Half way through term and I can honestly say that I am enjoying the second term more and more each week, in each module. We were asked to begin the seminar by deciding whether aid had (a) negative (b) positive or (c) no impact on politics in development. What a question to ask a bunch of humanitarians, social scientist and politics students! We have to have come to a decision of a,b or c, no question about it. Feeling challenged and ready to go, my seminar group diplomatically began by sharing what we had gained from the three articles we were asked to read. The key issues formulated were: what is aid, what are the positive impacts, what are the negative impacts and can aid have no impact?

Discussion of the positive impacts seemed to generate a simply debate – that it is better to have aid than not to have aid… Aid provides a country with essential means to provide the people with what they need… Aid ensures that governments are accountable through bilateral conditionality’s… then from here on in the “what if”… “what about”… “but(s)”… started to fuel the debate further. What if the government refuses aid (Burma) what if the country cannot meet the conditionality targets, then what?

Negative examples seem to be a lot easier to talk about, there are so many examples and we are development students, it’s what we do. Aid is great, but could mean a lack of independence, create pathway for corruption, restrict government’s responsibilities, formulate trade restrictions or even form sanctions that further isolate the country from the world.

Finally, regarding statement c, how can aid have no impact? Everything we do, in my opinion, has an impact on something else, whether directly or indirectly. To assume that aid has no impact on politics or development would be like saying if I eat an entire cheese cake everyday it will have no impact on my waist line. I wouldn’t even like to consider this statement as part of the seminar, due to the fact that we all, whether consciously or not, ignored it and therefore didn’t even justifying its very existence.

A small tide of panic resounded over me when I realised there were three pieces of core reading for this week. After taking a deep breath, not only at the having to print all three off, but also assessing the length of Burnell’s paper I was centred and ready for the challenge.

Paper 1 – Thomas Carothers (2009) assessed politics vs developmental approaches to democracy assistance. I found this paper easy to understand as it referred to relevant examples of the role of America and Europe in its aid assistance. Carothers concludes that the USA is perceived to have a majority political agenda; however he considers them to be much more developmental. On the other hand Europe presenting a developmental approach, with a political goals. In my understanding of aid I would not have considered the USA to be majorly developmental as I have observed their role in Afghanistan and Iraq to ooze political agenda. However, this was before the clear distinction of the role of USAID and the US Administration, the former looking at the development of the people through technocratic change to political change without a great emphasis on political but developmental and the latter looking having a very politicised approach.

Although I was able to form a better understand of the USA and Europe in their roles by reading this article, one thing particularly stood out, that I am not able to understand. Carothers refers to the USA’s involvement in Iraq as an “intervention”, I wonder if this is a typo for “invasion”?

Finally, highlighted is the problem of how well the developmental approach is able to generate adequate knowledge of socioeconomic reforms and then be able to cross over to provide political change – and I quote “one based on hope than experience”.

Paper 2 – Peter Burnell (2002) looks specifically at the domestic political impact of foreign aid, where he wishes to set the agenda to explore all forms of aid, particularly for recipients and looking at the methodological issues involves. While Carothers places an emphasis on political and developmental approaches, Burnell draw attention to the relationship among economic, political and democracy aid. Although he does state that the aid industry’s willingness to attach political conditionality’s to resource democracy assistance “could soon pass its peak”. The lens is concentrated particularly to the performance of conditionality’s, which I must say I share the same opinion with the author “the full basket of aid conditionality’s is relevant to estimating aid’s domestic political effects.” The pressure to meet the conditionality’s promotes recipient government to become more accountable for their actions rather than hiding behind their poverty ridden country as an excuse to line their pockets with a sizable pension or a chauffeur and car. Burnell concludes with a historical emphasis of the study of aid and its move from economic and political to effectiveness. I have illustrated my understanding of this below (it was an illustration but the arrows won’t paste over):

Economic – Political – Social – Poverty – Human Development – Political Reform – Socioeconomic & Aid Effectiveness

Paper 3 – the final paper was the book chapter ‘Aid and Development’ by Janet Hunt which looked at the grounding for aid. The most thought provoking aspect to this chapter and one that triggered a personal response for me was the ‘future of aid’ section, which looks at the role of aid post-MDG. The targets of the Millennium Development Goals provide each country with universal standards to enable them to progress, there are many debates about how realistic these goals are and whether or not they will be met, but what happens after 2015? Poverty will still exist, some children will still be malnourished, equal education will still be a problem – but maybe not to the extent of pre-2005. When we live through a financial crisis and the people of the UK being unhappy with ring fencing the aid budgets, how can we be sure that the political agenda will not become the sole purpose of aid distribution? Ideally, I would recommend the aid priority cake to be split equally among economic growth, political stability and developmental motivation – an idea on paper is better than none at all right, not matter how idealistic?!


Carothers, T. 2009. ‘Democracy Assistance: Political vs. Developmental’. Journal of Democracy, 20(1): 5-19.

Burnell, P. 2004. ‘The Domestic Political Impact of Foreign Aid: Recalibrating the Research Agenda’. European Journal of Development Research, 16(2): 396-416.

Hunt, J. 2004. ‘Aid and Development’, in Kingsbury, D. et al., Key Issues in Development, Palgrave.