Imagine for a moment that you're the leader of a fictional state we'll call "Bigbucksica", a healthy, wealthy, powerful First-World country with a near-schizophrenic attitude to world affairs, swinging unpredictably from complete indifference to outright military intervention.
Today, you're approached by the Ambassador from "Dirtopia", a once-former colony of the Franglican Empire, now a typically destitute "industrializing" Third-World country with all the usual trimmings: an economy based on subsistence-level agriculture, a crumbling to non-existent infrastructure, sporadic electricity in just a couple major cities, and about as many doctors in the whole country as you might find in one Bigbucksican city clinic. On the other hand, the government of Dirtopia is only modestly corrupt and generally tends to ignore the public squirming under its thinly-veiled authoritarian heel, indulging in just the occasional beating or slum crackdown.
Basically, you don't get involved with them, they don't get involved with you. Great if you don't care to vote; not so good if you want trash pick-up on Tuesdays.
As you might expect, Dirtopia has been a big recipient of international financial aid - for 50 years running. In an average year, about 25% of the country's budget comes from outside donors, and NGOs provide the only real social services most citizens of Dirtopia have ever seen. Incredibly, despite 50 years of outside support, the situation in Dirtopia is measurably worse now than it was during its colonial period under the rapacious Franglican Empire.
Living standards are down.
Life expectancy is down.
Wages are down.
Poverty is up.
Unemployment is up.
Inflation is up.
AK-47 totting "police" are up.
If that wasn't bad enough, climatic change and self-inflicted environmental damage are causing Dirtopia to experience a worsening series of droughts. The farmers barely produce enough to feed themselves in a good year, and the most common vehicles seen on Dirtopian roads these days are UN food trucks.
Food aid has plugged the gap for now, but demand continues to grow as Dirtopia's production wavers and the population - buoyed by food aid and NGO medical programs - increases, exacerbating the severity of each new drought.
Now the Ambassador of Dirtopia, in conjunction with a 'rainbow coalition' of aging rockstars, local celebrities, and Bigbucksican companies with interests in agriculture and construction, are pleading for additional food aid, debt relief, etc. in the wake of yet another growing drought.
The Ambassador promises that this time his government won't spend half the money on people-beaters, pineapple grenades, and Mercedes E-Class sedans. Pinkie swear! See? No crossies.
What decision would you make, and why?
Why has 50 years of assistance gone so wrong?
Is the assistance itself the problem?
Is saying "No" a cure, even if it causes the people to suffer?
Well, would you sign another check and hope that - somehow - they will break a pattern set over 50 years and transform the country?
Do you tie the receipt of aid to the institution of reform programs, knowing how they've ignored those efforts in the past, and knowning that every day you delay a payment costs more human lives?
But are they already too dependent on foreign aid, and is that the problem? Isn't their government simply outsourcing its responsibilities and using the money it collects to do nothing more than maintain power?
Do you simply say "screw it" and tell your generals to "Lock 'n' Load" - it's time for some good old-fashioned nation-building?
Where does all of this eventually end? What is the end game?
(Note - not thinking of any country in particular -"Dirtopia" is an amalgamation of many different countries, but the principles and the problems are much the same.)
I would imagine that a lot of Dirtopias in the world already benefit from NGOs pushing minimal farm aid efforts of one kind or another. Unfortunately, other barriers are often come into play to mitigate those efforts - or sabotage them directly.
For example, the plantations in Ghana that produce the bulk of the world's cocoa, and much of the country's wealth. Left completely to their own devices, with no governmental intervention of any kind, they would do pretty well. But the government of Ghana requires the plantation owners to sell their crops to the government at the official exchange rate. The cocoa is then sold by the government on the international markets.
So, if Ghana says that one US dollar equals 10 Ghana Bucks, and one pound of raw chocolate is worth $2 US, they pay the plantation owner 20 Ghana Bucks for the chocolate.
Sounds equitable, except that the government - and not the market - is the one setting the exchange rate of $1 to 10 Ghana Bucks. In reality, the exchange rate (black market) might run $1 US to 100 Ghana Bucks. In which case, the plantation owner is selling at a major financial loss. The unofficial "tax" on cocoa production worsens when you realize that the plantation owner might have to use his 20 Ghana Bucks to by fertilizers, equipment, etc. all imported from outside the country. If Bob, the fertilzer guy, imports a 50-pound bag of cocoa tree fertilizer for $20 US, he's only going to sell it inside Ghana for 2,000 Ghana Bucks. That sucks.
And then there are the issues of product loss due to a crappy infrastructure. Who cares how good the harvest was this year if it all rots before getting to market - 10 miles down the road.
The real problem (?) is convincing - or coercing - a government to act in a positive manner towards the people under its jurisdiction when it is that same government that benefits directly from the misery of the people.
Greater Poverty = Mo' Aid Money = Mo' Mercedes
But if you cut off the money to break the cycle, then people suffer and die in great numbers.
"Their" government is quite likely to accept that result, because it doesn't personally affect them.
But, as a person and as a leader of a country with the power to act, how does that affect you?
Not at all either, or do you feel compelled to act? If so, how?