By Jonathan Kay
Oct 13, 2012 2:33 PM ET
This morning, the front page of the National Post featured Tom Blackwell’s story about previously unreleased documents that assess Canada’s ambitious aid effort in Afghanistan. “Audits of the Canadian International Development Agency’s huge involvement in Kandahar and elsewhere in Afghanistan depict a well-meaning drive for results the government could boast about — a push that faced ‘intractable’ security problems, political pressures and the ‘vaguely envisaged’ challenge of building a new nation,” Blackwell writes.
“All the projects have failed. None of them have been successful,” notes Nipa Banerjee, who headed CIDA’s Afghanistan operations from 2003 to 2006. “I think we went into Kandahar to increase our international profile … rather than thinking about the interests of the people of Kandahar. It was too much politicized and militarized and securitized, and as a result we ended up with failure.”
It’s a sad story of wasted taxpayer money, and unfulfilled promises. Yet it is hardly unique. If anything, in fact, the whole Afghan aid fiasco is a fitting symbol of the existential problem that has burdened CIDA (which is now overseen by the Minister of International Cooperation) since its creation in the late 1960s.
“Ever since CIDA was created a few decades ago, there has always been a huge divide between [CIDA] and what [effectively] has been its senior partner, the Department of Foreign Affairs,” a former agency head told me. “The gulf is wide: CIDA believes in helping the poor and doing so where an aid dollar can be most effective irrespective of the importance of the recipient country in the grand scheme of global power and economic interests. Foreign Affairs, on the other hand, doesn’t much care about poor people. They want Canadian aid to support whatever the current political game plan may be. So if Afganistan is the hot topic of the day, they want a visible Canadian aid presence on the ground, new school buildings and medical centres with Canadian flags flying from them, perfect backdrops for the PM or Ministers’ photo-ops when they fly in to inspect this, that, or the other thing.”
It was this hopelessly conflicted mandate that led to the disaster in Afghanistan — a country so primitive that it did not have the basic tools that are required to absorb large-scale development aid: literacy, rule of law, a respect for pluralism and due process, and peace.
“Anybody who knows the aid business will tell you that successful development cannot be done in a conflict zone — apart from [basic] food and humanitarian assistance, which, by definition, is not development,” the former CIDA head told me. “So the fact that every project in Afghanistan failed was preordained. Any long-time CIDA person knew, before the fact, that this would be the case. CIDA did not want to do a program in Afghanistan. It was pushed there by Foreign Affairs and the PM, and at the expense of assistance which could have been effective in other countries, most likely a number of increasingly stable and developing countries in Africa.”
Under orders to help in Afghanistan, CIDA officials’ institutional gut response was to funnel some support through international institutions such as the World Bank or UNDP. But that wouldn’t provide any place for Canadian flags and photo-ops, and so was not acceptable to Foreign Affairs — despite the reality that this option provided the highest probability for Canadian aid dollars to be effective.
“The CIDA vs Foreign Affairs philosophical divide was [the] reality before I was head of CIDA,” my source told me. “It’s [the reality now], and it will continue in the years ahead because ‘helping the poor to develop’ will always come second to ‘national economic, political, and security’ needs. And photo-ops.”
continue reading: http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/10/13/jonathan-kay-a-canadian-foreign-aid-insider-explains-our-1-5-billion-afghan-sinkhole/
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