Way back in February of 2007, I wrote a piece for Jim Glassman’s TCSDaily about what foreign aid was doing to Afghanistan. The main takeaway?
The unfortunate reality in Afghanistan is that, no matter the amount donated, it would be too much. This is because Afghanistan’s biggest problem is not poverty, but government.
That still holds true today, more than ever. Ben Arnoldy of the CS Monitor just wrote an excellent feature article on what sloppy aid has done to Badakhshan:
The $1 million canal was part of a $60 million development contract that the US Agency for International Development (USAID) had with PADCO, an American company. PADCO’s 2009 completion report claims to have tripled power in Baharak and nearby Faizabad.
But Afghan officials say neither community saw any extra electricity. And a USAID staffer who handed over the report to the Monitor advised, “Take this with a grain of salt. It’s designed to make USAID look good.”
On paper, the multipronged project revitalized a backward Afghan province, weaning it off poppy cultivation and winning Afghan hearts and minds.
However, a Monitor investigation reveals that even in spite of a few modest gains, the Afghans here were left angered over project failures, secrecy, and wasted funds.
The whole story is heartbreaking, but unfortunately, not uncommon. It is just another artifact of the ridiculous shadow foreigner economy at work in Afghanistan, one that seems to have only a negative effect on local communities. Even in areas like Badakhshan, which have been friendly to westerners—Faizabad is one of the few cities never conquered by the Taliban—our lazy, parasitic mentality toward aid projects has alienated the very people we mean to help.
USAID is a fundamentally broken agency (chronicled in countless books). That brokenness is why, for example, the DOD is taking over more and more development work. The whole system is designed for failure. I often wonder if we’d be better off is USAID just picked up its offices and went home. In fact, I think we would be.