Africa is littered with abandoned poorly-planned aid projects

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I saw first hand that very thing in Central & South America during the early 80’s, tons of debris everywhere, pitifully abandoned.


Nobody’s abandoning cash aid.


It’s not a huge surprise to see failed projects; but it must take a special kind of misunderstanding to do something sufficiently useless that the proverbial street fails to find its own use for it in reasonably short order.

The world(even the parts of it built by people with an exquisite interest in success aiming at an audience much like themselves) is full of more or less broken projects; but the near-ish misses tend to either have enough valuable parts to be broken up for scrap or enough valuable parts that they are jury-rigged into something that the designers did not intend but the users found more convenient.


Has anyone considered, I don’t know… trying to work with the locals to figure out what they need and want?


I did read something recently indicating that cash disbursed directly to the needy via their telephone payment system (the common mode of payment in this particular country) was far more successful than all the food aid they’d every received before even though it was less than half the total cost.


A whole lot of American food aid is actually subsidies for the American farmers the food is bought from.


There are people who do exactly that. I know a couple who run a small charity in Tanzania, and projects are generated by locals, so you get things like a new local school building or a new centrifuge for the local clinic so they can do blood work faster.


When my wife grew up in East Africa the Americans and Chinese were doing aid projects. The Americans built a highway in a location nobody needed that created no local jobs. It washed out with the first heavy rains. The Chinese built a railroad that went through poorly-serviced farm country to the capital. It was a huge aid to agriculture, employed a bunch of local labor, and is still there.

Guess who the is looked on more kindly.


Could be worse. I read about a UN project that tore up a working road and replaced it with a poorly built road that washed away immediately leaving people worse off than before.






I found this paragraph from near the end of the discussion interesting:

For the range of projects I’ve reported on over the years in person, and the ones we’re already receiving in our (reporting) system, they often need to be judged on a case-by-case basis. Ascribing specific criteria becomes difficult — for example, if a project is ongoing, but is taking longer than it should, do we call that a failure? What’s the length of time before we can name it as such? Some delays are understandable, of course, but is it three months or six months or a year before you start to assign blame? (The answer, of course, varies by project — but in all cases, transparency and public accountability are useful tools.) On the opposite end of the spectrum, how long does a project have to last in order to be a success? I photographed an abandoned nutrition center in Ghana, a big, nice building that was unused. But, it had been used for several years. Is that enough?


I remember the latrine slabs too. When I moved into the village as a Peace Corps volunteer I asked why they weren’t using them. They said they were waiting for another gringo to come build them a little house on top.

After that I only worked on things somebody really wanted, not just things I thought they should have.


Well yeah, but what if they spend it at the liquor store?


I’m involved in an organization that helps assist women in the coffee industry. Farmers in this industry have it tough but being a women often means putting in the lion’s share of the work but not being on the receiving end of the profits. Often even women who start their own washing stations are unable to secure loans from the local bank. We found that if you just go and ask people what they need instead of assuming, the solutions are fairly easy and straightforward. One time it was a used tractor for 1200 dollars. We just took up a collection among roasters and bought it.
I participated in a course in micro economics about subsistence marketplaces years back that dealt with this. The idea was to train people to engage in dialog with people about what they actually need. One of the resulting projects was a portable air conditioning unit with it’s own back up generator for hospitals.


It happens, but not as often as you might think. It’s cheaper to accept the occasional misuse of aid money than to build up a huge bureaucracy to prevent it from happening.


That’s so bad. I feel like that’s the whole story of US Aid. It’s like Blagojevich said, “I’ve got this thing and it’s f-----g golden, and, uh, uh, I’m just not giving it up for f----n’ nothing.”

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I read a story once about a project wherein latrines were built at great expense but went unused, because the use of human waste as fertilizer was an integral part of local agricultural practices. Unfortunately, I have no idea if that story had any basis in reality. (Would such a practice be very likely to spread disease?)

I am also reminded of this story:


You mean, the United States?


Imagine if we used this model in other circumstances. Instead of paying employees we send a team in to paint their bathroom or start a garden in their backyard. The roots of development only grow within the society in which they are being fostered. If it is not a part of the local community it will fall into disuse.

We’ve been practicing supply-side charity for generations, but are blinded by our own bigotry to its abject failure. We assume that the poor or disadvantaged are lesser beings and so can not be trusted because we assert that our privilege is based on our superiority.

The only non-patronizing ways to help Africa is with jobs or direct monetary grants to the end recipients.