DFiD- All it’s cracked up to be?

A ‘development actor’ can refer to a wide range of organisations which operate a variety of frameworks for development, such as multi-lateral systems (examples are the UN or the World Bank), bilateral development agencies (associated with nation-states), and the increasing involvement of the countries with new emerging economies- Brazil, India, and China.

Each of these actors aim to provide aid and development assistance to regions that are, simply, “worse off” than themselves. We can look at the aim of such establishments as meeting the eight Millennium Development Goals set by the UN (see image below [1] ), with targets for each, to be fulfilled by 2015.


Although NGOs, philanthropic foundations and multinational corporations also contribute to global development aid, the greatest proportion (an estimated 80-85%) comes from ODA, which is why I feel that ODA should be explored further. An acronym for Official Development Assistance first given in 1969 by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), this aid is given to countries that qualify as recipients of official development aid (and appear on the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s List of Aid Recipients (2) ). 70% of this aid is given bilaterally, and 30% is multilateral, through various international and nation-state organisations.

To begin with, I had a look through some of the statistics from OECD, paying particular attention to which donors provided aid to which recipient countries, and to see if the UN’s advised 0.7% (3) of GNI of a nation given to ODA was met.



Of course, this graph shows the US as being the biggest donor of ODA- which it is very proud of- but what proportion of the US GNI does this actually make up?



Only 0.21%, with the only countries meeting the 0.7% recommendation being Scandinavian nations. Taking a closer look at individual donor countries, interesting links are made. America’s top three recipient nations are Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan respectively (6). And, with a bilateral share of 87% in 2009 (7), this begs the question

What are the REAL motives of the donor countries?

Despite being naturally quick to criticise the US, I decided instead to take a closer look at the UK (8), not least because as a taxpayer it would be useful to see where the budget for international assistance was going, and to see if there were similar links to the USA’s pattern of aid.  Afghanistan and Pakistan also feature in the UK’s top four recipient nations, but India has received by far the most aid from the UK 657 USD million (9). India is one of the world’s fastest growing economies though, so why? Could it be linked to previous colonial ties? Or perhaps is the UK trying to build and maintain strong relationships for India before it becomes economically dominated by this emerging Asian giant?

DFID is the UK Department for International Development, and is funded by the UK’s government budget, made up of British citizens’ taxes, its tagline being

“UK aid from the British people”

Of course, DFID has numerous success stories, but I think it is important to also draw from the failures of the organisation, that are far less publicised, and would potentially make any British patriot red with embarrassment.


This video emphasises the extent at which development programs can GET IT WRONG, even if the original intentions are good. This video exposes the ‘Business Partners for Development’ project which was partly-funded by DFID. A coal mine development was set up in a rural residential area, was sold to the locals as an opportunity to create jobs, and open up a financial market. The reality was that it has polluted crops and the air so badly that the school has to be moved, though the project’s chosen site for the new school is just as dangerous, in a location which means it could collapse with even small tremors. This shows poor planning, and, in my opinion, a blatant disregard for the quality of lives of the people who it has affected the most.

One of the most striking parts of the video is when one of the villagers says [about the school]:

“They should send their own children to study here , then they’d understand”

Which, to me, demonstrates how notions of “us and them” are only reiterated with poorly-planned programs. For me, the most infuriating part is the statement from DFID: ‘A replicable model was developed’ (11). If this is what UK agencies want to replicate, then I’m sure I must have a ludacris idea of what development means. Because it is certainly not ‘well-being for all’ (12). It is imperative to realise that this case study is far from standalone. In 2003, DFID’s aid money endeavoured to amplify the number of Kenyan children attending primary school, but in reality, “… this foreign aid-funded programme simply resulted in children being transferred from private to government schools. There was no increase in the number of children attending primary school”- James Tooley (13). Very recently, research has revealed that DFID’s aid budget is ‘being channelled towards projects with the express purpose of extending the power of agribusiness over the production of food in sub-Saharan Africa… promotion of genetically modified crops will also lock small farmers into dependency on corporate providers of seeds and chemical inputs, undermining any chance of defeating hunger’ (14), which directly contradicts the first Millenium Development Goal.

Each of these situations exemplifies how DFID’s aid programmes can result in the disadvantaged people in question being in a worse position than before the programmes were implemented. It makes me burn with rage that relatively small bodies of peoples’ decisions can have such a disastrous effect on the masses, and although this is an age-old problem, there is no reason why correct legislation and implementation should not lead to ‘good change’ (15) (Chambers)

The only real solution to this deep-rooted problem of misspending and poor instruction of programmes that scream self-interest that I can envisage would be to ensure stricter regulations on what can or cannot be done in terms of aid, so good intentions could become good change. If aid-giving legislation was tightened, and the 2005 Paris Declaration and 2008 Accra Agenda for Action- both in Aid Effectiveness- principles were followed; ownership, alignment, harmonisation, results, and mutual accountability (16), then I believe both donors and recipients would benefit hugely, by taking responsibility and pride in the development processes, rather than just filling meeting quotas, or wasting large sums of money on schemes detrimental for potentially both ends of the spectrum. Ideally, there will be little-to-no spectrum at all, eliminating the concept of “us and them”.

43393519Aid works bettter thumbnail


1  Image from http://www.bb.undp.org/index.php?page=mdgs-in-the-caribbean

2 http://www.oecd.org/development/aidstatistics/48858205.pdf – DAC List of ODA Recipients

Effective for reporting on 2011, 2012 and 2013 flows.

3- http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/press/07.htm

4- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ODA_2009.png

5- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:ODA_percent_of_GNI_2009.png

6,7- http://www.oecd.org/development/aidstatistics/44285539.gif

8,9- http://www.oecd.org/development/aidstatistics/44285551.gif

10,11- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wn7xU8bQX3s

12- Chambers, Robert (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11): 1743-1754

13- http://www.policynetwork.net/development/media/dfid-critics-speak-out-white-paper-policies-would-perpetuate-poverty-poor-educatio

14- http://www.waronwant.org/news/latest-news/17763-dfid-and-agribusiness-in-africa-a-toxic-mix

15- http://opendocs.ids.ac.uk/opendocs/bitstream/handle/123456789/669/Wp238.pdf

16- http://www.oecd.org/dac/aideffectiveness/parisdeclarationandaccraagendaforaction.htm


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