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Aiding self

Book>> AID and Other Dirty Business by Giles Bolton Ebury Press 2008

By Utkarsha Deshpande
Published: Saturday 28 February 2009


In the early 1990s Giles Bolton went to Kenya to work as a volunteer with Oxfam, the international funding organization for non-profits. A career in the aid business appeared worthy and terribly glamorous to a "palm-tree-addled mind". Africa beckoned. But the reality was somewhat different. Bolton worked for 10 years in the continent representing first UK's Department for International Development and then the Department of International Trade.

He found himself confronted by an appallingly wasteful global aid industry and a persistently unequal trade system. He also began to see how Africa was being ripped off in its relations with the west and how the western consumer and taxpayer were also losing out as a result.Born of both passion and frustration, Aid and Other Dirty Business addresses the five crucial issues at the heart of this dilemma poverty, aid, trade, globalization and change. The book draws on Bolton's personal experiences to answer the questions behind campaigns and concerts Why is Africa still poor? What really happens to aid money? How do trade rules affect the consumer at the checkout?

Down to Earth For most part, Aid and Other Dirty Business is an entertaining read. There are the usual western diplomat's anecdotes of Land Rover breakdowns in Ethiopian bandit country; of cocktail evenings with the diplomats and Rwanda's high society and of being soundly beaten in a football match against Rwandan MPs. But the book is also hardcore analysis. The main problem according to Bolton is lack of accountability. He writes, "When we pay our taxes or give to charity, we want our aid money to go to helping poor people--but unlike everything else we pay for, we don't consume the service ourselves. The people who do see the quality of the service--the people we're trying to help--have no ability to influence the system that is providing the help."

All this is well known. But the virtue of Bolton's accounts lies in the statistics he has ferreted. For example, at one point he writes that some western governments spend more than 50 per cent of their aid budget on consultants sent overseas from their own country--the US in fact spends more than 70 per cent. He argues that there is so little co-ordination between different charities that work is often duplicated. The section on globalization would not please the dyed-in-the-wool corporate basher. There is, of course, a brief mention of how large businesses influence governments. But he also excoriates the myth of the "evil multinational" and also says that the World Bank has a very good track record in lifting people out of poverty.

Bolton also believes that the UN's Millennium Development Goal of reducing by half the number of those living below the poverty line by 2015 is most likely to be met. That is being over optimistic. We are nowhere near the target.

Utkarsha Deshpande has worked with Amnesty International and Swissaid

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