Edited by B. Mak Arvin and Byron Lew
Chapter 17: Donors helping themselves
It is a truth almost universally acknowledged that a donor with money to spend will do so primarily in pursuit of its own interests. ‘Virtually without exception’, two scholars have stated, ‘the research so far has found that the political and economic interests of donors outweigh the developmental needs or merits of the recipients’ (Hoeffler and Outram, 2011: 240). Yet while the fact of their primacy has been acknowledged, those interests remain out of focus or discreetly off camera. Which interests get what, when and how are seldom identified systematically, assessed or put up for public discussion.1 Instead, attentions and emotions concentrate overwhelmingly on aid’s downstream realms of policies and projects. Even today’s efforts to ‘follow the money’ and promote aid transparency largely ignore interests upstream. Given the primacy of those interests, this structure of attention is bizarrely inverted. It creates deficits in knowledge and obstacles to understanding. There is a challenge here for scholars, and for those wishing to see public accountability required of all actors in aid chains. This chapter has no ambitions to remedy such deficiencies. Rather, it seeks to probe what is known and unknown about aid’s deployment ‘upstream’, and thereby to identify issues that merit deeper scholarly work and perhaps even public investigation.
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