The UK, South Africa and the aid disagreement

7 May

By Chris Hansell

Photo by rabble via Flickr

Photo by rabble via Flickr

Last week a disagreement between the UK and South African governments briefly broke the surface of the UK news cycle. The story trod water for a day or so before being pushed back under by the pressure of other stories.

The disagreement began when our government announced that it would be ending its aid programme to South Africa from 2015. As the BBC reported this costs around £19 million a year, and the feeling amongst the coalition seems to be that middle income countries (as South Africa appears now to be defined) do not need the kind of aid money that poorer, less developed countries do.

Last year the government amicably made a similar decision to end financial aid to India by 2015. The mantra looks now to be that aid is out and trade is in.

But still, the South African government seem to be annoyed about what they say was a lack of consultation before the decision. The problem is that it is difficult to say who is really in the right here.

In the UK the government’s aid budget is controlled by the Department for International Development, which I sometimes think was named so to ensure people’s eyes immediately glaze over when they hear it. Development, for non-politics nerds, is the idea that through lots of complicated schemes poor countries can develop into well off ones like the UK or the USA.

Withdrawing money from a country that’s well on its way to becoming more like us seems like a sensible step. South Africa is considered one of the world’s big up and comers. It is a BRICS country (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), one of the big players in the developing world.

So what’s the big deal? India and South Africa both have the same problem. They are becoming more unequal. In South Africa the richest 10% account for 51% of the income. India is as bad, with the top 10% of earners taking home 12 times more than the bottom 10% according to The Times Of India. Between them the two countries still account for a large number of people in poverty.

When the UK stops giving aid to South Africa in 2015 this means projects that tackle AIDS or improve maternal healthcare will be left without further support. Will these issues really be solved by then?

Data from Department for International Development via Guardian Data blog

Data from Department for International Development via Guardian Data blog

And, ultimately, should developing countries really want to aspire to be more like us? In the USA the last 30 years have seen the richest 1% have their incomes increase by 275%, the BBC reported last year. In the UK the bottom 90% saw their average incomes improve by less than £2,000 between 1997 and 2007. Factoring in inflation this is a shrink in spending power. Meanwhile in the same period the top 1% increased their average earnings go up by over £100,000 a year, and the top 0.1% saw average incomes rise by more than £500,000.

As Wolfgang Sachs pointed out in the recent 40th anniversary issue of New Internationalist ‘politicians as well as populations in many countries set their hopes on the model of a Western-style consumer economy’. Manybe that’s not what everyone should be shooting for.

Aid shouldn’t be about trying to make countries more like us. It should be about making life better for the poorest people in society. When the aid stops coming in 2015 those who rely on it to make their societies better and their lives more tolerable will be worse off.

Other articles of interest:

Mining in South Africa and the rest of Africa

Guardian Poverty Matters blog


One Response to “The UK, South Africa and the aid disagreement”

  1. chadwickjames03 July 30, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    The UK should give help and aid to develop and stabilize the South Africa. With the help of UK, South Africa can make progress quickly.
    breaking news south africa

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