Aid or Trade?

DG Stringer

So which one is it, aid or trade? Is it one or the other, is it both, or maybe neither?

In the case of Africa this is a debate being undertaken by people far more learned than me, of that I am aware. However, regardless one’s field of study, it is an issue of profound importance as the world grows ever closer and the continent’s economic potentials and humanitarian necessities become ever clearer.

Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to travel with a group of students from Europe and North America to the village of Katariga, in Ghana’s Northern Region, to work with a local NGO that focuses on youth and women development. Having been to Tanzania a few years ago on a similar project, I had a general idea of how to prepare myself to the change of culture I was going to experience and how to avoid some of the turbulences I had previously gone through. Returning to the continent helped bring some issues that had become conceptual, such as development, aid, poverty, and sustainability down from their far off perch to up-close reality. As well, questions about a nation’s and a continent’s ability to bring itself out of poverty, how we define poverty, or the role of NGOs began swirling in my head.

I generally don’t count myself as cynical, however when on a project I always have this fear or doubt about how much good the project is actually doing (Must be the French in me). Though what I’m doing might be helpful in the moment, does it help in the long run or lead to a culture of dependence among the recipients, whoever and wherever they are? Talking on this point with the director of the NGO we were working with, he agreed that in many cases it was true. He pointed out, however, that this happens as a result of certain missteps. When a project is parachuted in, namely being undertaken with no support or connection to the local community, when there is no continuity/follow-up in the project and when no education is given to the community. He strongly emphasized the importance of the educational aspect of any project.  Teach a man to fish, as the proverb goes, is the general idea. Many, however, were missing that point, he explained, though things were getting better.

Aid or trade, development, poverty reduction, these are topics debated by those with great exposure and knowledge on these issues; however, the debaters are usually not the implementers. There is a sense of potential that is palpable, possibly from a combination of maturing democracies, economic growth and the success of national football (soccer) teams, an impact not to be underestimated. Therefore what we need to be mindful of is making sure we do these things right so as to help bring about the fishermen that will help support their nations and in turn the continent.