FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Aiding Yemen

It was the fall of 2005, and we were sitting in the former minister of planning’s large office — “we” being two international consultants and the local representative of an international development agency. We were there to evaluate a $200,000 project to strengthen human rights.

The minister responded to all our questions with that sharp intelligence characteristic of so many Yemenis, but also politely wondered why we were there at all. He gently reminded us that earlier that year leaders from developed and developing nations had adopted the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, a resounding commitment to respect national leadership and to coordinate aid accordingly. Why was he being asked to spend his time on a small, standalone, donor-driven project? A little shame-faced, we nevertheless pressed on with our agenda — and on to our meeting with the minister of human rights.

This issue may not sound like much against the backdrop of problems plaguing Yemen — including corruption, poverty, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and two major internal conflicts. But after last month’s failed airline attack, Western interest in Yemen is surging, as more military support — and more aid — is promised.

British prime minister Gordon Brown is convening a high-level meeting at the end of January to help Yemen tackle the “terrorist threat” by extending military support and development aid. And in the United States, Hillary Clinton has been promoting an “integrated approach” of diplomacy, defense, and development ever since she took office.

So setting aside for the moment a discussion of whether it is actually possible to bomb countries with one hand and develop them with the other — as the United States and its allies are already trying to do in Afghanistan and Iraq — it is important to ask the question: Why is Yemen still a least developed country (LDC) after decades of donor assistance?

LDCs are countries where the per capita income is under $750 a year. There are 49 of them around the world, mostly in Africa. Haiti is the only one in the Americas. Although these countries face different development challenges, they share the problem of weak human capacity. That is why in Yemen, as in other LDCs, foreign aid can actually impede progress.

It goes like this: Yemenis get their degrees and start looking for work. The best go into business or gravitate to the local offices of foreign aid agencies, where they are paid much better than in government service. Others set up non-governmental organizations that attract funding for areas donors love to support, such as gender and human rights.

Meanwhile, the government itself is staffed by poorly-paid professionals. And to make matters worse, much of the government’s time and effort is sucked up in servicing the requirements of these aid agencies — tons of paperwork and many meetings generated by dozens of donors’ procedural requirements.

The new head of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Raj Shah, acknowledged the problem at one of his first press briefings. He said it was very hard to expect a health minister to offer leadership if he or she was spending “half or two-thirds of their time having visitors from different donor agencies… that are working in a way that’s not coordinated or coherent.” Well, yes.

When I visited Yemen again last year, I was happy to see that the minister of education was imposing coordination on the donor community, though with mixed success given his ministry’s still weak capacity. That was one bright spot in an otherwise gloomy picture.

The point is, that without strong capacity to manage development LDC governments are unable to set their own agendas, and instead remain at the mercy of whatever approach is being peddled by international organizations — structural adjustment, poverty reduction, and the like.

The solution? Most of it is right there in the Paris Declaration. And there has been some progress. For example, in some cases donors pool their budgets to support entire sectors of the country rather than just managing projects. But change has not gone far enough. The way the aid business works, Western donor agencies need to be visible to show their taxpayers that they are doing something with their money. And inter-governmental organizations need to be visible to donor governments — otherwise they would not attract funding and would cease to exist.

There is much that is good about aid and much that is problematic — including, of course, the problems of a political nature. (For example, the distorted role of aid in the Palestinian territories helps to perpetuate the Israeli occupation by minimizing its costs to Israel.)

What is crucial at this moment is that there needs to be a deeper discussion about aiding Yemen. Otherwise that country’s problems may just be beginning.

More articles by:

November 19, 2018
David Rosen
Amazon Deal: New York Taxpayers Fund World Biggest Sex-Toy Retailer
Sheldon Richman
Art of the Smear: the Israel Lobby Busted
Chad Hanson
Why Trump is Wrong About the California Wildfires
Dean Baker
Will Progressives Ever Think About How We Structure Markets, Instead of Accepting them as Given?
Robert Fisk
We Remember the Great War, While Palestinians Live It
Dave Lindorff
Pelosi’s Deceptive Plan: Blocking any Tax Rise Could Rule Out Medicare-for-All and Bolstering Social Security
Rick Baum
What Can We Expect From the Democrat “Alternative” Given Their Record in California?
Thomas Scott Tucker
Trump, World War I and the Lessons of Poetry
John W. Whitehead
Red Flag Gun Laws
Newton Finn
On Earth, as in Heaven: the Utopianism of Edward Bellamy
Robert Fantina
Shithole Countries: Made in the USA
René Voss
Have Your Say about Ranching in Our Point Reyes National Seashore
Weekend Edition
November 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jonah Raskin
A California Jew in a Time of Anti-Semitism
Andrew Levine
Whither the Melting Pot?
Joshua Frank
Climate Change and Wildfires: The New Western Travesty
Nick Pemberton
The Revolution’s Here, Please Excuse Me While I Laugh
T.J. Coles
Israel Cannot Use Violent Self-Defense While Occupying Gaza
Rob Urie
Nuclear Weapons are a Nightmare Made in America
Paul Street
Barack von Obamenburg, Herr Donald, and Big Capitalist Hypocrisy: On How Fascism Happens
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fire is Sweeping Our Very Streets Today
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s New President, Other European Fools and the Abyss 
Pete Dolack
“Winners” in Amazon Sweepstakes Sure to be the Losers
Richard Eskow
Amazon, Go Home! Billions for Working People, But Not One Cent For Tribute
Ramzy Baroud
In Breach of Human Rights, Netanyahu Supports the Death Penalty against Palestinians
Brian Terrell
Ending the War in Yemen- Congressional Resolution is Not Enough!
John Laforge
Woolsey Fire Burns Toxic Santa Susana Reactor Site
Ralph Nader
The War Over Words: Republicans Easily Defeat the Democrats
M. G. Piety
Reading Plato in the Time of the Oligarchs
Rafael Correa
Ecuador’s Soft Coup and Political Persecution
Brian Cloughley
Aid Projects Can Work, But Not “Head-Smacking Stupid Ones”
David Swanson
A Tale of Two Marines
Robert Fantina
Democrats and the Mid-Term Elections
Joseph Flatley
The Fascist Creep: How Conspiracy Theories and an Unhinged President Created an Anti-Semitic Terrorist
Joseph Natoli
Twitter: Fast Track to the Id
William Hawes
Baselines for Activism: Brecht’s Stance, the New Science, and Planting Seeds
Bob Wing
Toward Racial Justice and a Third Reconstruction
Ron Jacobs
Hunter S. Thompson: Chronicling the Republic’s Fall
Oscar Gonzalez
Stan Lee and a Barrio Kid
Jack Rasmus
Election 2018 and the Unraveling of America
Sam Pizzigati
The Democrats Won Big, But Will They Go Bold?
Yves Engler
Canada and Saudi Arabia: Friends or Enemies?
Cesar Chelala
Can El Paso be a Model for Healing?
Mike Ferner
The Tragically Misnamed Paris Peace Conference
Barry Lando
Trump’s Enablers: Appalling Parallels
Ariel Dorfman
The Boy Who Taught Me About War and Peace
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail