Leading article: The right is wrong on Africa

Share
Related Topics

The Dadaab refugee camp in north Kenya is now the third most populous city in the country. It holds 360,000 people who have fled from neighbouring Somalia, where drought and civil war have combined to threaten famine. Oxfam says 10,000 a week are arriving at the camp, where they squat hopefully outside the perimeter in increasing squalor.

Yes, we have heard similar stories before, but no, that does not mean that compassion is misplaced or ineffective. We report today on the crisis in Somalia, a week after David Cameron stood firm against a campaign by the right-wing press to push the Government off its promise of a generous policy of international aid.

The starvation in Somalia will be used by both sides of the debate about aid. The Daily Mail might say that it proves that there is no point in putting money into East Africa because long after Live Aid the world had to do it all again with Live 8, six years ago.

There have always been famines in Africa, and there are always going to be, the simple argument runs – and, besides, aid money goes to corrupt governments or is wasted by local elites.

The Independent on Sunday does not accept this fatalism. Picture Dobley, in southern Somalia, where the only borehole for 50 miles is running dry. Oxfam reports: "There are hundreds of people and about 15,000 emaciated cows, camels, sheep and goats crowded around trying to get water to stay alive." Oxfam engineers are frantically trying to keep the water flowing.

There is much that can be, and is being, done in Somalia and in other poor countries, mostly by charities. And the larger story of international aid since Live Aid ought to be one of the great affirmations of human progress. Of course, mistakes have been made and money has been wasted by corruption, but lessons have been learned and we now know far more about what works.

Thus we applauded the Prime Minister's resolution three weeks ago when he addressed a campaign supported by Bill Gates to vaccinate children in poor countries. "At a time when we are making spending cuts at home, what we are doing today and the way we are protecting our aid budget is controversial," he said, with commendable directness. "Some people say we simply can't afford spending money on overseas aid right now, that we should get our own house in order before worrying about other people's problems."

Referring to the promises made at the G8 summit at Gleneagles after Live 8, he said: "This is about saving lives. It was the right thing to promise. It was the right thing for Britain to do. And it is the right thing for this Government to honour that commitment."

And, in the teeth of the right-wing campaign to go back on the promise made by all three main parties at the last election to raise aid spending as a share of national income, he said: "I don't think 0.7 per cent of our gross national income is too high a price to pay for saving lives."

He is right. Just as, in the technical economic debate, aid-sceptics such as Dambisa Moyo and William Easterly are wrong and Amartya Sen and Robert Cassen are right. Cassen's study, Does Aid Work?, which The Economist called "the most exhaustive study of aid ever undertaken", showed that most aid succeeds.

Thanks partly to the leadership of Clare Short, the first international development secretary, Britain's aid programme has become not only more generous but more effective, bypassing corrupt governments and focusing on programmes that work. We know how to make aid effective: by ending conflict, spending more on schools and clinics, securing private property rights, attracting investors, promoting free trade within Africa, and ensuring that the poor share in economic growth. As Paul Vallely recently wrote in these pages: "In recent years, smarter aid has been producing smarter results."

In places such as Somalia, we can only provide emergency relief while trying to solve the political problems that are the underlying cause of famine. In Somalia it is not drought but civil war that kills.

The difficulty of securing a political settlement should not stop us being compassionate towards the refugees – nor should it be allowed to undermine the case for aid more generally.

That case is strong, morally and economically. As Mr Cameron said last weekend: "In this world, where countries are tackling deficits, and more than ever before the emphasis is quite rightly on getting value for money, what greater value for money can there possibly be?"

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graphic and Motion Designer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Do you get a buzz from thinking up new ideas a...

Recruitment Genius: Media Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

£14500 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Female Care Worker

£7 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This expanding, vibrant charity which su...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Supervisor & Advisor - Automotive

£16500 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the South East's leading...

Day In a Page

Read Next
People struggle to board a train at the railway station in Budapest  

Even when refugees do make it to British soil, they are treated appallingly

Maya Goodfellow
 

Daily catch-up: immigration past and present, in Europe and in America

John Rentoul
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones