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:

February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
Mitchel Cohen
A Tale of Two Citations: Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and Michael Harrington’s “The Other America”
Jake Johnston
Haiti and the Collapse of a Political and Economic System
Dave Lindorff
It’s Not Just Trump and the Republicans
Laura Flanders
An End to Amazon’s Two-Bit Romance. No Low-Rent Rendezvous.
Patrick Walker
Venezuelan Coup Democrats Vomit on Green New Deal
Natalie Dowzicky
The Millennial Generation Will Tear Down Trump’s Wall
Nick Licata
Of Stress and Inequality
Joseph G. Ramsey
Waking Up on President’s Day During the Reign of Donald Trump
Elliot Sperber
Greater Than Food
Weekend Edition
February 15, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Time for Peace in Afghanistan and an End to the Lies
Chris Floyd
Pence and the Benjamins: An Eternity of Anti-Semitism
Rob Urie
The Green New Deal, Capitalism and the State
Jim Kavanagh
The Siege of Venezuela and the Travails of Empire
Paul Street
Someone Needs to Teach These As$#oles a Lesson
Andrew Levine
World Historical Donald: Unwitting and Unwilling Author of The Green New Deal
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Third Rail-Roaded
Eric Draitser
Impacts of Exploding US Oil Production on Climate and Foreign Policy
Ron Jacobs
Maduro, Guaidó and American Exceptionalism
John Laforge
Nuclear Power Can’t Survive, Much Less Slow Climate Disruption
Joyce Nelson
Venezuela & The Mighty Wurlitzer
Jonathan Cook
In Hebron, Israel Removes the Last Restraint on Its Settlers’ Reign of Terror
Ramzy Baroud
Enough Western Meddling and Interventions: Let the Venezuelan People Decide
Robert Fantina
Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”
Dave Lindorff
Using Students, Teachers, Journalists and other Professionals as Spies Puts Everyone in Jeopardy
Kathy Kelly
What it Really Takes to Secure Peace in Afghanistan
Brian Cloughley
In Libya, “We Came, We Saw, He Died.” Now, Maduro?
Nicky Reid
The Councils Before Maduro!
Gary Leupp
“It’s All About the Benjamins, Baby”
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail