by Peter Hill

The ‘first world’ often seems to make moral judgements about what ‘developing countries’ need to become ‘developed’. The ‘first world’ makes claim to knowing better because, for a variety of reasons, they industrialised first, outlawed child labour, introduced compulsory education, and reached other claimed mileposts of development first. But just because they got there first, does it really follow that they know what is best for those nations and peoples have been labelled as being behind?

Back in 2008 I was reading my Masters at the University of Bradford’s Centre for International Development and a classmate from Africa said something that really opened my mind. The problem, he said, is that European and other nations keep giving aid to African countries to the extent that they are dependent on that aid, and will never be able to stand on their own two feet if the aid keeps coming. There was ‘a culture of dependency’. How often have we heard this claimed in our tabloid press, and yet we seemed to be encouraging the exact same dependency by other nations through our aid policy. Things have allegedly got better since 2008, for example, aid is better targeted to those nations ‘most in need’. However, the question still remains: can we move beyond aid? Can we instead help friends and allies around the world in gaining economic and therefore political independence?

Firstly, more emphasis needs to be placed on capacity building. To use the perhaps overused Chinese proverb “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Of course building water pumps and providing tools is not enough. Pumps need to be maintained and tools wear out, so why not do more to support the training of engineers? Engineers have led the industrial development in all countries and can support the long-term growth by building the infrastructure needed for development.

Secondly, Acemoğlu, Johnson & Robinson amongst others have highlighted the importance of institutions and civil society to a country’s long-term economic growth. Of course, nations which threw off the yoke of imperialism would not take kindly to some kind of revival of Empire through cultural-imperialism. However, through cultural exchanges, secondments and by supporting to education of civil servants both countries can learn so much from each other.

Thirdly, trade is key. Trade barriers and punitive taxes need to be addressed, but any trade agreements should be fair to both parties. Too often the Washington consensus is seen as the only way forward when movements such as Fairtrade show that an ethical alternative is available.

Fourthly, but by no means the final suggestion, the empowerment of women. This means equality of political and property rights, equality before the law, freedom of movement and assembly, and perhaps most importantly the freedom to plan their families.

This is by no means an exhaustive range of suggestions, but it perhaps a start in how we can being to move beyond endless aid and instead towards sustainable development in all nations everywhere.