This post is a response to “The Ethics of International Aid: Who should direct international aid efforts?”
International aid is a highly contested topic. In 1648, when the treaty of Westphalia was passed, it made state sovereignty supreme and gave authority and priority to the state. Governments typically didn’t want to contribute resources to recognize international organizations because it involved giving up some of their power.
When the concept of humanitarian intervention developed, it became a challenge because of the law of state sovereignty. Individuals argued that such intervention would be a direct violation of the UN charter, that intervention simplifies the situation, produces a negative affect on the country being intervened in and is not successful, has alternative motives to yield resources for the country intervening, and is racist. But, humanitarian intervention has lived on; why one might ask?
Personally, I would advocate that international aid is ethical when the other country requests assistance, and when the indigenous population believes that it will not infringe on their society. The problem is that when a genocide or ethic cleansing occurs, countries might feel obliged to intervene based on human rights accords (Helsinki Accords 1975).
Human rights can triumph state sovereignty, but other than that state sovereignty prevails.
Also, I was stuck by the idea that it is more important to work with the people and not just hand out cash. It’s easier to distribute cash, then to commit yourself and dedicate time and resources to go abroad and try to implement the change that you want to invest money in. They are two separate things. People want to help (or get tax credit) and typically don’t have the time/financial stability to drop their lives to try to change the world. That might be a cynical view of aid, but in my mind those who physically go abroad and attempt to implement policies and change the world, are more likely to affect lasting change, rather than those who occasionally donate. It is important to find out what a community wants and needs.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire argues that the only way to help the oppressed is for the oppressed to realize that they are oppressed. As outsiders, and hopefully humanitarians, we go into countries and want to make a difference without using cultural invasion (imposing our values, beliefs, education, and background onto others). As anthropologists, it’s crucial to essentially be re-born and discard our previously ascribed identities in order to fully integrate with a community to impact social, political, and economic change.
Allowing the oppressed to engage in open dialogue with one another not only generates trust between the alienated population, but it can also greatly strengthen the group should they decide to stage a revolution to overthrow the oppressors. “The revolutionaries can’t treat the oppressed as their possession,” rather they must become “oppressed” in order to fully empathize with their situation, which means that they need to strip themselves of their title or position of authority and truly live like those who are oppressed. The revolutionaries sometimes view the oppressed as incompetent or lazy and want to change the system without them, however Freire argues that the oppressed are ultimately responsible for achieving their own social change.
“Analysts like Tomohisa Hattori do not see international aid as the straightforward story of simple philanthropy, but rather as a far more complex structural system based on dominance and indebtedness, with socio-political implications beyond the act of aid distribution”
“Gilbert Rist suggests, however, that this flow of aid from the governments of richer nations to poorer nations is “genuinely hegemonic, because it appeared to be not only the best [solution] but the only possible one.
Both of these quotes above utilized in this article relate to my Anthropology of Development class this semester. We talked about theories of development and the way in which governments operate. In addition, these quotes emphasized how international aid might not be based on genuine intentions; rather it could be to foster a power hierarchy.
In Seeing Like a State, James Scott argues that states use international development as a way to control the population and try to simplify situations in order to make it easier on themselves; it allows governments to manipulate society to make the administrative system more efficient for collecting taxes and regulating policies, enables them to control the population through peaceful coercion or violence, and provides an opportunity for states to collectivize the population with regards to agriculture and production. By simplifying states, development leaders and politicians create a predetermined, more rigid, and potentially violent society, typically without the consent of the people.
Even though international aid is a topic that is the subject of much debate, I would argue that to some extent aid is necessary in creating a better future.
-Kira Levin ’17, Fall 2014 ECLC Member