Teach a man to fish: Can aid restrict a country’s ability to grow?


AS THE ANCIENT CHINESE proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for a lifetime.” Are the effects of huge fundraising efforts temporary? Does aid actually help or hinder?

The BBC’s charity, Children in Need,  kicks off again in November. It is one of Britain’s biggest telethons, alongside Comic Relief and Sport Relief, pleading for the public to donate in their masses.

Efforts to raise aid for Africa have been going on for half a century. Yet, why is the country’s poverty still disproportionate to the staggering amounts of money raised? Have we been throwing money at the poor and hoping it will pay off? Aren’t we better off teaching Africa to fend for itself?

A recent Newsnight report on described the slowly changing face of Africa, where industrialized farming is helping to create jobs and enabling the country to feed itself.

Dabney Tonelli of Chayton Africa, the British-owned company that manages the 25,000-acre farm at Mkushi, Zambia, says: “If we just increased the yields to 80% of world averages, Africa would become a net exporter of food. We believe that Africa can feed itself and the rest of the world too.”

Although it has areas of concern as it develops, it demonstrates how a notoriously impoverished country has the capabilities to sustain its own development instead of relying on external aid.

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Losing its direction

A fundamental problem that has arisen with the administration of aid is the understanding of how it should reach the intended recipients. This complicated issue can cause the money to be misdirected by the government of the poor country.

A historical example is the singer Bob Geldoff‘’s star-studded Live Aid concerts of July 1985, which staged a worldwide awareness of the poverty-stricken country of Ethiopia. £50 – 70 million was raised in total and Geldoff was duly praised for making fundraising history.

Some of the money was put to good use. But the Guardian reported in 2005 that a lot of the money ended up fuelling the controversial resettlement programme in Ethiopia, which involved 600,000 people being forcibly moved from the North to the Southwest of the country.

Disguised as an effort to relieve the heavily populated area of the North, the procedure was brutally controlled by the Dergue (socialist ruling body) and led to the death of around 100,000 people. The report added that post-Live Aid, Geldoff was left pondering why Africa’s poverty was getting worse.

According to a 2009 Guardian report about Uganda, Luther Anukur, the NGO Panos’s executive director for eastern Africa, said the amount of money stolen in Uganda [by people in power] is equivalent to the foreign aid it receives.

An unequivocal understanding of a country’s politics is needed for aid to offer a helping hand. But for how long will the effects last? And can aid ever cause sustainable change?

A future without aid

The organisation Hives Save Lives, teaches Africans to become effective beekeepers and produce their own honey. The charity demonstrates the value of teaching life-enhancing skills to individuals from disadvantaged countries. This encourages independence and enables the people of Africa to earn their own living instead of relying on hand outs.

Benjamin Aggrey Ntim, Ghana’s Communications Minister, who spoke at the twelfth Ministerial Meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XII), said that the development of skills and human-capacity building were essential in order to close the divide between the rich and the poor sides of the globe.

He added that knowledge, technology and innovation needed to progress in Africa in order to come closer to achieving internationally set global development targets such as the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which aim to reduce poverty by 2015 beginning from 2005.

At the core of the discussion was the firm belief that such advancements would play a central role in reducing poverty.

The Department for International Development (DFID) stated that economic growth is the only way in which poverty can be permanently alleviated. In fact, the DFID claimed that economic growth is responsible for 80% of the reduction in poverty since 1980.

Creating opportunities

In 2008, The UK Government and the United Nations Development Programme began the Business Call to Action (BCtA) global initiative. The event brought together 80 business leaders in London to put their ingenious thinking caps together and develop innovative business proposals for poorer countries.

The goal was to increase employment, help existing businesses thrive and transform the image of these countries from a high-risk investment to a land flourishing with opportunities.

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Through the BCtA initiative, The Coca Cola Company (TCCC) managed to create more than 3,000 Manual Development Centres (MDCs) and currently employs over 13,500 people. The company has also realized an increase in 1,200 individually owned businesses and created an additional 6,000 jobs in markets across Africa.

Most encouragingly, the TCCC provided such individuals with long-term business, entrepreneurship and life skills through structured training programmes.

In addition, internet-savvy organisations such as Microsoft and Google can help Africans come up-to-speed in the technological age, which Google are currently working on. Specialist health professionals can work with medics of Africa and help them advance their skills. Artists can run workshops to awaken dormant creativity.

Regularly organised and updated courses, seminars and workshops spearheaded by successful entrepreneurs will help to educate the poor and unleash the potential that exists.

Economic poverty is hindered by the presence of poverty of thought. Scattering seeds of belief on neglected soil can lead to a fruitful future by growing an employable society that can provide for itself.

Will we get there?

There is a lot of skepticism surrounding the setting of, steps towards and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The agricultural advancements in Africa show signs of promise, but there’s still a long way to go.

Using data from the UN, the BBC reported in September last year that: “Developing nations are on track to meet the poverty target largely because of progress in China. But in Sub-Saharan Africa and Western Asia the proportion of hungry people has increased. Globally, the number of hungry people rose from 842 million in 1990-92 to 1.02 billion people in 2009.”

In order to get closer to the goal, Africa should not be leaning against the crumbling shoulder of aid. And if aid is given, it should be administered with careful consideration about a country’s politic structure. But the actual need for aid should eventually be eradicated along with the poverty it serves to help.

An article published by Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, Deputy Director of the UN Millennium Campaign, concluded with a fundamental truth: “Maybe the real meeting Africans and other poor countries need to have is about a future without aid.”

To bring about permanent change, affluent countries should continue educating the people of Africa on how to skillfully handle a fishing rod, instead of handing them the occasional fish.

– Monica Sarkar

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5 thoughts on “Teach a man to fish: Can aid restrict a country’s ability to grow?

  1. The problem is there’s no coordination in “fishing” or giving “fish”

  2. Grayson Gill says:

    bookmarked, my friends will love this

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