Keep foreign aid decisions separate from moral judgments

Michela Wrong’s exposure of human rights abuses under Rwandan president Paul Kagame is a service to the world. Her suggestion that we should therefore withhold aid, however, is not (‘We choose good guys and bad guys’: beneath the myth of ‘model’ Rwanda, 19 March). I wish the west’s development paradigm was as apolitical and “sinister” as she describes it, as that would make it easy to solve. In reality, the development field has become much more politically conscious in recent years. The problem is that this has made the work more complex.

For example, in 2014 the Dutch government halted aid to Uganda in response to a proposed anti-homosexuality law, arguably acting morally. However, Ugandan LGBTQ+ organisations were not very happy with the Dutch response, as they predicted that LGBTQ+ people would have an even harder time in society if aid projects were cancelled and they received the blame.

This is not to say that we cannot withhold aid for moral reasons, but there is something deeply disconcerting in deciding who are “worthy recipients” from a distance, with too little attention for the consequences on the ground. Sure, we disagree with the Rwandan government, but does that make its people less deserving? We are providing education and vaccines, not tanks. Obviously, we have to act on the regime’s human rights abuses, but withholding aid is unlikely to help the general population. Really thinking politically means considering all consequences of development work, not just taking the moral high ground and using aid as a diplomatic flare gun.
Stijn Kuipers
Postgraduate student in development studies, University of Cambridge

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