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An organization must be held responsible for its intended as well as its unintended effects on a recipient community. One unintended, negative outcome Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) could be the promise of hope when it may not even be within their grasp.17 Aid can either be used to bolster a war-torn community’s capacity for peace or to aggravate already hostile lines. In Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War, Mary Anderson acknowledges how often identifying shared values or experiences across a culture can help a divided people slowly focus on their commonalities over the cause for fighting. At the same time, however, this very tactic can be extremely destructive if one is not sensitive to what is really at the root of the conflict.18 These two aforementioned concepts offer only a glimpse into the myriad factors taken into consideration by NGOs, leaving a need to further examine and explain potential consequences to help aid efficiency.
A growing number of NGOs are realizing the importance of downward accountability. As a result, many organizations have established their own mechanisms of accountability by voluntarily agreeing to uphold codes of conduct, joining the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership,19 or signing on to the Sphere Project20. All of these unions have been formed as an attempt for humanitarian organizations to hold one another accountable as well as a way to show their commitment to making the aid effective.
III. Political Empowerment
The government of Uganda receives millions of dollars in foreign aid;
however, only a very small portion of that money fulfills its intended purpose.
“The West spent $2.3 trillion on foreign aid over the last five decades and still had not managed to get twelve-cent medicines to children to prevent half of all malaria deaths” or to even provide mosquito nets to poor families.21 Something has gone seriously awry in the pursuits and intentions of multilateral aid.
Although wealthy nations have been responding to the needs of the impoverished world around them for over sixty years, it would appear that little progress has been made. In fact, with the exception of East Asia, most areas of the world have reported that the number of people living in poverty has remained the same or has actually increased. Furthermore, the majority of people still are not receiving the most basic resources intended to improve their living conditions and well-being. This is particularly true of the displaced people of northern Uganda. There are a number of possible contributing factors, but two of the primary possible hindrances in the situation could be the inequality that bolsters 17 David Rieff. “A Bed for the Night.” New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks (2002).
18 Mary Anderson. “Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace or War.” Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc. (1999).
19 The Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) was established in 2003 in an effort for its members to hold one another to higher standards of accountability and quality aid management. For more information, visit www.hapinternational.org.
20 The Sphere Project is a handbook of humanitarian standards, a process of cooperation, and a resolve to distribute aid in a quality manner. The handbook and further details are available at www.sphereproject.org.
21 Easterly (2006).
Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) corruption and the lack of political power in impoverished areas. These two issues are pivotal concepts to address in rectifying the broken system.
III.1. A Comparative Study of Inequality and Corruption In “A Comparative Study of Inequality and Corruption,” Jong-Sung You and Sanjeev Khagram try to demonstrate that income inequality has a significant impact on the level of corruption in a country through both material and normative instruments. They explain that while many other theories of the causes of corruption have been thoroughly investigated, the relationship between the aforementioned factors has been seriously neglected. For instance, economic factors are often concluded to be the primary cause of corruption. Some theories have shown that economic development is attained by education, the formation of a middle class, and other signs of a general spread in overall improvement of quality of life.22 Other studies suggest that it is lower corruption that leads to higher income, not that economic development reduces room for corruption.23 Some research indicates that democracy provides a system of checks and balances of power against corruption, while others argue that the positive effects of democracy can only be seen after forty years. 24 Religion is yet another potential factor that has merited serious investigation. It appears that individualistic religions like Protestantism tend to encourage citizens to oppose rulers who abuse the power granted to them, while religions that take on a more hierarchical format such as Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and Islam are more likely to look down on these forms of challenges to authority.25 As such, many studies produce results that suggest there is a very high correlation between Protestantism and low levels of corruption. While these and even colonial experience, legal system, and cultural areas are all relationships which have been explored, it seems that the relationship between corruption and inequality is one that has been left fairly untouched.
One of the strongest arguments upon which You and Khagram base their theory is the principle that “corruption is a function of motivations and opportunities.” The more a citizen possesses, the more they have to lose if they abide by the set standards of the judicial, administrative, or political processes.
However, not only do they feel they have more to lose if the system were to work against them, but their abundance of resources guarantees them the currency they need to gain influence through bribery, illegal and legal political contributions, or lobbying. As these individuals’ resources continue to grow, the 22 Daniel Treisman. “The Causes of Corruption: A Cross-National Study.” Journal of Public Economics Vol. 76:399-457 (2000).
23 Daniel Kaufmann, et al. “Growth and Governance: A Rejoinder.” Journal of Politics 69(2): 570-572 (2007).
24 Treisman, 2000.
25 You, Jong-Sung, and Sanjeev Khagram. 2005. “A Comparative Study of Inequality and Corruption.” American Sociological Review 70(1): 136-157, Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) poor become poorer in relation to the wealthy. Consequently, the rest of the population will expect higher taxes on the rich in order to better distribute the wealth. If this pressure is applied, the wealthy will then begin to have even greater incentive to use their influence to squelch this movement towards increased taxes, thus the rise in wealth among the rich allows them greater influence in corrupting politics,leading to an ever-widening gap of inequality.
It appears logical that just as the wealthy have more motivation to act in a corrupt manner as inequality increases, the poor would correspondingly have greater motivation to fight the mounting system of corruption. However, the problem is that despite the logic of this principle, the poor do not have the material resources they need to organize politically. Additionally, the middle-class is usually so small that they are unable to have any real influence among their higher-level counterparts. Thus the middle class and poor of Uganda find themselves stripped of their abilities to effectively monitor and control the actions of the corrupt elite. Furthermore, a high-inequality state is often one in which basic public services, ranging from education to health care, are withheld from those of the lowest class. As a result of this, the poor are put into a position where they are forced to pay the tolls of bureaucratic extortion in order for them to obtain even the most basic of services. When this type of corruption is rampant, the poor begin to see it as the norm and accept it as a standard means of behavior and business.
III.2. Domestic and Political Constraints and the Implementation of World Bank Programs The two purposes of foreign aid are to spark economic growth and help a country to develop long-term prosperity or to provide immediate emergency relief in the form of goods and services. It is often very difficult for donors to directly control where the money finally lands. Because billions of dollars worth of both multilateral and bilateral aid are given to a nation’s government for distribution — though donors may specify where they want the funds directed or to what project they intend for the aid to be applied — there have been a wide range of successful accounts of national governments following through in their commitments. There are many situations in which governments will redirect funds from one area of the budget to another that may suit their interests better or align better with their personal agendas. Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire is reported to have had millions of dollars worth of international aid deposited into his personal account to be used for his own personal gain, eventually claiming a fortune of $4 billion. 26 Several national and multinational studies have demonstrated the existence of this tendency, which leaves many states crippled despite the billions of dollars that are poured in over the years.
Various studies suggest that the most advantageous way for international donors to prevent national governments from continuing this cycle of receiving aid while refusing to abide by agreed upon conditions is to threaten to withhold
26 Easterly (2006). Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009)
aid in the future.27 However, it is very difficult for donor nations to follow through in making such a threat because withholding aid harms the people of the country.
In addition to basic charity, it is also a possibility that empty threats continue to be made on account of the current priorities within the system of aid. In the current system, donors often value organizations that rapidly distribute funding more than those who focus on long-term development. Although the donors have good intentions, the final result is that aid has no positive impact whatsoever beyond short-term, temporary relief. Not only do empty threats not improve the overall state of the nation, but they also often encourage poor government performance.
If a government knows that it will be receiving more aid in the future, they have no incentive to be particularly careful with how they use it in the present.
Tragically, aid money is wasted year after year, having neither the intended effect on its recipients nor on their rulers.
Though some have suggested the creation of a third party, an international organization with less aversion to poverty that could be firmer in ensuring that poor performing countries receive their due consequences, the solution to the misappropriation of aid can come from within a country as well. Political activism from the very people receiving aid has the potential to begin to ensure that they receive the funds allotted them. According to Winters’ theory, an interest group within a country who is aware of what is due to them will certainly protest against the government who is not distributing aid justly. In other words, “multilateral aid is more likely to reach its targets if the targeted populations are capable of political action.”28 Many theories acknowledge that governments prefer one group to another and that the poor are forced to simply take whatever the government chooses with which to grace them. However, several theorists suggest that organized groups have the potential to constrict the powers of governments, and governments will usually choose whether or not to give a group in need the aid meant for them based on that group’s ability to challenge their decision.29 If a multilateral donor has designated aid for a particular community, a well-organized group is far more likely to receive these resources than one that is poorly organized.
The basic components of this theory involve a multilateral donor such as the World Bank, the national government of a country receiving foreign aid, and an impoverished group of people within the country. In this formula, the people in need have some potential for success in contesting the government’s decision to withhold aid, implying that the government would suffer a certain amount of harm as a result of the group’s actions. In stage one, the World Bank determines what 27
Vreeland, James R. 2003. The IMF and Economic Development. New York:
Cambridge University Press.
28 Winters, Matthew. Domestic Political Constraints and the Implementation of World Bank Programs. Unpublished manuscript, Columbia University.
29 Winters, Matthew. “Domestic Political Constraints and the Implementation of World Bank Programs.” Unpublished manuscript, Columbia University.
Journal of Political Inquiry 2 (2009) amount they will donate to the nation as a whole and specifies what portion of that aid is to go to the relevant group. The second stage is for the government to choose to give the group the amount x, retaining 1-x for itself. This amount is usually determined by the government’s preference for the group in question.
Afterwards the group is in a position to choose whether or not they will contest the government’s decision based on how much money they received compared to what they were supposed to be given.
III.3. Critique and Alternative Solution
From the outset, it would appear that the theories of Winters and You and Khagram present two very different possible outcomes for the current case in northern Uganda. The two would almost seem to contradict one another, yet it can be pointed out that one offers a disheartening truth while the other offers a hopeful solution. On the one hand, “A Comparative Study of Inequality and Corruption” presents the argument that once a nation has begun to tread down the path of corruption, the trickle effect soon takes over as every level of society begins to act according to the new norms, thus creating a self-perpetuating cycle of inequality. On the other hand, Winters’ piece on political empowerment gives room to hope that if people can simply be organized politically so that they are given a voice, they have a much greater chance of turning that tide in their favor.