The dirty secret of aid work… it always comes down to this… the navel-gazing, “why am I here”, “why is it so ineffective” conversation.

Usually it happens around the campfire, over a bottle of locally made beer, or perhaps for the lucky coordination team in the capital city, at the nearby expat-only restaurant over a nice bottle of South African wine. As with everything this century, it’s moved onto the Internet. But the essential tone of the conversation, and the impossibility of resolving the problem remains.

For me the solution is radical. We need to cut the profligate aid budgets and instead put concentrated effort on what’s important: respect for human rights, economic growth, and individual expression and inventiveness. Give a healthy person a chance at education and a stable economy into which to pour his inventiveness and effort, then reward him with results. We know this works. How? Because it’s what happened to Switzerland in the 1800’s, to Brazil in the 70’s, and to Malasyia in the 80’s.

MSF should keep working to put out burning fires — no one is interested in economic growth when there is a cholera epidemic. MSF should cut it’s fundraising and budget down to the point it can only afford do emergency work. (MSF has a lot of make-work projects, where they are looking for and finding an excuse to work in order to burn up the cascade of cash falling on them.)

USAID and DFID should suffer budget cuts of 99%, and should use the remaining 1% to teach good governance. Food aid should be phased out, the WFP should be shut and the core of its expertise should be moved into HCR, another agency that, regrettably, has to keep existing to put out fires.

Places like the Gates Foundation should invest in fundamental advances in healthcare, but should stay out of the field. Their sole work in the field should be along the lines of Mo Ibrahim, who’s foundation rewards good government. Africans need to live in a context of several generations of good government before they will have the confidence to stretch out their entrepreneurial muscles and reach for their dreams.

I am not saying that nothing any of these agencies do is of any value. What I’m saying is that until Africans are living in a world where they are held responsible for their future, and supported on the path, the problem won’t be solved. (And the problem holding us back from universal justice on this planet is Africa, not Asia… watch the videos at Gapminder to be convinced.)

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again just so no one misunderstands me: Africans are smart enough and hardworking enough to change their continent for the better. Our job, as residents of continents that developed a few 10s or even 150 years earlier is to stand by and support them when they ask for help.

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