Thursday 10 March 2011

Stinging critique of development aid to Afghanistan

Serge Michailof, until recently operational director of the French Development Agency AFD, and a former director and senior advisor at the World Bank, has written a stinging critique of international donors' mistakes in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2010.
The Challenge of reconstructing 'failed' states: What lessons can be learned from the mistakes made by the international aid community in Afghanistan? emphasises the lack of a coherent strategy and clear goals and says that the consequences are severe inconsistencies in resource allocation. He also outlines the dire consequences of development approaches governed by short-term goals, saying that they will end up establishing a parallel, donor-driven administration that weakens state institutions.
Michailof also criticises the donor community's insistence on a superficial, formal type of democracy at the expense of grassroots democracy. He notes that money is not the issue: from 2002 to 2009 the US spent around $230 billion on military operations in Afghanistan and is still spending around $200-300 million a day. In addition, from 2002 - 2007 the international community has mobilised around $50 billion, half to reconstruct local security forces and the other half for development aid. This is equivalent to about 10 years' worth of World Bank aid to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Another $20-30 billion has come from the Paris and Kabul donors' conferences. More than 2,000 NGOs have been working in Afghanistan during this period.
However, as Michailof points out, the gap between military spending and civilian development spending is huge: at the end of 2007, only $14.7 billion in development aid had actually been disbursed out of the $25 billion that had been promised. The ratio between military and development spending is around 9:1. In addition, much of the aid - particularly American - was tied to purchases in the donor country and was of poor quality.
Michailof makes many excellent points in his report, particularly about US failures to deal with security following the dissolution of the Taliban regime and the errors of the 'light footprint' approach promoted by both former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the United Nations.
Later, the excesses of the early years of the concerted Operation Enduring Freedom military campaign also had tragic consequences, not least in alienating most of Afghanistan's rural population. Michailof produces a convincing critique of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams, exacerbated by amateurism and the rapid turnover of military units. Overall, an excellent report that should be required reading for all international staff working in Afghanistan.

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