Foreign Aid in Afghanistan

As a first year Political Science student at Carleton University in Canada, I was eager to learn about how societies operated and got to their current political state. I was optimistic that my fellow classmates and I would gain the necessary knowledge and tools to end conflict in African states, end the drug wars in Latin America, eliminate sex trafficking in East Asia and fight against the mafia thugs that rule the greater part of Europe and Central Asia. I obviously had a lot to learn about reality and the obstacles we would be facing in our politics-related careers later in life.

It was in my first year seminar about theUnited Nations that I was confronted with the question of whether or not foreign aid really worked for developing nations? On the one hand we talked about war torn countries led by corrupt governments who would merely take the aid and distribute it amongst its own army and officials and maybe even try to sell it to the people who need it most at prices they cannot afford. And on the other hand we talked about countries that have used foreign aid to help improve the socio-economic position of the state to a point where we can no longer label them a “developing” nation. During one of these discussions I asked the professor, “If organizations like the UN don’t help the countries that need it most, what’s the point of even having it?” My professor’s response literally shattered my world of hopes and optimistic dreams. It was because of political will or a lack thereof, in the international community that some countries get more attention and aid than others. It was from that day forward that I was convinced that developed Western states only got involved in development projects if there was some sort of benefit for themselves in it.

However, through my experience while working in Afghanistan my perspective has slightly changed. While working at a German organization called GTZ I have seen firsthand how foreign aid has benefited the Afghan people. Through the Sustainable Economic Development Program, GTZ helps local residents start up businesses by contributing fifty percent of the total costs associated with it. The other fifty percent is up to the business owner to contribute. GTZ also provides the necessary training for running the business such as business management, bookkeeping and marketing. In this way GTZ is fostering job creation which provides a means of income for the business owner and the employees he or she might hire, and thus contributes to the Afghan economy. The end result is that if and when GTZ leaves the country, the people here can look after themselves.

This is only one example of how foreign aid has helped the Afghanistan. There is also the American organization USAID which has numerous development projects throughout the country. I was lucky enough to see one of these projects during my stay in Afghanistan. While most people are unaware of this small but vital fact (I have to admit, as a Canadian taxpayer it really bothers me that I don’t know where my money is going all the time) when countries such as the United States and Canada provide financial aid to be used for development in countries (for example: Afghanistan), that aid is meant for “war zones”. Therefore, if there is no war in a certain area none of the aid goes there. Here is an example of how the concept works. There was a school in the province of Kunduz that desperately needed repairs. The teachers repeatedly pleaded with NGOs only to receive the message that “if there is no war or unrest in that area we cannot rebuild your school”. The only solution to this problem was burning the school down, which someone did and what do you know? In comes the foreign NGOs and voila! A new school is built to replace the old one. What type of message does this send to the Afghans living in rather peaceful parts of the country?
All hope is not lost. Like I said, I’ve seen the positive side of it too! I had the honour of attending the grand opening of a school built by USAID in a small village in the mountains of Badakhshan. Before the school was built students would sit on the ground and scratch into the dirt their lessons for the day. Rain or shine (and it does get pretty hot in the summer and quite muddy when it rains) these students showed up for classes. It was the students’ determination that prompted a resident by the name of Mahboba Rabbani to pursue whatever contacts she had at NGOs in the region to build a school for those children. After a year and a half USAID was able to get the green light and use some of its funds to build this school.
So you see foreign aid can be a great thing if presented in a certain form. If any foreign aid donor hands a sack of money to the government of a developing nation I can guarantee you that some of it (if not all) will go directly into someone’s bank account rather than being used to help the citizens of that nation. However, if the foreign aid comes in the form of helping business owners open and successfully run a business or building schools to equip children with the education needed to work in fields such as medicine, law and engineering. This type of aid has a long lasting impact on a country long after the NGOs have gone because they are providing people with things that can’t be taken away: knowledge, confidence and hope.

Who knows if foreign aid donors are doing all this for the benefit of themselves? Maybe my first year Political Science professor was right afterall. Maybe countries like Canada and the US are just doing all this fine and dandy work to create a better image for themselves on an international scale? I’ll admit that the bureaucratic process of getting aid to peaceful regions needs to be changed and that’s our duty as Canadian, American, German, etc. taxpayers to urge our governments to do this. Who knows how long it will take for this change to happen? What I do know is that foreign aid in Afghanistan yields positive results and I hope it doesn’t end anytime soon.

No comments: