Subscribe to Christianity Today
Secular Missionaries: Americans and African Development in the 1960s (Culture, Politics, and the Cold War)
University of Massachusetts Press, 2010
256 pp., $34.95
Faith in Schools: Religion, Education, and American Evangelicals in East Africa
Stanford University Press, 2009
248 pp., $25.95
David A. Hoekema
Americans in Africa
How much foreign aid has flowed from Europe and North America to promote the development of sub-Saharan Africa in the half-century of African independence? Here is one answer: "500 billion dollars." This may be too high: does it include military aid disguised as humanitarian assistance? It may be too low: non-governmental organizations have contributed many billions. And of course other governments, such as Japan, have been major donors. But it's in the ballpark.
Here is another answer: "Far too little, and it should be doubled." In 1970, the leaders of the developed world set a modest goal for international humanitarian aid: just 0.7 percent of gross domestic income per year. That is less than one-tenth of a tithe. Yet only five nations met the target in 2009 (three in Scandinavia; Luxembourg; and the Netherlands). The United States was not even halfway there, ranking fifth from the bottom among the thirty wealthiest nations (source: OECD Development Statistics Online). Africa needs far more help building schools, digging wells, staffing clinics, and building housing for its poor. So argue leading economists such as Jeffrey Sachs (The End of Poverty; Common Wealth), the leaders of many nonprofits, and U2 frontman Bono.
Here is still another answer to our question: "Far too much, and it's done little good." Widely read books such as Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid and William Easterly's White Man's Burden advance this position. However good its intentions, Western aid only enriches entrenched lites, pays obscene salaries to expatriates, and blocks progress toward sustainable economic institutions and structures. This theme was sounded nearly forty years ago when Walter Rodney explained How Europe Underdeveloped Africa: foreign aid wears a mask of benevolence over its true purpose of facilitating neocolonial exploitation. Aid achieves nothing worthwhile; what is needed is investment capital. Only through economically viable projects that reflect local knowledge and enlist local ...