War correspondent Linda Polman has delivered a scathing attack on Aid organisations referring to them as businesses “dressed up as Mother Teresa” and blaming them for prolonging wars.

In her new book ‘With Friends Like These (De crisiskaravaan) – The untold story of humanitarian aid operations in war zones‘ war correspondent Linda Polman delivers a deadly blow to the aid industry blaming them for prolonging wars and describing them as businesses “dressed up as Mother Teresa” (IPS: March 18).

Polman speaks about rich aid organisations competing for contracts in war zones and humanitarian disasters such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

She also describes how aid staff live lavish lifestyles on huge salaries and living in areas with posh restaurants, squash courts, and golf and tennis facilities.

Polman said that over 70 percent of the Sudanese government’s money is spent on the army and much of that comes from aid organisations who pour in millions of dollars a year into the Sudanese government’s accounts.

While MSF denied that their operations fuelled conflict a 2005 study by the Centre for Civil Society Studies at John Hopkins University in the U.S. found that the non profit industry is the fifth largest economy in terms of GDP after the U.S., Japan, Germany and Britain, in other words aid is big business.

Profiting from death and disaster

Polman is not the only person to have criticised aid industries, Michael Maren, an ex-aid worker, wrote a book called ‘The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International Charity, published by the Free Press in 1997.

In this book Maren describes how aid has become big business and said, “Hungry people were potential clients to be preyed upon.” (p.9)

Graham Hancock is the author of the book ‘Lords of Poverty, The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International Aid Business, published by Macmillan in 1989. In this book Hancock describes how charities have become agencies of corporate companies to promote goods and services overseas.

In March 2009, Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who has a doctorate in economics from Oxford, masters from Harvard, and worked for a number of years for the World Bank in Washington DC and is now head of research and strategy for sub-Saharan Africa at a leading investment bank, condemned Comic Relief and western charities in her book, ‘Dead Aid’, published by Allen Lane in 2009.

In her book Moyo argues that while the West has pumped around £35 trillion in Africa over the last 50 years the results have been devastating for Africans in general. She said that aid often destroyed local industry and farmers livelihoods in African countries where people prefer to line up for free food rather than pay their local producers.

Few people realise that the concept of the aid industry was never altruistic in the first place. President John F. Kennedy, considered an enlightened leader by many said this about aid in 1961, “Foreign aid is a method by which the United States maintains a position of influence and control around the world…” (Hancock: Page 71)

President Nixon was even more frank seven years later when he said “Let us remember that the main purpose of aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves.” (Hancock: Page 71)

It seems that the aims of the aid industry has not veered far from these ideals.

Moyo also criticised the pomp and arrogance of western pop stars and celebrities who behave as if they know best how to solve Africa’s problems.

In November 2008 Anti-poverty campaigner Sir Bob Geldof received a massive $100,000 just to give a speech about world poverty and suffering in  Melbourne. Geldof flew first class and stayed in a luxury hotel.

In 2007 Bono, of the rock band U2, and spokesperson for African aid, was said to be furious at a conference in Tanzania when a Ugandan writer called Andrew Mwenda presented a compelling case that aid was inhibiting African growth.

The question has to be asked why Bono became angry when he claims that he wants to help Africans? Surely Africans know about their situation and can think of their own solutions? It seems that Bono does not think so.

These are the issues kept out of the mainstream media’s regular news reports and the question we must ask ourselves is why?

Polman is merely the tip of the iceberg to how corrupt and unaccountable the aid industry has become.

For further research:




Graham, H. (1989) Lords of Poverty, The Power, Prestige, and Corruption of the International
Aid Business
: Published by Macmillan

Michael, M. (1997) The Road to Hell: The Ravaging Effects of Foreign Aid and International
: Published by The Free Press
Moyo, D. (2009) Dead Aid: Published by Allen Lane


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