Author Topic: You Cannot Serve Two Masters At Once: Canadian Foreign Aid in Afghanistan  (Read 295 times)

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You Cannot Serve Two Masters At Once: Canadian Foreign Aid in Afghanistan

By John McKay, Liberal MP
Defence Watch Guest Writer

As our troops complete their final rotation in Afghanistan, there will be a lot of ink spilled asking whether it was all worthwhile. The longest military engagement in Canadian history, 162 dead Canadians, hundreds more physically injured, rampant PTSD manifestations, and multiple billions of dollars spent on a war that lost its focus and ultimately wound down, leaving Afghanistan with a murky future. Historians, journalists, politicians, and others will continue to belabour and question its utility or its futility.

When the War in Afghanistan lost its military focus, the Government of Canada decided that a great way to win the “hearts and minds” of Afghans would be to refocus our efforts on aid. For many years Afghanistan was the foremost recipient of Canada’s foreign aid, receiving an average of $100 million every year since 2002.

Reports of our efforts, including the construction of schools, and roads, and dams pacified Canadians who had been either opposed or indifferent to the war. The announcement of our involvement stressed that at least we were doing some “good works”; these announcements placed particular emphasis on building schools and ensuring that girls would receive education. Statistics seem to reflect some success in improving girls’ access to education, but whether or not that success will continue after NATO withdraws remains to be seen.

La Presse recently published an article on the school building initiative. It does not paint a pretty picture.

School after school report shoddy building practices, stairs to nowhere, inadequate numbers of toilets, and ineffective plumbing. “The Canadian schools are the worst,” says Mohammed Shah, Director of Planning at the Ministry of Education of the province of Kandahar. In Saheed Mohammed Dawood Sardor, “Large cracks run along the walls. Only 8 toilets were built for 1,100 students. The stove was installed too close to the electric box. When it was turned on the first time, it jumped circuits.” Some of the work is so faulty that the facilities are fundamentally useless. “It’s a shame!” says one history teacher, “If you give a gift, it should not be poisoned.”

The Harper Government™ has rolled CIDA into DFATD, making it clear that our foreign aid is meant to serve Canada’s interests, first and foremost. Poverty alleviation, if it happens at all, is a secondary by-product of the real agenda. It’s a textbook case of mixed motives and dubious results.

It brings to mind the old Biblical phrase: “no one can serve two masters; either you will hate the one and love the other or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other” (Matthew 6:24). In this instance trying to serve the god of Peace while serving the god of War does not appear to have yielded much good, and the smart money says that Afghanistan will plunge into chaos after NATO withdraws. A return to a 14th century mentality is not conducive to education especially girls’ education.
Canada’s incoherent foreign aid stance is further exemplified by the Harper Government’s™ new found love of doing Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) through mining companies. Having not learned anything from the Afghan aid debacle, we are proceeding to ignore the Two Masters Principle in other areas.

In a speech delivered at The World Bank Event on the Africa Mining Vision and the African Minerals Development Centre, Minister Paradis spoke on the subject of the African continent’s place “among the world’s most rapidly growing economic regions,” commenting, “We know that responsibly managed extractive sectors can transform economies, leading to diversification and more high-quality jobs in the formal economy.”

“It is important,” said Paradis, “to ensure that Africa’s growth translates into long-lasting poverty reduction that reaches all people. As a development partner, Canada is especially interested in this nexus, where mining and development meet.” No coherent proof is offered for what the Minister apparently knows.

World Vision has a project in Peru, World University Service of Canada in Ghana, & Plan International in Burkina Faso. Each project has an NGO partner, a mining company, and taxpayer dollars from CIDA. NGOs are generally in the business of poverty alleviation. Mining companies make money for their shareholders or they cease to exist. Governments come and go, blowing with the ideological breeze of the day.

Clearly, the Harper Government™ is a business cheerleader and not too terribly concerned with poverty alleviation or any other social goal. The design of the program, therefore, is profit maximisation and incidental poverty alleviation. These two masters cannot be served concurrently.

I authored the Better Aid Bill partly because there was a desperate need to bring clarity to our foreign aid model. Study after study showed contradictory motives, wasted resources, and indiscernible results. In short, it was a waste of taxpayers’ money and waste of Canada’s global reputation. The Better Aid Bill had three clear points of principle. The money was to be used for poverty alleviation only; the projected beneficiaries had to be consulted; and it had to be consistent with international human rights standards.

So when we decided to spend $100 million a year on aid to Afghanistan did anyone ask which master we were serving? Was it the War master or was it the Peace master? Did anyone ask the erstwhile beneficiaries what they wanted? Did anyone ask how poverty would be alleviated, or did we just assume that dams, roads and schools would alleviate poverty on their own? Maybe a little more direct consultation with the proposed beneficiaries would have resulted in better outcomes than the claim of Deputy Director Habib Asafi: “Canadians are incompetent. Their reputation is very bad.”

Some NGOs are giving this model a rethink. Harry Kits, Senior Advisor for Corporate Engagement at World Vision “is looking for clarity on how public private partnerships will ensure development outcomes in host countries & local communities”.

Foreign aid delivery is extraordinarily difficult at the best of times, but muddled thinking guarantees poor and or counter-productive results. Jesus was right …again.

John McKay is the former Liberal Party defence critic

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