Biological evidence against aid with no conditions – Zeleke

May 30th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

In her recent book titled “Dead Aid”, the Oxford and Harvard educated Zambian economist, Dr. Dambisa Moya, agues that foreign aid to Africa has been incapable of delivering its intended purpose, but instead has contributed to the impoverishment of even more Africans in the past fifty years. (more…)

In her recent book titled “Dead Aid”, the Oxford and Harvard educated Zambian economist, Dr. Dambisa Moya, agues that foreign aid to Africa has been incapable of delivering its intended purpose, but instead has contributed to the impoverishment of even more Africans in the past fifty years. She links this problem to the direct provision of aid to African government leaders who are not obliged to use it to help the people they govern. These governments are not necessarily accountable to their own people because they get most of their support from foreign sources in the form of aid. Ethiopia is considered to be a good example for this since 90% of the budget comes from foreign governments in the form of aid. This means, the peoples of these African countries do not have significant leverage on their governments to make them responsible for their well-being. On the other hand, if the governments are dependent on the contribution of the citizens, for example, as in the northern hemisphere, they would be forced to serve the people as much as they could in order to remain in power. As this is not happening in most of Africa, foreign aid is considered to be a major cause of failure for development and democracy in the region.

There is also another reason why foreign aid has failed the people of Africa. This reason is related to a biological phenomenon. There are experimental findings indicating that aid is not motivational for productive work. The most compelling evidence for this argument came from Emory University in Atlanta in 2003. In their published work, researchers from this University hypothesized that people who get money without working for it are less satisfied and motivated compared to those who earn it. This was investigated experimentally by measuring brain activity in the striatum using an MRI technique in two groups of volunteers. The striatum is associated with reward processing and pleasure. One group of the volunteers had to work to receive money by playing a simple computer game while the other group was rewarded without working or having to earn it. The brains of those who had to work to earn the money were reported to be more stimulated and active relative to the second group. Accordingly, the volunteers in this group were more aroused and motivated when they had to do something productive to get the money compared to those passively received the money. Behaviorally speaking, this observation was reflected by the degree of satisfaction they got from the money they were rewarded. These findings were supported by previous reports that people get a great deal of satisfaction and motivation out of the work they do. By contrast, individuals who are rewarded materials for “nothing”, do not sustain their happiness for a long time. For example, it has been determined that lottery winners sustain their happiness only for a year after winning. Then-after, everything becomes history.

What does this to do with the African problem under consideration? Does it play a role in the underdevelopment of the African countries that heavenly depend on aids from foreign nations? According to the above report, if people are not aroused by what they get ‘freely” in the form of aid or lottery, they are hardly motivated to work in order to get it. The stratums of their brains are not activated enough to lead to the full appreciation of the rewards they get and to obtain the necessary reinforcement. As stated, because of the easy way the African government leaders get their means of survival from foreign sources, that is what is assumed to happen in their brains. The implication of this is that whatever amount of aid these leaders are given, that by itself may not result in any progress in the way they carry out their job. However, in order to sustain their power they have to continue depending on foreign donors while at the same time suppressing their legitimate challengers, the people they govern. In the process, democracy becomes “extinct.”

From the above biological explanation, a possible answer to the underdevelopment of African countries is, therefore, to make the government leaders work for what they own. As supported by laboratory experiments, this has brain-stimulating, motivational and reinforcing effects. Although the relationship between reward, motivation and reinforcement has been well recognized, evidence of such a biological response has not been clearly described before. This does not mean aid is not necessary for the needy people of Africa. In fact, aid can be very useful as long as its purpose is to make the recipients work for the reward they desire to have or to keep (in this case, the position of power the African leaders want to keep or have). If it is not intended for this purpose, aid can in fact be harmful to the people since it can be used as a tool for suppression by government leaders who directly receive the aid from external donors.
The know-how and good-will of the donors and recipient politicians can determine the outcome of the aid controversy. If this is not possible to be effected responsibly by taking the people’s interest into consideration, then the people themselves should take charge of re-enforce it by whatever means necessary. It is their right.

Therefore, besides the sociopolitical arguments forwarded by Dr. Dambisa Moyo surrounding the aid issue, the new biological supporting evidence is something worth considering by all stakeholders in order to bring about economic and political progresses in Africa.

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