Science - December 15, 2011

Development aid in Angola went wrong

Joris Tielens

Development organizations have failed in delivering aid to Angola, concludes sociologist Hilde van Dijkhorst.

Too much food aid destroys local food markets in Angola.
Too much food aid destroys local food markets in Angola.

photo: .

 The African country was war-torn for 41 years. First there was the struggle against the colonial power, Portugal, and this was followed by a civil war that finally came to an end in 2002. Three million people were driven from their homes in this time. In reconstructing the country the ruling powers concentrated mainly on cities and roads, exactly as the Portuguese colonists had always done. The countryside was ignored and was left to the development organizations.
But they failed, says Van Dijkhorst in the thesis for which she is due to get her PhD this month. According to Van Dijkhorst, development organizations restricted themselves to stock-in-trade interventions that ultimately held back development more than they stimulated it. For example, the aid organizations brought seed for maize and beans, the staple foods in Angola, to villages that needed it, together with farming tools. This enabled them to produce their own food, which did indeed happen. But because all the organizations did the same thing, says Van Dijk, in the long term the local market was flooded with maize and beans, which fetched nothing. And no other livelihoods had been developed.
Dijkhorst does not see the aid as a total failure, however. ‘The emergency aid kept people alive', she says. ‘People became self-sufficient. But the transition from emergency aid to development wasn't made.' For real development more diversity was needed in the trades and professions people could follow. Development organizations should have analysed the needs beforehand and they should have coordinated their work much more. Van Dijkhorst thinks the reason that did not happen is the emergency aid mentality that the organizations stayed stuck in even after the war, causing them to work too fast and with too little forethought.
Her recommendations will not have any impact in Angola now, because aid organizations withdrew in 2007. The country has become so rich from its oil that Angola is now supporting Portugal in its crisis. ‘But the gap between rich and poor is extreme in Angola', says Van Dijkhorst. ‘There are hummers driving through the slums, while 70 percent of the people live below the poverty line.'