The present pattern of international aid is one that is fraught with continuing injustices. International aid is often described by those on the right as one of two things; either as a key part in Britain’s role in the world, a symbol of its so-called “soft power”, or, as a drag on the British budget, handouts to those in the Global South who don’t deserve our help. Both, unsurprisingly, are wrong, at least in their appraisal of what international aid should be. The first, however, is perhaps an accurate representation of the state of affairs which does actually exist.
The second representation falls quite flat when one considers what Britain (and the west generally) gets in return for its aid; it is far from a “gift” to the poorer nations. Aid from the west has, for most of its existence, been “conditional”. International aid is not simply the provision of funds or help to poorer countries, it consists largely of loans, loans which come with conditions attached.
This practice is carried out by many western actors, probably the most well-documented of them being the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Such conditions usually include relaxing economic regulations, introducing the power of the free market, opening up one’s economy to predatory trade practices, and demanding cuts to provision of public services. Such a relationship is probably best described as “neo-colonial”.
The Global South might not be coloured red on the globe any more, but the economic power of western actors is still exercised indiscriminately and for its own gain over those nations, Britain being no exception to this pattern. European Union international aid also comes with similarly demanding conditions. Quite simply, international aid as it stands is largely a strategy to perpetuate the power of western capital. It does not, really, help empower or make life better for the people living in the recipient states. It would be quite hard to argue it does, considering it usually requires slashes in public expenditure.
A British strategy of international aid, then, should really seek to break this cycle. Simply stopping all international aid and withdrawing from this sphere entirely would, from a socialist perspective, abdicate Britain’s duties to internationalism. Instead, international aid should take the form of empowering those in the Global South.
These states should be treated as equals and partners, not condescended to or lorded over. International aid might seek to provide these people with tools for their empowerment. Investment in infrastructure and public services, without strangling conditions attached, would be a great step away from the present relationship. It should aim to help states in the Global South lift their citizens out of poverty, not to extort economic concessions from them.
International aid, above all, should seek to break the exploitative and fundamentally unequal economic relationship between North and South, which is a continuing legacy of imperialism and colonialism.
Durham University Students Union
Youth Officer Beverley and Holderness CLP