the pre-genocide government

Even though all of the signs of the genocide were in place

But agencies for aid

Paid it no mind as long as that well-water became potable

…or that fertilizer ferry became floatable

… or that minimal rise in literacy became notable

Just noticeable enough to give uplifting quotable statistics on report backs to donors


Misguided, top-down development enforces the politics of exclusion

Because in collusion with repressive governments,

The poorest of the poor never receive assistance in fields like subsistence farming

And it’s quite alarming

Because aid agencies never realize their agency in societal conflicts

Because they claim to take an “apolitical” approach

But they fail to see how misdirected, top-down aid can encroach

On a politically fragmented society

And exacerbate it by further disempowering the disempowered

Primarily by working with government-appointed elites

So we have to rethink development

Because many of us don’t understand what to “develop” meant in the first place

I’m calling for a structural adjustment program of Structural Adjustment Programs

And other policies that claim or claimed to assist developing homelands

Because development doesn’t mean that we can have Afrikan Growth and Opportunity

When the resources we use don’t come from our own community

It doesn’t mean fancy dinners in classy hotels

With money given to decrease mortality rates for newborn children

And if aid can’t be given to a government

Without a care for ensuring the rights of every child, woman and man

Then I’ll be damned before I say that everything is “ok” with development aid

It’s time to ensure that our dollars are being spent on education and public health

As opposed to Safari vacations and private wealth

For foreign experts and host government hierarchies

And if we can have vouchers at home

Why not have developing country vouchers

So good governments can choose the best development projects for their land

Instead of generic plans from those claiming to know what’s best for the destitute?

Development aid can’t be looked at as a Wall Street business transaction

Where investors are only worried about the comeback

We need to come back and revise our strategy

Because we’ll all be glad to see the day

When development aid is not

With promising statistics on cocoa revenues, crop distribution,

And more village midwives

Because few lives will be improved or saved

Unless the poorest of the poor truly receive the majority of the aid

So until the day when underdeveloped development dreams

Are redeveloped for developing countries

Development aid will never be what it seems

And if we continue to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to this preventable predicament

Then the poorest of the world’s poor will continue to ask:

“What does development aid really mean?”

*Partially inspired by Dr. Peter Uvin’s
Aiding Violence