How not to run an aid programme: Afghanistan

March 10, 2011 7 By admin

US counterinsurgency in Afghanistan


‘The American marine captain [Patrick Lavoie – see pic] only has to step out of his base to be overwhelmed by turbaned men anxious to be his best friend. All along the main road they try to catch his eye and beg him for money to spruce up their shops. As part of his campaign to smarten up the market, which is not especially shabby, Mr Lavoie is happy to oblige. But they must follow his rules, including putting up signs above their shop. Many are in dodgy English, in a town where few can even read Pushtu. One ten-minute conversation with some vegetable-sellers ends with Mr Lavoie agreeing to give them over $8,000 to fix up their stalls. “I’m like Santa Claus!” he says.

With their programme of small grants, goodies such as a surfaced road and street lighting, and a policy of putting many of the district’s “fighting-age” males on the payroll of a rash of new defence militias, the marines are spending $500,000 every ten days in a poor rural community of 250,000. The people have known only predatory government or Taliban rule. It is the sort of splurge that horrifies development experts.’

Yep, I’d say that this recent Economist account is pretty horrifying, wouldn’t you? Just how does this have anything to do with long term development, rather than just buying some short-term acceptance of the US military (a clue: it doesn’t)? For good measure, the article quotes an ‘old saw that you can rent an Afghan, but you can’t buy him.’

For more on the dangers of this kind of nonsense, check out Whose Aid is it Anyway? Politicizing aid in conflicts and crises, a recent Oxfam paper. Wonder if Captain Lavoie has a copy. My favourite stat from that report: ‘the Spanish army’s high-profile vaccination programme and water distribution following the Haiti earthquake cost over 18 times that of comparable civilian efforts, which the Spanish military partly duplicated.’