Guest Post: Why is Donor Aid Ineffective? Part 1 – Political Purposes

Conditional aid can do more harm than good

“We don’t need anyone to polish our chains. We want to break the chains altogether” Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

One of the major causes of ineffective and unsustainable humanitarian and development projects is the political constraints that INGOs are under. These restrictions govern the extent to which they can engage politically and explicitly oppose the Israeli occupation. INGOs and UN agencies have to promote an image of neutrality and impartiality to the international community when working in conflict zones (whether this is actually what they practice or not) if they are to carry out their work effectively and without repercussions from either side. However, in order to have a presence in the oPt, INGOs have to make some compromises with Israel, one of which is to be apolitical and not speak out against the occupation. One of the ways this pressure for ‘neutrality’ manifests itself is the way in which Israel’s accommodate them. Israel has been known to stop issuing work visas to international staff in INGOs if the INGO has publicly criticised Israel’s actions in the oPt, thus pressuring these organisations to remain silent if they want to carry on with their work (although how effective these organisations can be if they are prevented from doing advocacy is anyone’s guess).

[tweetmeme] In addition to pressure from Israel, INGOs receive significant pressure from donor governments to conform to their political goals for the region and to maintain friendly diplomatic relations with Israel. INGOs have to conform and do what they are told if they are to keep going. Donors decide what kind of projects are implemented and who the beneficiaries should be; they can gear their aid strategically, often resulting in projects which look beneficial but in fact are politically motivated; and they can avoid tackling the root causes of problems. This pressure to conform to the policies of donor governments brings into question the nature of INGOs as civil society organisations rather than pseudo government enterprises.

A clear example of political pressure guiding aid donations and the work of INGOs is the practice of conditional funding. Some donor agencies now have an explicit clause in their donor policies on which organisations and projects get funding. USAID, among others, is one such donor agency which carries out conditional funding with its Anti-Terrorism Clause (ATC). The ATC is a contract that NGOs must sign onto and commit to if want to receive funding from USAID. This clause forces NGOs to accept the donor’s definitions of terrorism, which may be counter to the Palestinian struggle for self-determination, on to the NGO itself and thus may be counter to the NGO’s mission and beliefs. Conditionality is also counter to the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness that states that aid should involve ownership, accountability and equality of the local government and other local stakeholders.

INGOs and donors, constrained by the political demands of the governments they come from that want to maintain friendly relations with Israel and have strategic development interests for the region, end up exacerbating the conflict, as in Gaza and the second Intifada, or they prolong the occupation through activities which serve to normalise the situation. In their attempts to be neutral, INGOs have only made the situation worse, breaking their own principle of Do No Harm.

Many donors do not carry out sufficient needs assessment analyses to the extent which it must be questioned whether calls for proposals really reflect the needs of Palestinians or if they are only reflecting the policies and political agendas of the donor themselves. A development project for the oPt may be part of a larger strategy for regional development in the Middle East, and may be counter to the needs of Palestinian society or normalise the occupation (referring here to USAID’s road building, and other projects which help Palestinians deal with the occupation a topic so huge that i can’t really go into much detail here). It is worth mentioning that according to a 2009 Bir Zeit University survey, 57% of Palestinians believe that donor countries and agencies determine their priorities according to their own political agendas rather than the needs of Palestinian society and 55% felt their presence actually reinforces the Israeli occupation.

Political interests mean INGOs are prevented from implementing projects which might truly benefit Palestinians and improve their lives and cannot speak out against political injustices. All of this inaction simply perpetuates and normalizes the occupation meaning Palestine may forever be a weakened state governed by the policies and interests of the West.

Tom C. works at a Palestinian NGO in Ramallah.  See his other post on aid here.  Photo from Xinhuanet

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