Do Not Mourn the White Saviours of DfID 162

I never write to shock. But I do relish making people think, and consider arguments out of the comfort zone of a set of group shared opinions. I am very aware that many people find this intensely annoying.

A good example is that I believe that Russian actions in Syria have been legal, and helpful in preventing a still more massive conflagration in the Middle East. But I believe that the Russian occupations of Crimea and a section of Georgia are illegal, acts of military aggression. The accepted political view in mainstream western politics at the moment is that Russia is always wrong and the West is always right. Those who dissent form a smaller group, but find strength in the line that Russia is always right and the West is always wrong. Both opinions are nonsensical.

I expect that the vast majority of people who support my website identify as left wing and take the position that the Tory decision to abolish the Department for International Development and move it inside the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is a bad thing. I do not however think the massive praise for DFID now being deployed in the media stands up to close inspection. DFID is in fact a toxic institution that dispenses astonishing sums of money, in a way that provides greater practical benefit to the wealthy members of the Aid Industry in the UK than it does to those it is supposed to help lift out of poverty abroad.

It does not have to be like that. I entirely support the giving of 0.7% of the UK’s gross national income to international development. But at the moment it is being sluiced away. The greatest concentration of economic benefit from British aid lies in the leafier parts of North London (and not, incidentally, in East Kilbride. It is not DFID staff who are milking the system).

It is a very good discipline to ask yourself how much cash those employees of charities campaigning to keep DFID make personally from DFID. It is an interesting paradox that if they appear not to be employed by DFID, they are almost certainly lining their own pockets with a very great deal more DFID cash than actual DFID employees.

When I travel around the rural areas of both Ghana and Nigeria, I frequently pass over rivers and streams on iron and concrete bridges built by DFID’s predecessor the Overseas Development Administration (ODA). Often the road itself was first built by ODA. I am sure academic papers have been written, but I cannot sufficiently convey to you the massive positive impact such infrastructure has had over decades on rural communities, transforming access to markets for agricultural and cottage industry products and helping social mobility.

You realise the importance of a bridge in rural Africa when you see the devastating social consequences when one disappears. This is an extract from my memoir The Catholic Orangemen of Togo. I had not recalled before looking for this passage on the bridge, what an extended discussion on DFID ensues. It was written ten years ago and describes the situation still further back in 2001, but the key points remain true and I will explain what has changed.

Travelling North West from the city of Sunyani, I visited the town of Tainano. (Footnote in book: I think it was Tainano but my notes are not quite clear which of a number of towns I visited that day it was. I intend to explore this region again…) This had been a renowned market gardening centre, but had gone into a dreadful economic decline some ten years earlier following the collapse of its bridge in a storm. I arrived at the fallen bridge, a simple concrete structure spilling down into a river, a major tributary of the Black Volta, some 40 metres across, its brown surge flowing fast enough for there to be little eddies flecked with flashes of white. We were only an hour’s drive from Sunyani, but I was told that the drive to the next bridge was some four hours on a very rough road. The alternative was to cross by canoe.

I walked down to where a jumble of four or five canoes was pulled onto the steeply sloping bank. The rare sight of a white man wanting to cross caused huge amusement and there followed some excited competition as to which canoe I should take. I eyed them dubiously – they were all of local dugout construction, hewed from a single trunk with rough pieces of wood nailed across as seats. Each already contained a fair amount of water slopping about in the bottom. I chose the largest looking one and we set off. One paddler in front and one at back. They were incredibly muscled; their torsos would have been the delight and envy of any Californian gym, and they were soon sheathed in gold as the sun reflected off a mixture of sweat and river water. I was continually wiping my glasses clear.

We set off more or less straight upstream, the men paddling like crazy with huge muscular strokes but still making very little headway, the force of their efforts rocking the canoe from side to side so that water poured in and I had to lift my feet clear of the floor while gripping the slimy canoe sides to try and retain my balance. That didn’t feel safe, so I reluctantly planted my feet again, the water in the well of the canoe now over my ankles. We had started straight upstream in order to come back to a point opposite our starting one in a graceful arc. As we were broadside to the current in the middle of this manoeuvre, the water flowed over the side and along my seat, thoroughly wetting my arse.

I was in danger of wetting myself anyway. I have a terrible and irrational fear of drowning – I can bath but get scared in a shower for example, and even get scared in very heavy rainfall. Unsurprisingly, I have never learnt to swim. There was one other passenger, an old lady who had hoisted up her brightly flowered dress and knotted it beneath her loins, while balancing an improbably large cloth bundle of goods on her knees. I told myself that if she could do it, I should not be pathetic, but she didn’t improve my mood by screwing up her eyes and yelling out “Lord have mercy” throughout the entire passage. This rather cancelled out my efforts to tell myself that the boatman must make this crossing scores of times a day and it must have been completely routine for the local villagers.

After turning at the top of the arc, we were racing down with the current on the other side of the stream at a quite alarming rate. As we sped past the road, the rear boatman threw a rope to someone on the bank who whipped it round a tree trunk, pulling the canoe up with a jolt that nearly pitched me into the water. I disembarked on shaky legs, deeply conscious of my wet trousers.

I had been vaguely aware of flashes of fluorescent orange in a large tree that was growing to the right of the collapsed bridge on the bank on which we had now arrived. After wiping my glasses again I could now see about a dozen life jackets, hung high in the tree. The effect was rather macabre.

I turned to the boatman and asked why they didn’t use the life-jackets.
He flashed me a wide grin.
“Oh,” he said, “We don’t use them since people drown in them.”

The poverty and squalor of the town were as bad as I had seen in Ghana. Unlike most rural towns, which smell earthy but clean, this one had a palpable smell of sewage and the buildings were visibly decaying; the orange blooms of rust on the corrugated tin roofs were spreading, and in places the ensuing holes had gone rampant, reducing the covering to a fragile latticework of fern-like iron oxide tendrils.

As usual, I chatted with the local schoolmaster, and he firmly alleged that the government’s failure to replace the bridge was because it was an opposition town which the government was happy to see dwindle. In his school I was impressed to find the electoral commission personnel with their cameras set up, quietly and methodically issuing photo ID cards to a queue of several hundred people. They had lost some film stock on the crossing but still had plenty.

I took a trip around the surrounding countryside in an old plum and orange coloured taxi, which had lost a door and whose bodywork was battered beyond recognition, but had a Peugeot badge on the steering wheel. The chrome front bumper was rather bafflingly tied across the roof, secured to the window struts either side with ties made from strips of old fertiliser sacks. The driver, Aaron, was a bright man who was going to vote NDC on the grounds that Rawlings’ willingness to hold a free election meant that he deserved support.

But my trip showed the surrounding farmers to be as impoverished by the loss of the bridge as the town, and I determined on return to try to persuade DFID to rebuild the bridge. It seemed to me that the resulting benefit to an area which had been effectively cut off from economic interaction with the rest of the country, would justify the expenditure.

In fact I was to get nowhere with this. DFID were in the throes of changing from project work to a doctrine which is now the basis of their philosophy, that of budget support. The idea is that no longer will the UK do something for the aid recipient, like building a bridge, a hospital or some schools, or providing inputs and training to farmers. Instead we help the government, together with its civil society, to plan its budget and its programmes to maximise poverty alleviation. We then pump money into its budget to help it to achieve these agreed aims.

This has several advantages. It is more democratic, with the African country pursuing its own objectives. The consultation structures included boost the role of civil society. It also builds up the capacity of the African administration and African professionals to deliver goods to the people.

Unfortunately, these happy ideas are hopelessly unrealistic. With the greatest will in the world, the capacity of African ministries to deliver anything to the people is in practice highly constrained – even in Ghana, which probably has the best civil service in Africa.

There are numerous factors behind this. There is a lack of middle management capability, and a lack of incentive for ordinary civil servants to deliver. African bureaucracies almost entirely lack any link between performance in the job and reward or discipline, with family and tribal linkages almost always being much more crucial to your career than ability or performance.

There is also the sadly unavoidable fact that African governments are corrupt – all of them, to a greater or lesser degree. Now that is not to say that Western governments are not corrupt – of course they are, all of them, to a greater or lesser degree. But African governments are more corrupt. Why they are more corrupt, and whose fault that is, opens up another range of very interesting questions touched on from time to time in this book. But the sad truth is that African governments are rather intensely corrupt, and so simply to hand them over in effect large wodges – amounting to billions of pounds – of the British public’s cash as “Budget support” is not a policy that is going to strike the man in the street as glaringly sensible.

DFID would argue, with some justice, that they then carefully monitor the spending of the African government and the achievement of the objectives of the programmes, to make sure the money is being well used.

There are two problems with this. The first is a wonderful DFID word, fungibility. It means the ability to switch around funds and I think the meaning is clear if you think of it as fudge-ability. Put simply, it means that you put the £100 million DFID gave you for education, into education. Meanwhile you put the £40 million of your own taxpayers’ money, that you had for education, into your own pocket. Nobody will notice amid the flood of resources coming from donors.

Fungibility – where would the Swiss banks and London property market be without it?

The second problem is that in its decade of re-orienting to budget support, DFID has vastly reduced the percentage of funds it devotes to monitoring and evaluation – so it doesn’t really know how much fungible leakage is occurring.

Anyway, Ian Stuart, the head of DFID’s Ghanaian operations, advised me that there was no way DFID would do something as old-fashioned as building a bridge, and though I continued to try for another year, he was right.

Despite what I have written, there is a role for budget support in aid policy – an element of it is essential to have a real effect on primary education, for example. And other approaches can also be fraught. In 1999 the British Council organised for DFID the delivery of basic textbooks to every single primary school in Ghana – a programme of which I was proud. Again I made a point of journeying to the most remote locations to make sure they had got through, and in almost every case they had.

But in a significant number of cases they were not being put to use. One headmaster proudly showed me that the books were “safe” in a locked steel container in a locked cupboard in his locked office. The packets had not been opened. Another teacher told me they read to the children from the books but did not let them see them as “They would get them dirty.”

But in deep rural districts the biggest problem in education I had found was teacher absenteeism. Talking to those teachers present, to local priests and others, I reckoned teacher absenteeism in rural areas ran at over 60%. Often schools would have no teacher present at all, or a single teacher holding the fort for all the others – I suspect they took turns. The simple truth was that educated teachers were not prepared to live in villages with no running water, little electricity and none of the delights of urban society.

I found DFID remarkably ignorant of the true state of affairs. The problem was that neither permanent nor visiting DFID staff nor consultants would dream of calling in to a village school ten hours drive from Accra, certainly not without first giving warning and almost certainly arranging the visit through, and being accompanied by, officials from the local regional office. That would give plenty of time for absent teachers to get there and everything to be in order. Whereas I would be driving through the bush and simply see a school and call in. DFID also credited official figures which, while acknowledging the problem, hid its true extent.

That describes the situation under New Labour, when unrealistic ideology dominated DFID’s approach. David Cameron then came in to power and made this situation still worse, by effectively applying Tory privatisation doctrine to aid. Cameron speeded up a process which was already under way, of spending the aid budget through what he called the “Third Sector” and you and I call charities. This was a part of his “Big Society” initiative.

The worst effect of this was to turn previously worthy charities into corporations devoted to making cash for the elite who run them. Rather than conduits for public philanthropy, major charities became primarily an arm of private sector provision for government, as motivated by altrusim as SERCO or G4 are. Those that were most favoured by DFID started to show the most alarming effects on their corporate ethos.

It would be an interesting study to discover at precisely what point it became generally accepted that the executive staff of charities had to be paid according to the market for executives of rapacious capitalist corporations, and that it was ludicrous to even consider that those who devote their lives to working for charities might do so in part for reasons of altruism that did not require them to become incredibly rich personally. Little old ladies who slave away as volunteers in charity shops or rattling tins at events might be expected to do it for little or nothing for charity, but executive staff – heaven forfend!

I think one of the most morally disgusting statements I have read in my life can be found today on the website of the Save the Children Fund, stating that it is for the good of the poorest children of the planet, racked by poverty and disease and dying in their hundreds of thousands, that the executives of the Save the Children fund need to be paid at levels that enable them to lead lifestyles of the fabulously wealthy. If this monstrously hypocritical sentence does not make you want to vomit, you are not a good person.

We are serious about being the best we can be for the world’s children. That means we place a premium on attracting the best people to work for us and to lead our organisation.

The best people to help starving and sick children are, by this definition, those who want to be paid the most money to do it. There is a more rational argument that those who want to be paid the most money are the worst people to help the world’s children.

So this is what Save the Children ladle out to their UK executives. REMEMBER, MUCH OF THEIR INCOME IS DFID MONEY.

That is whithout even considering the salary of the “Global Head” of such charities. Helle Thorning-Schmidt, wife of Stephen Kinnock, skimmed £284,000 a year plus expenses as global head of Save the Children. Her successor, Inge Asher, somehow scrapes by on £188,900 a year. The utterly shameless David Miliband, Chief Executive of the International Rescue Committee, gets an eye watering US $911,000 a year for his work for a “charity” that gets £100 million a year from DFID.

Compare Save the Children UK and Islamic Relief UK. Islamic Relief is the slightly larger charity by turnover, despite being unusual in UK development agencies in getting a scarcely significant part of its income from DFID. Islamic Relief’s Chief Executive gets a salary approximately 60% of that of his Save the Children UK counterpart, and would not be in the top 20 highest paid employees at Save the Children UK. This precisely because the Islamic Relief trustees feel that working for the charity should in itself contain an element of sadaqah, or charitable giving. Here the Muslim community has maintained a much greater sense of morality than the DFID bloated rest of the British development “charitable” sector. The UK large scale “charitable” sector is a scam on an epic scale. DFID is responsible for much of that development.

So when you hear the UK aid sector screaming at the threat to DFID, do not be shocked. Thousands of luxurious lifestyles across London are potentially at threat.

It astonishes me that there is complete denial about the link between the deliberate entrenchment of corporate macho management structures, with their vastly inflated financial reward systems, into the charity sector from the 1990s onwards, and the ensuing rash of incidents of appalling sexual abuse by charity executives and staff, of which the behaviour of Save the Children senior executives Justin Forsyth and Brendan Cox were among the worse. If you base your recruitment policy on the reward structures of large capitalist enterprises, you will get nasty people. Overpaid, over-entitled and arrogant jumped up arses are going to behave like overpaid, over-entitled and arrogant jumped up arses.

When Save the Children produced their report on why its senior male executives felt entitled to physically molest any female employee who crossed their path, understandably the current overpaid crew avoided blaming either over-payment or over-entitlement. But the truth of the matter is that the entire ethos of the charity sector has been ruined by the massive pump through of DFID cash. I genuinely can’t begin to understand the mindset of people who believe they should personally take these mind-boggling sums from a supposed charity to help the poorest. DFID have created the situation whereby the sector is full of highly paid individuals, in it for the money, who would rather sexually exploit the poor than help them.

This overpayment and excess of self-regard feeds directly into what is generally recognised in international development as “White Saviour Syndrome

When you have reached the stage where there needs to be a parliamentary report on “Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in the Aid Sector”, you know that things have gone very wrong indeed. The fault lies at base with DFID and their massive hosepipe of high pressure money. Charities have been allowed to argue that they need reward criteria the same as would be employed by the Wolf of Wall Street, because the money motive is what brings good staff. You cannot therefore be surprised they started to behave socially like the Wolf of Wall Street.

DFID’s own direct staff costs are comparatively modest, at around £212 million in 2018/9 including pension and other costs, which is a commendable 1.4% of its total budget. Its very top salaries are broadly the same as the very top salaries at Save the Children, although the DFID executives are managing a budget 50 times greater.

The salary of the four highest paid executives at DFID represents 0.03% of DFID’s turnover. The salary of the four highest paid executives at Save the Children UK represents 0.15% of Save the Children UK’s income.

This is even more acute in the field. When I worked alongside the Overseas Development Agency in the British High Commission in Nigeria, a portfolio of projects totalling hundreds of millions of pounds were managed by two ODA officers, of whom the most junior, who did most of the project management, would earn the equivalent in today’s salaries of about £25,000 a year. He would pay tax on that, pay for his own private vehicle, live in a small flat and have access to the High Commission Land Rover Defender pool when on official duty.

Today, the management of that portfolio of projects would no longer be undertaken directly by DFID. It would be split between a dozen different charities. Each would employ a minimum of one expat on a minimum of £50,000 a year tax free, plus their plush detached house, return holiday tickets and full time use of a $100,000 Toyota Land Cruiser. Sometimes the take home pay of an ultimately DFID funded charity aid worker in Africa, managing a single project, is higher than that of the tax paying British ambassador who is in charge of all UK interests in that country.

I want you to understand I am not pontificating from an armchair. I am speaking from four decades of direct involvement and experience in African development of this transformation, which I have witnessed up close and in detail.

You will scour in vain the 196 page DFID Annual Report and Accounts for a breakdown of what percentage of DFID aid is paid to UK charities. The accounts are scrupulous in detailing DFID’s direct salary and administrative costs for its aid, but then take all the money paid out to charities as effective aid to the intended final purpose and destination, without any accounting for the administrative costs of the charity.

The £50,000 salary, the Land Cruiser and the luxury house of the charity worker helping administer a DFID project in Malawi will count as aid to Malawi, even though Malawi gets no benefit. So will the fat fee, air fares and expenses of the British consultant who will fly out from time to time to evaluate the project. The White Saviour syndrome reaches its apogee in projects which consist entirely of sending out British experts for “advocacy”. There are entire tranches of “aid to Africa” which consist entirely of paying members of the UK Aid Industry large sums of money to go out and patronise Africans on the subject of human rights and women’s rights. I have witnessed this in Ghana where society is perfectly capable of tackling these subjects and the general position on both sets of rights is no worse than in the UK.

The DFID annual report is equally silent on what percentage of aid is provided as direct budget support. It details what sectors and geographical locations allegedly benefit, but has very little to say on the medium of provision.

There are entire DFID programmes that consist of nothing but paying particularly wealthy British people to go out and talk down to Africans. As though African countries do not contain extremely educated people concerned with gender and other rights. It is the modern, politically correct version of the Victorian Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. It reflects the attitude of “Over the seas there are little brown children”, who we need to enlighten. Plan UK are one of many British charities who are main DFID conduits for this type of well paid activity. The DFID money given to the bank accounts of the wealthy British people who undertake this work all counts as “Aid to Africa”.

Ghana gave us Kofi Annan; sent us Afua Hirsch; it has a real human rights lawyer – and friend of mine – as its President. It does not need lectures on rights as “aid”. But it gets them.

Many people whose world view I broadly share will be horrified by my criticism of DFID. One of those is Owen Barder, whose work I generally admire and not only because his late father Brian was something of an intellectual mentor to me (and my boss in Nigeria). There is a fascinating discussion between Owen and Ian Birrell on the effectiveness of aid, centred on a report of the DFID £11 million backed Millennium Villages Project in Northern Ghana, which essentially said it was a waste of money. This evaluation report is truly unusual because normally the consultants evaluating projects are also employed managing other projects. It is all a part of the Aid Industry and they do not normally produce reports that rock the mutual gravy train. I am not sure that ITAD will get much more DFID work after this honesty.

Both Owen and Ian are genuinely knowledgeable, and they have entirely different conclusions on DFID and aid, as brought out in these twitter threads of Ian here and Owen here – each thread having lots of bifuractions and interjections that lead into interesting areas.

But still more enlightening is the perspective of President Nana Akuffo Addo:

Personally, I support the idea of 0.7% of Gross Domestic Income being given by the UK and other wealthy states in aid to developing countries. This is both morally correct and an exercise of enlightened self-interest. I believe that this aid should overwhelmingly be given in the form of delivered turnkey projects. That could take the form of building and furnishing complete factories to provide the processing and added value to African commodity exports which Nana Akuffo Addo outlines in the above speech. Building and handing over cocoa processing plants and gold refineries would be a good start.

I understand why project aid was discredited by disastrous dam projects in the 1980’s. But the provision now of solar energy power stations and the infrastructure to integrate them with the local grid, or indeed of rural roads and bridges, remains for me the most effective way to provide aid. It should be delivered turnkey. You identify what factory or infrastructure is needed and you build it and hand it over. Of course this should take account of long term project sustainability and include the ancillary materials, connections, training and technology transfer required. But at the end of the day, you will have given something concrete to the people of the country. This is certainly how I wish to see Scottish aid develop post Independence.

I am well aware that the current danger from the Tory move to disestablish DFID is that aid funds will be diverted to the military, security services, armaments industry and to boost the profits of Tory donor companies. My expectations of anything getting better in any sector under the current rulers of the last days of the United Kingdom are close to zero. But contriving a worse system for managing aid than DFID is going to be quite hard to achieve. There are excellent left wing arguments against DFID as it has developed institutionally under the ideologically driven right wing governments that dominate the UK.


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162 thoughts on “Do Not Mourn the White Saviours of DfID

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  • Rhys Jaggar

    I think you are delightfully utopian in how you see the real world working. I just have little faith that your hopes are likely to come to reality any time soon.

    The reality of 0.7% GDP is that it is a sop to the credulous idiots who actually think that the Governments want to do good. It is spent in ways to enrich the upper middle class sanctimonious worthies, those who fancy working abroad for a few years under deep cover in organisations like the British Council, DFID etc etc. It is not primarily spent to benefit the poor.

    Another truism is that it is in the interests of Western powermongers to keep the Third World poor. They do not want strong competition emerging, what they want to do is keep on living their enjoyable life of milking the masses using inefficient cartels which smash any genuine, honest competition using every unpleasant tactic in the book.

    i suspect that if you tried to truly reform how the Aid budget is spent, you would be subjected to the sort of shenanigans that Donald Trump has endured in the USA. The corrupt swampers sensing they have been rumbled, hence they get their heavy artillery out and start firing without end, willy nilly, but always somewhere in your direction. You have to be lucky all the time, they only have to be lucky once.

    As for Russia and Crimea, do you seriously think the USA were interested in anything but getting their hands on the Sevastapol naval base? The USA wants to surround Russia with Nukes on all sides, then try and crush them economically into extinction. Is that some minor skirmish or seriously psychotic manias? There are times when you have to take tough, perhaps narrowly unprincipled actions to preserve strategic integrity.

    I do not see Russia through tinted spectacles, but I do think they have an absolute right to defend themselves from never-ending Western aggression.

      • Bramble

        Apparently that doesn’t matter. One can argue about percentages, but I am certain a much, much bigger majority of “Crimeans” want to be in Russia than Brits want to leave the EU.

    • gwp3


      “I am well aware that the current danger from the Tory move to disestablish DFID is that aid funds will be diverted to the military, security services, armaments industry and to boost the profits of Tory donor companies.”

      Surely that is its entire purpose?

  • Fleur

    It was not just DfID that was poisoned by this philosophy. In the 80s & 90s the cry of “Pay peanuts, get monkeys” was heard throughout the ‘NFP’ world. This cry consigned all those working in the sector as a vocation – for a pittance, or as volunteers – to the “monkey” category. Enter the wolves.

    In an environment that values people by their financial rewards, suddenly all those who gave their time and energy freely, sometimes their whole lives, in support of the poor, sick and needy, were cast as naive fools (“monkeys”), while those who saw nothing strange in treating the charitable sector as just another career opportunity were seen as “realists” suitable for the managerial echelons of such charities – which then grew like fungi. This, as much as anything, destroyed much of what had been good in the charitable sector.

      • SeaGreen

        “This, as much as anything, destroyed much of what had been good in the charitable sector.” Evidence? Speaking as a “wolf” and a “realist” who sought a career in the charity sector directly after leaving University I have pretty much constantly pushed charities to be more professional, whenever I have been able to. For the last 25 years. I don’t regret it for one second. There are badly run banks and badly run post offices and badly run football clubs and badly run charities. Looks like Save The Children UK has profited from its recruitment of senior political staff and they will probably now leave if DfID funding goes elsewhere. Looks like short-sightedness, and certainly looks like evidence of not being run that well but I don’t really know – I heard they had raised lots of money and so were able to help more people. Must be naïve of me to think that. Fortunately I no longer live in the UK and am practising my career as a wolf and a realist overseas so I’ll just remain ignorant and keep trying to make the charities I work with / for better and more professional.

        • craig Post author

          Enjoy your cash. That you judge professionalism by personal avarice rather than by personal vocation says all we need to know.

          • Kempe

            I think what SeaGreen is trying to say is that if you want professionalism then you have to pay for it. It’s a nice idea that people will work cheap because it’s a charity but the real world, sadly, isn’t like that.

          • bevin

            “ It’s a nice idea that people will work cheap because it’s a charity but the real world, sadly, isn’t like that.`
            Actually it is. As the post points out the Islamic Charity pays its people much less and it would seem to be much better at raising money from the public.
            High salaries tend to attract not the best but the greediest, more ruthless perhaps and more amoral , and therefore skilled at dealing with their opposite numbers in government, but not the best in the ways that count, such as sympathy with and understanding of the wretched of the earth.
            This is true of the Labour Party and the Unions too, which is why so many of their employees tend to be University educated and ignorant of the situations of their members.
            Marx, after the Paris Commune, concluded that no representative of the workers should earn more than the average of those he represented.
            Nothing is more conducive to bad government than the existence of a professional political, managerial caste with a primary interest in maintaining and reproducing itself.

          • Stonky

            I think what SeaGreen is trying to say is that if you want professionalism then you have to pay for it…

            As ever, Kempe, you’re spot on with this well-argued point. The only way to absolutely guarantee that an organisation will never collapse, go bust, squander billons on failed projects, be ripped off to the tune of squillions, steal millions from its employees pension fund, bankrupt its suppliers, ruin its shareholders, or simply disappear up its own gaping backside, is to gather together an executive team of rapacious greed-maddened troughsnouters and hose eye-watering sums of money at them.

            Enron didn’t invent $100 billion of non-existent revenues, and Arthur Andersen executives didn’t order their flunkeys to shred the evidence of their hopelessly inept auditing of the company. The highly-paid Bernard Ebbers, David Myers and Scott Sullivan did a fantastic job at the now defunct Worldcom (hey – another Arthur Andersen triumph!) Oh, and under no circumstances did Nick Leeson succeed in single-handedly bankrupting an entire bank, while its highly-paid executives, none of whom had the faintest idea what he was actually supposed to be doing in Singapore, diligently admired the Emperor’s New Clothes…

          • SeaGreen

            I rather like this blog Craig. It informs me where I feel I’m not well informed. Please separate your justified loathing for Milliband et al’s salaries (in case it’s not clear I’m saying those organisations are not very well run, and basically agreeing with you) from an effort to understand the subject of the growth / development of the charity sector. As a sector of human activity, it needs skills like other sectors of human activity.

          • SeaGreen

            Just to be clear, no I don’t. Your reasoned and evidenced-based arguments startle and alert your readers. Which is rare and I cherish it (or is that them?). Wild remarks like this don’t do your writing, your reasoning or your self any justice at all.

        • Stonky

          I was a consultant for about 25 years, working with corporates all around the world. When I started, I had this vision of corporate executives as captains of a ship – planning the voyage, setting the course, directing the crew, calling the shots, their finger always on the pulse of their vessel… What I actually discovered (pretty quickly, in fact) was:

          1. The higher you rise up the corporate ladder, the less of a clue you have about what is actually happening in the organisation you are supposedly managing. By the time you reach the upper echelons, you know next to nothing about what is going on.
          2. The higher you rise up the corporate ladder, the less time you spend on anything that involves the business of the organisation you are supposedly managing as you claw your way up the greasy pole. By the time you reach the upper echelons, you have next to no time left after managing your internal political agenda – your endless ego battles, status squabbles, turf wars, revenge vendettas, and preemptive strikes…
          3. Corporate executives are almost all flying by the seat of their pants. Their “success” is sometimes just 90% luck, but usually it’s 100% luck.

          I’m sure the departure of Save The Children’s corporate hacks will be a sad day for poor children worldwide. There will be great wailing, lamenting, tearing of hair and rending of garments…

        • Stonky

          “I heard they had raised lots of money and so were able to help more people…”

          I heard they were able to help more people like you.

          • SeaGreen

            Which is obviously false. Even from the logic of Craig’s article, let alone beyond it.

          • Stonky

            Just so I understand SeaGreen. First the charities invest large sums of public money in hiring these corporate geniuses to turn their charities into images of the corporate triumphs that these corporate geniuses would all have gone to work for if the charities hadn’t succeeded in poaching them.

            Then the coporate geniuses spend more public money hiring you to tell them what to do…

            Congratulations on your berth on the gravy train. “Wolf” isnt the animal that immediately springs to mind…

          • SeaGreen

            Hello Stonky. I don’t seem to be able to reply to your last comment. But in the spirit of informed debate: I worked for the NSPCC in London at the beginning of this wonderful century / millenium. At the time the charity (founded in 1884 in the RSPCA’s offices…) was spending eye-watering amounts on advertising space so as to tell people there was such a thing as child abuse in the UK and it was not to be denied. The organisation was already growing fast, financially, and it accelerated because of this commercial strategy, advised by, amongst others, Saatchi & Saatchi. The success with which it challenged the Status Quo (in the 80’s it was possible for a judge to order a retrial because he “didn’t believe” the child at the heart of an abuse case) attracted all sorts of people, not least the messianic warmonger in chief himself who told us we had converted a “private passion into a public passion.” At the time I was being paid as an employee there and had a very interesting job. I don’t think the NSPCC was mistaken to try to become more professional. It certainly helped many more children and families as a result. I think the staffing was around 2,000 people at the time (just referencing your remark about who’s being helped when a charity grows). You might be interested to learn that the Chief Exec at the time was a woman called Mary Marsh, who I think had big connections with the Labour party. It’s a mixed up world old thing. And I have a reltively clear conscience, which feels like an achievement.

            To reiterate, I am as disgusted as the next person by David M’s salary at IRC. You should see their offices. The rent I believe on a monthly basis is more than we spent annually on advertising at the NSPCC. I don’t know much about Save the Children UK but I have heard some worrying stuff. I think these organisations are not very well run. They have Boards. And those Boards have a job to do.

          • Stonky

            And just out of interest, SeaGreen, do your consulting services include providing advice on executive compensation packages?

            If not, you’re really missing out on a big opportunity. Executives love to spend lots of money on consultants who write reports explaining that the executives who hired them ought to be paid a lot more money…

          • SeaGreen

            No. I’m a consultant mostly because I used to work for a large INGO and got sick of the politics. And no, I don’t get paid lots. Currently working for four clients, three of which unpaid. I still don’t think there’s anything wrong with making charities more professional.

          • Stonky

            Ok SeaGreen I’ll back off. I’m sure that in the corporate charity sector there are more deserving targets for my ire than you.

            But it’s a demonstrable lie that paying executives more results in better quality people.

            Firstly, average CEO pay has multiplied by approximately tenfold in the last 40 years. Can you produce a single piece of evidence that companies are all being managed ten times better than they were 40 years ago?

            Secondly, when compensation packages are rising across the board, as is the case, paying people twice as much as you were paying them five years ago doesn’t mean you’re getting people who are twice as good. It just means you are getting the same second-raters, only you’re paying them twice as much as you were paying them five years ago.

          • Bayard

            “I don’t think the NSPCC was mistaken to try to become more professional.”
            Of course it wasn’t and charities becoming more professional is not what Craig, or Stonky is complaining about. The problem is when charities become more corporate. Contrary to the popular image of them all being woolly-hatted yoghurt-weavers, enthusiasts can also be professionals. This is another of the false dualisms that bedevil contemporary belief: it’s either the sandal-wearing enthusiasts or the sharp-suited businessmen. No other form of charity management could possibly exist. Let’s face it, this myth is one that works very much in the interest of the generously renumerated corporate types, which is a very probable reason for its existence.

        • djm

          Looks like Save The Children UK has profited from its recruitment of senior political staff and they will probably now leave if DfID funding goes elsewhere………..


          Brendan Cox & Justin Forsyth were such an asset to Shave the Children, weren’t they ?

    • Bayard

      I think that the corporatisation of the charity sector was inevitable. I am not sure if it was just something that happened in the latter part of the C20th, but many organisations, not just NFP ones, that had been started by enthusiasts ended up being run by people for whom the money was the only motive, for whom it was just another job, the National Trust being a good example. As a young man, I remember being somewhat shocked by being told by a member of British Rail’s management that it wasn’t a good idea to be known to be interested in railways.

  • David

    Sad but true. Looks like a lot of the charitable sector has gone this way – managerialist, formulaic, top down and overpaid. My charity – Samaritans – is a prime example.

    • Bayard

      When I first was made aware of this, years ago, I cancelled all my donations to charities like Oxfam and gave them to a charity that didn’t suffer from the blight.

  • Michael+Droy

    The Autonomous Republic of Crimea was entitled to do whatever it wanted – the clue being in the name.

    • N_

      “Autonomous” doesn’t mean the same as either “sovereign” or “independent”.

      • N_

        And a republic is a kind of state, and who says any state is entitled to do whatever it wants? If you want to make an argument based on the precise meaning of words you could do much better.

    • Jo

      Yup….Crimea the way home documentary. Considering how the Ukraine’s troops are still shelling civilians in the Donbass…is probably more than bankrupt despite the IMF loans…home of endless corruption criminal and political …very very poor quality of life….will not adhere to Minsk.. a very unhealthy connection with the USA…billions spent by EU to subsidise the economy including UK funding and military training and funding …..Crimea chose wisely when they defended themselves against thugs coming down from Kiev and inflicting their mayhem against such stalwarts as Auslander. Probably a more honest referendum than Scotlands?

  • N_

    We are serious about being the best we can be for the world’s children. That means we place a premium on attracting the best people to work for us and to lead our organisation.

    Count me in with those who feel like vomiting when they read this sentence.

    See also medics. Generally speaking working class people get a much better medical service in countries where most medics aren’t rich bastards, for example in Russia and Cuba rather than Britain. In Britain, your average medic is a “200 lies a day” sh*tbag. He would swear blind that the Sun was the Moon even if 10 patients who failed the “Primark test” (formerly known as the “Woolworth’s test”) died as a result, so long as he pocketed loads of money from doing it. He’s right down there with estate agents or mobile phone salesmen.

    The NHS and Big Pharma-controlled BMA prefer to import medics from abroad who can hardly speak comprehensible English rather than train up youngsters from (ex-)council estates in Britain to be medics, which the Cubans could probably help them do within 3-4 years.

    That, though, would be a crime against Malthus and the idea that the rich are rich because they’re the “best”.

  • shugsrug

    I do not have the link to hand but Cory Morningstar deals with aid budgets in her post on global reset.

  • Reliably

    DFID is a ‘client’ (their word) of the odious US ‘contractor’ Development Alternatives Incorporated, which provides ‘aid worker’ cover for intelligence agents. This is a dubious practice that puts legitimate aid workers and agencies at risk.

    Linda Norgrove, the MI6 agent taken hostage in Afghanistan and later killed by a US Navy SEALS operation, was ‘employed’ by DAI at the time of her death. However, it was her real profession that put her on the rescue list for US special forces.

    The aid sector – USAID, DAI, DFID, World Bank, even ‘charities’ like the Clinton Foundation, etc. – is a form of colonialism. Privileged people go in to less-privileged areas and repurpose resources for their own benefit.

  • Ian

    Great article, which cleared up for me many of the questions surrounding these executive salaries at charities, a relatively recent development, but no less odious.

    As far as your opening remarks go, I think you exaggerate about your ability to annoy people, much as you’d like to no doubt. And on the evidence of the comments, you don’t have a predominantly left wing readership, but a very conservative one.

  • Onion

    There was also Save the Children’s global legacy award for Tony Blair.

    Iraq Body Count has his legacy at 288,000 total violent deaths to date.

  • Ilya G Poimandres

    On Crimea – what binds a state into one being? A basic law, a constitution, at least de jure.

    The constitution of Ukraine had in it a system for choosing who will govern as the executive, it was a representative democracy. That system was torn up by Maidan. What exactly was then, the entity that bound the Ukraine into a union, after a core pillar of the constitution was set aside?

    Never mind the illegality of the 1950s transfer, that Crimea was an autonomous republic, never mind Chapter 1, Article 1, paragraph 2 of the UN Charter – the nation was over when power was taken unconstitutionally. At least for some people, and some regions.

    Crimea chose to split first, and then join Russia. No thing illegal about that. The troops without military uniforms? Yes – actually here I do agree Putin (if, as likely, they were Russia’s troops) stepped over the line with respect to international law, but the people wanted to self determine – what other, legal, way was there for them to not get run over by tanks, as any small region’s inhabitants tend to, when asking for independence (without the support of NATO!?).

    It is funny talking about this, because I can’t imagine anyone justifying some group like BLM storming Congress, taking power, and then those same people arguing against the right of individual states to secede, even with the failure of the coup to keep to the constitution.

    And we’re not even getting into the obvious external element of NATO’s involvement in Ukraine, to limit the Russian navy’s access to the Black Sea – an obviously overt military action, where the sending in of unmarked soldiers is possibly the lightest of lightest of peaceful law breakings possible, in order to protect Russia’s defensive capacity against a surrounding NATO, and not start a full out war. Arguably, NATO’s actions were war (but the laws of war have been forgotten recently – heck, sanction anyone to death, it ain’t no thing! /s ).

    Personally, I think Putin played his cards as good as he ever has there, certainly much better than Syria, where the wound NATO caused is open and festering, and the Syrian people find no peace.

    • craig Post author

      Ilya, had the people of Crimea expressed a desire for self-determination and sought to pursue that peacefully they would have my support and understanding. Unfortunately we have no convincing evidence of that movement or that will for any significant period before the invasion of Russian troops. Once a country is under immediate foreign military occupation, any purported expression of popular acquiescence with the invaders must always be regarded with extreme suspicion.

      • Ilya G Poimandres

        Yep, data is preferred! Here is some polling, from before all the brouhaha!,%20May%2016-30,%202013.pdf

        This is a poll of 500 Crimeans, slide 8 is the interesting one, it poses a question as to what ethnicity the responded considers themselves to be.

        (Why Gallup ran this poll in 2013, is probably conspiratorial :p )

        Small sample size, but interesting none the less!

        • Jen

          Yep, data are preferred!

          John O’Loughlin, “The Crimea conundrum: legitimacy and public opinion after annexation”

          “… [Crimea] was not viewed as a live secessionist threat for three reasons. First, Crimea had experienced an active secessionist movement in the mid-1990s. This had floundered, however, amidst in-fighting and oscillating, but ultimately negative, support from Moscow (Sasse 2007). Separatist sentiment in Crimea was sensitive to a triangular conjuncture of local (Simferopol), state (Kyiv) and regional (principally Moscow) power dynamics. Generally, rising tensions between Kyiv and Moscow, as occurred after the Ukrainian Orange Revolution of 2005 and the August 2008 war in Georgia, created possible conditions for the Kremlin to increase separatist sentiment in Simferopol. Having that sentiment become predominant, however, required overcoming existing institutional and cultural dampeners on its emergence (see below) and a prior legacy of failure twenty years earlier.

          Second, after considerable negotiation and constitutional flux, Crimea secured recognition from Kyiv for its own distinctive character by obtaining Autonomous Republic status within Ukraine. While Russian was the language of government in Crimea, its official status was insecure until the 2012 state language policy law that enabled the local parliament to grant it official status within Crimea alongside Ukrainian. Resentments over Ukrainian language initiatives were felt in Crimea most especially during the rule of Viktor Yushchenko (Matveeva 2018, 53). Other forms of local grievance emerged after Viktor Yanukovych won the presidency in 2010 but his pro-Russian sympathies were in broad alignment with majority sentiment in Crimea (Matsuzato 2016). Crimea, in short, was not a hotbed of resentment against the government in Kyiv before the Euromaidan street protests that erupted in November 2013 (Katchanovski, 2016).

          Third, secessionist tendencies were viewed as inherently dangerous to inter-ethnic relations on the peninsula, most particularly relations between ethnic Russians and Ukrainians. Even strongly pro-Russian groups, like the Russian Unity political party lead by future Crimean prime minister Sergei Aksyonov, tended to privilege what was to them the “bad peace” of the status quo in Crimea because both Kyiv and Moscow were historically hostile to separatist sentiment in the post-Soviet space (Knott 2018). Interviewed six months prior to the annexation, Aksyonov told the Japanese scholar Kimitaka Matsuzato that it was “useless to chat about the romantic dream of Crimea’s reunification with Russia.” His priority, he said, was to defend the Russophone population’s human rights (Matsuzato 2016, 240). A few months later that protective mission became a central part of the storyline justifying Russian intervention (Toal 2017)…”

          O’Loughlin mentions also that a group of Crimean lawmakers returning from Kiev to Crimea on 20 – 21 February 2014 by bus were attacked by Ukrainian nationalists. Other past online sources I have seen state that there were three busloads of Crimean passengers who were ambushed by Ukrainians who ordered them off the buses and beat them up. A number of passengers died in this attack, which took place near Korshun.

      • Ilya G Poimandres

        The aside would be – even in the case of the populace being under a military occupation, was the other side’s actions solely peaceful, or military in nature as well? It’s muddying the water of course, but neither Maidan, nor NATO’s involvement were hippy-esque, so we are not discussing a choice for the Crimean population between civility and military, but between military and military.. A much tougher choice imo.. still, the unmarked military personnel were (to my undergrad legal training!), a breach of international law norms – how much I would prefer Russia to be armed and neutral! 🙂

        • craig Post author

          Actually the poll seems to show the opposite of what you think. Page 8 shows only 40% of the population of Crimea viewed themselves as ethnically Russian. Page 11 is much more interesting and shows that only 12% believed that relations with Russia were the most important issue, and only 2% the Russian naval base.
          There is nothing in that poll that hints at any underlying desire for unification with Russia. Rather the opposite.

          • Ilya G Poimandres

            40% Russian as opposed to 15% Ukrainian, and 24% Crimean.. It’s not a majority – but why would there need to be? This is not Scotland and England, with their long bloody history – these are close relatives, for whom the border is mostly just a formality.

            At the very least, 64% did not consider themselves Ukrainian (just dealing with the slavic ethnicities for now..) – and when the Ukrainian constitution got shafted, how much less so would they have considered themselves? Scotland almost voted to leave the UK before Brexit – how much more so now, given their preference for the EU.. it is a fair analogy imo.

            As for 12% considering that relations with Russia were important, sure – but there were no waves in that ocean, so why would anyone worry about a storm? Until a month ago, not even 0.1% of the US population considered statues of white people to be a problem.. now, at least a decent chunk of them do.

            Now for ex post facto opinion – which is much like ex post facto law!


            The question would be, as hypotheticals – what would have been the better action by Russia/Putin? A fire was lit under its belly, how should it have acted, within international law, given that the actions were not far from war? How could Russia have acted to make the lives of Crimeans and Ukrainians be better, than what it did?

            I don’t see much – and after Medvedev acquiesced to the Chapter VII with respect to Libya, and that.. .. akhem,, why would Russia place any faith in the due process of international law with respect to another weak state under the eye of NATO dominance?!

            Imperfect, sure – but Russia was not in any way in a perfect position to act.

      • John Duke

        Since the desire of the Crimean people to return to the status quo ante Khrushchev was at least partly motivated by the coup in Kiev, why should they have expressed it for “a significant period” prior?

        Will you also cite the presence of British troops in Scotland as the reason the independence referendum failed, or are Crimeans subject to military influence in a way that Scots are not?

      • Jen

        Invasion of Russian troops?

        Excuse me but my understanding was that under a 1997 treaty signed by Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, the Russians were permitted to station up to 25,000 troops at the Sevastopol naval base that they were leasing from Ukraine, right up to when Crimea returned to Russia in March 2014. This information about the number of Russian troops allowed at Sevastopol can be Googled: I am currently reading Rene de la Pedraja’s book “The Russian Military Resurgence: Post-Soviet Decline and Rebuilding, 1992 – 2018” and he mentions this (page 263). De la Pedraja goes on to say that in practice, Russia usually had 12,000 troops stationed in Sevastopol. Any additional troops sent to Sevastopol by Moscow were sent under conditions of the treaty and they did not constitute an invasion.

        The Russian soldiers were requested to guard polling stations in Crimea during the referendum in which Crimean officials themselves said 83% of the electorate turned up to vote and (partial) results indicated that over 90% of Crimeans favoured secession from Ukraine.

        • Kempe

          “The Russian soldiers were requested to guard polling stations in Crimea during the referendum ”

          Who by?

          The terms of the lease required them to stay inside their bases.

          • Jen

            From Wikipedia: “Partition Treaty on the Status and Conditions of the Black Sea Fleet”

            “… Under the partition treaty, the Soviet Black Sea Fleet that was headquartered in the Crimean Peninsula at the time, was partitioned between Russia (81.7%) and Ukraine (18.3%). Russia maintained the right to use the Port of Sevastopol in Ukraine for 20 years until 2017 … The treaty also allowed Russia to maintain up to 25,000 troops, 24 artillery systems, 132 armored vehicles, and 22 military planes on the Crimean Peninsula.[2] The basing rules were set in a status of forces agreement, namely Agreement between Ukraine and the Russian Federation on the Status and Conditions of the Stationing of the Black Sea Fleet [BSF] on the territory of Ukraine … In particular, Russia was bound to “respect the sovereignty of Ukraine, honor its legislation and preclude interference in the internal affairs of Ukraine” and, furthermore, Russian military personnel had to show their “military identification cards” when crossing the Ukrainian-Russian border; Russian forces could operate “beyond their deployment sites” only after “coordination with the competent agencies of Ukraine.” … By a payment treaty Russia paid $526 million as a compensation for its part of the divided fleet and agreed to a $97 million price for leasing Crimean bases. This payment was deducted from the cost of Russian gas provided and billed to Ukraine …”

            The competent agencies of Ukraine include the Crimean Parliament which had voted to hold the referendum on Crimea’s future status. So the request may have originated with the Crimean legislature to ask Moscow to deploy Russian forces away from their usual deployment sites.

        • LeeJ

          Invasion being an emotive word. There is no land border between Crimea and Russia. Unless there was some massive airlift of troops, invasion is misleading and puts Russia’s position in a negative light.

      • Stonky

        “…had the people of Crimea expressed a desire for self-determination and sought to pursue that peacefully they would have my support and understanding.
        I don’t get your position on Crimea Craig. Are you seriously suggesting that if America was to sponsor a fascist coup in Westminster, your recommmendation would be that Scotland pursue a “peaceful” desire for self-determination? As in asking London’s permission?

          • Laguerre

            I still really don’t get this, how it was an illegal operation. Crimea was not invaded. The Russian forces were there legally under the treaty. Crimea was not annexed illegally. The autonomous republic voted in a referendum to join Russia. The issue is rather whether it was an open and free referendum, given that “Little Green Men” were present, Russian troops in mufti. However, quite a bit of evidence has been adduced on this thread that pro-Russian sympathies in Crimea were common even before the Maidan. Indeed, Crimea was only part of Ukraine for sixty years beforehand, by decision of a Ukrainian. It is hardly likely that any great pro-Ukrainian sentiments had developed. Crimea was always Russian, back to the time when it was nicked off the Ottomans and Tartars (17th century?). Not an issue to hold against Russia, in my view.

      • John A

        There was no invasion of Russian troops into Crimea. They were already legally there at the naval base. There was no foreign ‘occupation’ as you put it. The US had already drawn up plans to take over the naval base and invited tenders. After the arson murder of protesters in Odessa, and attacks on Crimean residents returning by coach from anti regime change protests in Kiev, it is little wonder that the Crimean population preferred the safety and protection of Russia to the barbarism of the Azov brigade and US mercenaries.
        I agree with much of what you write Craig, but I think you are 100% wrong on Crimea.

    • Bramble

      As I recall, the Russian troops in the Crimea were already there legally, according to a treaty with the prior Ukrainian Government, the one removed by the pro-Western coup which seized power and adopted an aggressive policy towards its Russian-speaking Eastern regions.

  • fwl

    Money power and influence. It’s difficult to get away from them those corrupting influences. The Russian involvement in Syria, Georgia and Crimea were all closely connected with pipeline politics as much as anything else (just as Iraq and Afghanistan were too). I would be interested to know how much developmental aid is really just a tool for the subtle purchase or retention of support for whatever a power wants supporting: UN votes, war, mining, oil or what have you.

    Are there any powers who don’t play this game? If the parties concerned recognise that development aid is just a process of facilitation then of course those involved tend not to be so focused on the ostensible publicly proclaimed outcomes and instead just end up feeding themselves.

  • fwl

    That where do NGOs get their money chart and Craig’s comments about fungibility / fudge-ability has got me thinking about corporate donations.

    So if a corporation is interested in opening up business in a country is it deemed too risky/obvious for it to donate directly into domestic charities (at least until after it has established a position in the local community). If however a corp donates a big sum to an international charity that covers many countries can it direct where and how it wants its money spent and thus fudge its intention in that way?

  • Kaiama

    The entire international aid system, dominated by large NGO’s, does not exist to help other countries. It exists to help itself. That DFID is being squashed into the FCO is a positive step. Whilst I disagree with the author on Crimea, his assessment of building bridges rather than pissing money away to the locals is spot on. There is no difference between government and private money in west african (and elsewhere no doubt) countries. Those in control of the government budgets and payment systems spend their lives pushing as much as they can to their own and their sponsors’ pockets. I worked and lived in Nigeria at the sharp end of commercial real life. I know. It works in a very different way to how people imagine. If you want to know whether a situation is profitable, let a west african business person look at it in order to work out the angles. The warehouse supervisor who charges the supplier to stamp the goods received note. The supplier’s rep who ‘lubricates’ the journey of the invoice through the finance department. The administration director who spend his time telling the stationery clerks from where to buy the stationery (and his %). There was a whole extra business involved in ensuring that OUR invoices got paid by OUR customers on OUR contracts and the sums in involved and the lubrication required were very very large. Our audited accounts and tax returns were dealt with in a similar fashion. Any such business operates its books and records, but these need to be combined with the offshore books and records in order to make any sense.

  • Gav

    Hasn’t it always been ‘quid pro quo’, no matter what department handles it? To think there have ever been any morals involved is rather romantic: they’re too costly, surely – it’s not a charity for God’s sake. Makes interesting reading learning about what lies behind the objections, though. “The world is on the brink of potentially the worst reversal in progress for children that we’ve seen since 1945,” said the head of Save the Children, while looking at his bank account.

    I have to say that not being the ‘white saviour’ type – de facto or misunderstood (to say the least) – I’m tempted to raise the corollary after your observation that if the people of these countries are smart enough to not deserve patronizing, then they can sort things out themselves. But no, I do understand that is not really an option. An inescapable mineral mire. Do I care? Well…

    So anyway, let’s get down to the essentials – the Chinese. Is this merger a sign that things are getting serious? Or rather, seriouser?

  • alexey

    Craig is quite right. I’ve worked in Africa for some time and I have to say envied the lifestyles of many of the aid workers I came across. Very large houses, big cars, with drivers, maids, international schools for the kids, not to mention everything else that came with it including a very high social status and the status of being seen as doing good as well as the macho shit that comes with staying in a poor place. Some were really quite snooty and full of the “I know africa” shit, largely consisting of sweeping generalisations. Not all organizations but many. VSO were quite good at embedding their volunteers in the local community and paying them local wages. But it struck me there were several things going on, no matter how you look at it, funding or budget support displaced local funding. Lots of social services being provided by NGOs means that governments face little demand for it and can instead, for example, spend more on the armed forces or security. Its also not very democratic for the same reason that the local people don’t turn to their government for help or ask it to provide services, they turn to NGOs.

    There’s loads of NGOs that just pitch up, like the (mostly) American christian missionary type who have aims such as orphanages or goats or something and not much of a plan.

    The other major effect I think is that there’s a population of largely professional people who are shipped off to foreign parts who find that they are allowed to feel they can make a difference in some way. They don’t do it in their own countries or looking at their own systems. Its almost like the donor countries ship out their potential activists to go and do some stuff elsewhere.

    The NGO’s and the DFIDs in most instances all live in an expat bubble of sorts. I was always struck by the large military American military presence you’d find in that mix also. Such a strange mix. Soldiers, god squad, professional consultants. The chinese on the other hand it seemed kept themselves to themselves and built infrastructure. The fact that DFID is being merged into the FCO probably won’t change a lot, it will the same cliques, the same people, probably not even shuffled around much other than the stickers on the doors.

  • Jen

    Hmm … the last I heard of strange things going on at Save the Children charity was that the widowed husband of the murdered British Labour politician Jo Cox was forced to quit his senior role there after several female employees at the organisation reported him for sexual harassment and other inappropriate behaviour he exhibited towards them.

    • Stonky

      Yes but the wife he was cheating on was murdered by a far-rightist, so he’s now a holy martyr and not at all like that nasty [pick your favourite #metoo target…]

      • Peter Collins

        He’s really not. The charity sector press reported extensively on this.

  • bevin

    As to Crimea the logic in its being handed over to Ukraine-at a time when Ukraine was a pillar off the USSR- was connected with the Soviet Union`s desire to boost the international credibility of those republics that it hoped would counterbalance the large number of western puppet regimes in the United Nations. Handing Ukraine Crimea was simply a paper transaction in the 1950s.
    At the time of the Maidan, however, Crimea`s strategic position as Russia`s main warm water port was not negotiable. The US wanted to take over Crimea and use it as a base for its aggression. It might have succeeded had it not thrown its support to the most obscurantist of Ukrainian nationalist forces, whose first action after the coup was to ban the use of the Russian language and to indulge in racist attacks upon Russian speakers (probably the great majority of Ukrainians), as well as using military force and death squads to suppress opposition.
    It is a trifle disingenuous to suggest that the matter of Crimeans separating `their home from fascist rule be left to the `democratic process`in a country in which Socialists are burned in Trade Union buildings, the Communist Party is banned from elections, the government is descended from Nazi collaborators, and the security forces include the sweepings of neo-nazi and skinhead thug gangs from across Europe.

  • Cynicus

    “ One of those is Owen Barder, whose work I generally admire and not only because his late father Brian was something of an intellectual mentor to me (and my boss in Nigeria).”
    Good to learn this connection with the late Sir Brian Barder. He too produced a wonderful blog -“Ephems”. For a spell I was a regular reader and occasional commenter. I was surprised that on one occasion he got a point of detail on the Scottish Parliament’s composition wrong and commented on the fact. He not only thanked me courteously, but effusively, over something not very consequential.

  • Stonky

    Guardiana Gobshite and BBC Wallah discuss Craig’s latest offering…

    “Have you seen this! It’s…”
    “I know! It’s just… Marvelous! Wonderful!”
    “They’re nearly all women!”
    “Sharp-elbowed female troughsnouters are finally getting their fair share of the swill!”
    “God be praised!”

  • frankywiggles

    America already has well over 800 overseas military bases. Why should it have had Crimea too? What is the greater good you saw coming of that?

  • Antonym

    Agree with most. Exception: Here the Muslim community has maintained a much greater sense of morality
    Biggest UK donor ‘Islamic Relief Worldwide’ (?!) is not about poverty but about the ‘right” ideology for themselves + also for the Establishment Anglo-Arab oil power club started by Lawrence “of Arabia”.

    • Laguerre

      I suppose an anti-Muslim comment was bound to emerge, once Islam got mentioned. Islamic Relief are not about ideology; they are not spreading Saudi theology, as they are not especially financed by Saudi (wise not to), as indicated by the graph. They have a right to choose a sector they work in – indeed they are probably very similar to Christian faith-based charities (other than Bible-Belt Fundie charities). The point being made was about the finance model, which looks a whole better than the others.

      • Antonym

        I have equal doubts about most Christian NGOs: their first motive is usually to “harvest souls” in competition with each other or with Islam. The Ego battle between organized religions is quite ugly. Lure pour locals with money in the form of free education / health care in exchange for conversion. Those who do that usually giggle this charade off at home shamefully – I know examples personally. Their neighbors might well find them weird but can understand their real motive.

      • Antonym

        The other joke is that bigger “donations” are fueled by 100% charity tax relief: might as well rename that charade tax relief. Your NHS misses out through this loop as well.
        Same thing happens in many other West European nations too, apart from the US and Islamic nations.

  • Willie

    Yes Craig, and the sham of many charities in the UK is equally shocking.

    At least we are a developed country, albeit a developed country on the decline, and do not need the absolutely crucial support that developing countries do.

    But this charitable rot starts at the top and you mention the big salaries paid to ex politicos. But it only a few weeks ago that our very own Prince Andrew was exposed as having abused charities when he used charity funds to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds wages to a member of his private staff. That there was no penalty save for the charity regulators requiring him ( or in fact his mammy ) to make reimbursement, helping yourself to that which you are not entitled, tells you that it’s ok, and there’s no sanction if you get caught.

    Interesting article Mr Craig and I’m sure a lot of folk will not be aware of the shams that so many charities are.

    • SeaGreen

      Shocking indeed. Appalling in fact. Personally I’m a republican (note the lower case r). There are also lots of charities who do outstanding work on almost no money at all. And there are some very big ones with huge budgets that do outstanding work too. There, I said it.

      But in an effort to forestall the general contumely: last year I met a French chap in India who places high-flying international graduates in slums to help enterprising people build businesses. These young grads have to commit for at least a year and guess what, nobody is paid at all in this organisation (including said saintly French chap). And it recruits 250+ new people annually. He told me that some of his hires stick around for 3-4 years. They are part of a generation of people who feel the need to make a difference, apparently.

  • Paul E

    I began to smell a rat a few years ago when a friend was employed as a consultant to advise on projects in Nigeria. This involved not only monthly air trips and luxury accomodation to Nigeria, but also monthly air trips and luxury accomodation to New York for meetings (for no discernible reason), all paid for out of the DfID “aid” budget.

  • David

    Working in a small company who have mapped, for example, Africa’s energy market

    the provision now of solar energy power stations and the infrastructure to integrate them with the local grid surprisingly, in quite a few places, generators are still the preferred technology. We do encourage Solar PV where it makes sense, and regularly invite to our base, male and female engineers from all over Africa, for training in appropriate technology, for some weeks. We show them SOTA, and it is very inspiring for all involved.

    One ‘trick’ that we have, we don’t go in at the Presidential or village-teacher level, like you do Craig – we communicate purely with the mayors: village, town, city elders. They adjust/interpret the ground truth of what our reports suggest, we encourage the mayors to network, to innovate, to send us their youth for training. Seems to be working very well, appropriately, so we are expanding our activities.

    • Spencer Eagle

      Mapped, for example, Africa’s energy market…..On the surface it all sounds worthwhile, but in reality all companies like yours are doing is giving Africa a ‘veneer’ of technology, on funding pushed your way because it looks good in the media. The guy that ferried Craig over the river can pay for stuff at his local market using the micro payment system on his smart phone – yup, Africa is one the largest and earliest adopters of cashless payment using phones. But the irony is he’s paddling a canoe hewn out logs, as they have been doing for thousands of years. They need fundamental industrialization, saw mills to produce the planks to build the boats and the bridges, not PV ‘power stations’ to charge smart phones.

      • David

        Sorry, I didn’t quite give the correct scale (we are a small team, but have an amazing impact, as well as doing lots of other stuff)

        many of our trainees implement 15Kwp systems, whatever is appropriate – there’s also minihydro, grid extension, diesel mini-grid available as well

        you can get an idea from the German BMZ ministry “DFID” = GIZ , Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit , who we have helped to go the right way..,

        “Off-grid renewable energy solutions are Cleaner, Cheaper & Smarter” 40 page pdf at

        and we’re pushing ahead with the mayor thing, now getting millions of points of interest from South America and elsewhere,
        we had ten per year until we started talking to the varied alcalde, now, millions of contacts…

        a phone charger can also be useful, even a single night LED for the house, but if UK ex-DFID now MI6 could think just a bit bigger…wider….less quid-pro-quo?

  • Smiling+Through

    Well said, Craig.

    Much the same is true of the bigger housing associations (HAs). They have developed a similar corporate mentality as successive governments have expanded their role while diminishing that of local councils.

    Their unelected senior staff are paid large salaries while their activities are not subject to any serious accountability and are not subject Freedom of Information inquiry.

    From their pioneering, small-scale days HAs now give sinecures to the likes of Theresa May’s hapless chief of staff Gavin Barwell:

    Housing asssociations are rarely of interest to the mainstream media, peopled as they are at senior levels by those with second homes who can afford to help their offspring on to the “housing ladder”.

    Democracy, accountability and transparency are long overdue in the murky housing association world.

    • Phil Espin

      I have rarely donated to big overseas aid charities for fuzzy reasons that this blog post brings into sharp focus. Thank you Craig, a real reminder! The two I support in Africa are Send a Cow and Tree Aid, both of which are small charities working directly with rural African communities. Show a man how to fish and all that. If i’ve got it wrong someone will no doubt correct me and suggest better avenues.

      The Catholic Orangemen of Togo is a great book, it should be on everyone’s shelf. It opened my eyes into amongst other more interesting things about how New Labour infiltrated its supporters into commercial companies exploiting Africa. I guess they did it across the board in accordance with the Mandy doctrine of no problem about people getting seriously rich.

  • Harry Bickerstaff

    Thanks for this most informative account of ‘aid’ to Africa.
    Once more, we have patronised black people, by doing things ‘for them’, which is, of course, is fundamentally racist in its thinking, with its assumption that Africans need someone else to tell them what to do and how to do it.
    An absolute eye-opener, Craig.
    Thank you

  • Muscleguy

    I wonder Craig what your views on China’s Belt and Road initiatives are? They have looked for eg at Africa and the lack of proper transport links between for eg Anglophone and Francophone West Africa where the colonials stopped the rail lines before the border for eg, and the paved roads too.

    China has linked those places up and plans more linkages. Do they do this so they can extract more resources more efficiently? Yes. But these links have increased local trade flows across those borders enormously.

    Yes China uses Chinese workers often to build these projects. But we use UK staff to do much the same only at higher salary levels as the managers.

    Countries are looking at the debt which is engendered by these projects and that is right. But if the increased prosperity is captured by local treasuries that debt should be payable. I find the Chinese system more honest and honourable than ours.

    • Muscleguy

      In the Pacific the Chinese have replaced the wooden wharves that NZ and Aussie aid has built with concrete wharves. They have built paved roads. Replaced grass runways with concrete. NZ and OZ wring their hands and worry about ‘lost influence in the Pacific’. A couple of years ago now a Cyclone ripped through Tonga. NZ and Oz asked what they needed and the Tongans replied ‘nothing from you, China will provide’.

      The Tongans find Chinese aid less hypocritical than white saviour syndrome from the Anglo societies in Australia and New Zealand.

    • Laguerre

      Belt and Road is not aid, as far as I understand it, but investment in those countries. Not quite the same thing, But I agree with you on the consequences.

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