Development cooperation in Africa has been disputed for many years. In the book Dead Aid (2009), Dambisa Moyo defends the position that while foreign aid that addresses humanitarian needs caused by drought and conflict is helpful, most of the aid given to African countries is rather harmful. She lists the problems enhanced by aid, including corruption, civil conflict, shrinking of the middle class, and the instilling of a culture of dependency.

Increasingly, China’s involvement in development projects on the African continent is criticized as debt-trap diplomacy or neocolonialism – mainly by Western voices. While the Belt and Road Initiative has faced scrutiny in countries such as Kenya, Ghana and has even sparked a legal court case in Djiboutiothers say that the Chinese projects in Africa are clearly beneficial to African countries. At the same time, however, a different dynamic is brewing concerning the presence of Western aid agencies, philanthropists and NGOs on the African continent. Although the U.S. and EU institutions are the largest ODA donors to African countries, these traditional development partners are increasingly being challenged.

Recently, multiple troubling cases of Western philanthropy have caught African attention. The latest “white savior” causing a storm of African disapproval is Renee Bach. This young American missionary who gives treatment to children in Uganda has become the most famous example of Western volunteers doing more harm than good in the developing world. As she has no medical qualifications, she is held responsible for the death of multiple babies. Another recent case was that of the founder of a German NGO accused of abusing Ugandan children.

The revelations have given rise to organizations such as “No White Saviors”, to challenge the way development and evangelical work has traditionally taken place on the African continent. It actively criticizes the rise of “voluntourism”, ambitious young Westerners traveling to developing countries to solve problems without acknowledging the underlying complexity. Voluntourism focuses more on feeling good than doing good, critics say, leading to the rise of a whole industry set up to nurture these desires. The business of voluntourism has exploded over the past year, resulting in many more instances of misconduct.

Implications:

  • These developments might lead to more critique of Western foreign aid on the continent. As young Africans are modernizing, moving to cities and are more connected than any generation before, voluntourism by their Western counterparts might face more disapproval in the future.
  • The call to change the balance of power within development cooperation grows ever-louder, shifting the focus to more local leadership and domestic resource mobilization to decrease dependency on Western donors. The hashtag #Shiftthepower represents this trend of community philanthropy. The influence of Western powers, from foreign investors, development aid organizations, to even trade partners in African countries might face a backlash. This might disrupt partnerships and trade, such as between the EU and Africa.
  • Next to the inefficacy of Western aid, the rise of China as a foreign aid power on the African continent has created an alternative to the conditionalities of the Western powers. It has turned the negotiating tables for the African countries. Western partnerships are challenged by this dynamic, as we noted earlier. In the future, the West might be fighting even more competition to access the world’s fastest-growing economies. Foreign powers that have no history of colonialism on the continent might leverage this “soft power” and challenge the presence of Western powers on the continent. As Western countries remain dependent on raw resources from the African continent, this might pose a risk to them. For instance, Europe has an ongoing trade deficit in raw materials and depends largely on African exports.

RISKS MARKED ON THE RISK RADAR AS NUMBER 3: Scramble for Africa, African terrorism

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