Real face of aid

The foreign aid industry has become a powerful force for change in the last 20 years, though not always for good. John Pilger writes about the situation in Cambodia and the ways in which successive Western governments have failed this struggling Asian nation.

“Cambodia was never allowed to recover from the trauma inflicted by Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger and Pol Pot. During the 1980s, with Pol Pot exepelled by the Vietnamese, an American and British-led embargo made reconstruction almost impossible. Instead, a “resistance” was invented by the Americans with the British SAS contracted to train the Khmer Rouge in secret camps in Thailand and Malaysia. In 1990, when the United Nations finally arrived in Cambodia to organise “democracy”, it brought corruption on an unprecedented scale, along with Aids and “aid”. This was misrepresented as a “triumph” for the “international community”. Cambodia today is a victim of this “aid”. As in Africa, the “donors” (the west and Japan) have perpetuated the myths of a “basket case”: that Cambodians cannot do anything for themselves and that genuine development aid and rapacious capitalism are compatible.”

The amount paid to foreign aid workers in Cambodia amounts to a small fortune, doing the work a Cambodian could often easily do for a much smaller amount. Many of the budgets cited by Britain and America, when defending their “generous” aid packages to countries such as Cambodia, conveniently forget to mention the exact amount spent on foreign workers. How much of our tax money is going straight into the pockets of wealthy Western aid workers?

I remember speaking to a friend many years ago who used to work in the foreign aid business. She told me that many of her colleagues would demand to fly business class, only work for excessive daily rates and want to stay in five-star accommodation. The question was routinely asked: who exactly were they trying to help other than themselves?

The less than healthy side of globalisation.

Pilger explains:

“The ActionAid report quotes Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch: “In the 1980s, there was a popular T-shirt satirising US army recruitment commercials with the slogan, ‘Join the army. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And kill them’. In the new millennium, it could be rephrased, ‘Join the aid community. Travel to exotic, distant lands. Meet exciting, unusual people. And make a killing’.”

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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