|Clare Short MP|
Clare Short gave a very interesting lecture, last night, which kicked off the 2012 St Wilfrid Lecture Series Questions of Right and Wrong at Ripon cathedral. The gist of her argument was that giving development aid alone is not enough, to be both effective and morally pure, it has to go hand in hand with foreign policy and a development policy which puts the needs of the country to which aid is given before the gains of the country giving aid. She gave us many examples of aid which is tied to trade and aid which is less effective than it could be because each donor country imposes conditions of their own which may look nonsensical on the ground. (For example where three separate countries give ambulances and spare parts from their own country, making it difficult to run the ambulance service coherently.)
A foreign policy which creates markets in which developing countries find it difficult to participate or which promotes the sale of arms to unstable governments negates the positive effect of aid. Aid which simply provides a service and then withdraws is not really going to solve a country's problems - much better to work with local projects to educate and empower local populations. Where governments are corrupt, it may be better to give aid to local leaders who will ensure that it is used to transform their own community. These were some of the many challenges to change our approach to aid about which she spoke. There has, she stressed, to be a coherence between policy and, local strategy and action, 'You can’t be doing the wrong thing over here and the right thing over there.'
She used Jesus' parable of the sheep and the goats to reflect on the moral imperative to give aid but said that she would understand the threat of hell, about which the parable so graphically speaks, as continuing to see a conflict ridden world of suffering in which we draw a protective circle around ourselves and what we have in order to protect ourselves from the turbulance, trouble and terrorism that will undoubtedly overtake us if we do not learn to share resources and live in sustainable ways. Moral imperative and intelligent self interest are thus brought together; she gave lots of examples of how governments fail to grasp this.
The lecture was peppered with insights from her years as Secretary of State for International Development and from her struggles with both the Blair government and the Cameron government to get them to adopt consistent approaches to foreign policy and aid. She is certainly a politician who 'walks the talk', often to her own cost - a thinker who knows the subtleties of her own field and is therefore able to speak with authority.
I look forward to the rest of the series. menawhile, if your conscience or interest has been aroused by any of this, you might like to look on the Africa Humanitarian Action website http://www.africahumanitarian.org/ whose whole approach to aid is based on sound scholarship and a holistic approach to what are usually complex situations.