Money Can’t Buy America Love
Millions of dollars are being pumped into hearts and minds projects from Kabul to Kandahar. Trouble is, it’s not working. And it might even be making things worse.
BY ANDREW WILDER, STUART GORDON | DECEMBER 1, 2009
…despite counterinsurgency doctrine’s heavy reliance on the assumption that aid “wins hearts and minds,” not to mention the billions of dollars being spent on it, there is remarkably limited evidence from Afghanistan supporting a link between aid and stability. The unquestioned faith in this assumption is particularly surprising given the considerable comparative research and historical evidence from Afghanistan highlighting exactly the opposite conclusion.
…Not only are foreign aid projects unlikely to make either the Afghan government or its international backers more popular, but reconstruction assistance seems in fact to be losing — rather than winning — hearts and minds. As the conflict has proceeded, Afghans’ perceptions of U.S. and international aid, as well as those who deliver it (be they military forces, the government, aid contractors, or NGOs) have grown overwhelmingly negative. Common complaints included: too little or nothing accomplished (despite in some cases considerable evidence all around of many recently implemented projects), a perception that other communities received more aid, very poor quality workmanship, the wrong kinds of projects for the setting, and the list goes on. However, the single overriding criticism of aid was the strong belief that it was fueling massive corruption, which undermined some of the positive impacts it may have otherwise had. (A notable exception to this was the Ministry of Rural Reconstruction and Development’s National Solidarity Program, which was viewed more positively for the greater role that local communities played in the planning, design, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the projects.)
Our research found that not only is aid not contributing to improved security, but in some cases it may actually be fueling the conflict.
…It is important to note that the overwhelmingly negative assessment of aid comes at a time when more aid is pouring into Afghanistan than at any other point in its history. There have indeed been some important successes from that investment — from improvements in the health and education sectors to infrastructure to telecommunications. But the flood of free money since 2001 has also raised expectations about what foreign aid could and should achieve. This raises the question that, in one of the world’s poorest countries, how much reconstruction and development aid will be necessary to win hearts and minds and bring about stabilization?
…The most destabilizing aspect of aid, however, is its role in fueling corruption. And here, Western donor governments have been slow to acknowledge their contribution to this problem. Our research suggests that the failure to win Afghan hearts and minds is not because too little money has been spent. In fact, money has been part of the problem. Spending too much too quickly with too little oversight in insecure environments is a recipe for fueling corruption, delegitimizing the Afghan government, and undermining the credibility of international actors…
Andrew Wilder is research director at the Feinstein International Center at Tufts University, where he is leading a two-year study on the relationship between aid and security. Between 1986 and 2001, he worked for several international NGOs managing humanitarian and development programs in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Between 2002 and 2005, he established and served as the first director of the Afghanistan Research and Evaluation Unit in Kabul.
Stuart Gordon is senior research fellow at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. He is a former officer of the Royal Air Force and Army and co-authored the British plan for Helmand in 2008. He has served as advisor to Britain’s Stabilisation Unit, working on the use of development assistance in achieving stabilization and counterinsurgency objectives.
2010-01-14 08:07:53 UTC