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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  • Mary

    Charidee staff that went into Haiti after the earthquake behaved abominably.

    Oxfam failed to report child abuse claims in Haiti, inquiry finds
    Damning Charity Commission report warns incidents in country were not isolated events

    I do not give a single penny to large charities these days but I support charities where there is clarity.

    Some in the US. Millipede D is on the list.

  • Spencer Eagle

    Similarly, aid money has been misappropriated within the UK for decades through the cancer of ‘not for profit’ organisations. There are literally thousands of these vehicles for director enrichment operating in the UK, some admittedly doing good work but a vast majority sucking up good money in a fog of justification and worth. Much of the problem comes from the executives inability to distribute funding in a measured way, if you can present even a mildly plausible case, notably one that fits within a popular narrative such as jobs, environment or education the cheque is in the post.

  • andrew Hilton

    I agree. I worked five years at the WB (initially as a YP), and learned nothing about development. I never even knew you could turn right in a plane. But what about saying how aid should be done? DfID is/was hopeless, but who gets it right?

  • Neil Clifford

    In my extensive African experience even the best intentioned turn-key projects, advocated by Craig, rarely benefit the target population. Most turn-key projects, designed by western consultants, rarely work for long in Africa. I’ve seen a beautiful gravel plant in Tanzania that never did a day’s work because it required expensive fuel, & water bores that have almost never operated for the same reason. The more successful projects I have seen are windmill operated water bores provided by the Australian government & roads and bridges are good for a while but only for as long as maintenance is provided. The main purpose of foreign aid is to enable the donors to feel noble or in the case of the US to gain political influence. Amongst the more effective that I have seen are from China – railways, roads, urban drainage systems given with no quid pro quo.

    • Graham

      “Amongst the more effective that I have seen are from China – railways, roads, urban drainage systems given with no quid pro quo.”

      Do you really think the Chinese government are just handing out cash purely through altruism? Those favours will be called in sooner or later, whether it’s military bases, votes in the UN (e.g. against Taiwan – their official international support has dropped recently), trade agreements for raw materials supplied at disadvantageous rates, or keeping those same raw materials away from the US / European economies to stifle competition. Or whatever the current need is. It’s subtle economic imperialism rather than gunboats.

      Re: charity bosses, my wife works at a well known rich people’s department store in London and told me a few years ago that she would no longer donate cash due to the number of people she’d seen using their company cards at the store’s restaurants.

      • Mishko

        Do we really think the Chinese government is in it for the kindness of their hearts?
        Why would we think that? They are probably robbing them blind just like the Anglo’s.
        Except for the infrastructure parts, which western aid failed at on purpose.
        Lookie here, roads, bridges, railways! We always sort of knew this was among the possibilities,
        but to see these potentialities actualised… makes so much sense.

      • Jo Dominich

        Graham I don’t agree with you about China. We have to rid ourselves of this anti-China narrative. At least their investment is intelligent and focussed without any strings. You can’t get away from that fact.

    • Judith Gunn

      I read this article with some trepidation, anxious that my childhood in Tanzania may have been the consequence of the arrogant action of a “white saviour”, however unintended, and I do interrogate that in my life, I do. But it seems that the ODA that my father worked with, going out to work for PWD (Public Works Department) on local salary, as Chief Engineer for Dodoma, building roads and bridges, repairing the reservoir, while not without its issues, was a better, more practical model – but that was back in the Sixties, maybe the gravel plant was built since, but I know we went because my father wanted to offer something, not take something, government though is different.

    • Bayard

      “roads and bridges are good for a while but only for as long as maintenance is provided”

      How much maintenance does a concrete bridge need?

      • Kempe

        Events in Italy over the last year or two should answer that one for you.

        Big infrastructure projects look good but more often than not don’t help those who really need it. Quite the reverse as the poorest are turfed out of their homes to make way for the new road or whatever and not compensated. The Chinese strategy is to offer loans to pay for this stuff and when the country can’t pay accept some real estate, a major power station say, in lieu of.

        • Bayard

          “Events in Italy over the last year or two should answer that one for you.”
          Events in Italy over the last year or two mainly tell me that no amount of maintenance can make up for shoddy workmanship when the structure was built. Even without maintenance, Roman bridges lasted for centuries in the UK, a climate that is not kind to structures made from timber.
          It’s hardly worth pointing out that not all roads and very few bridges lead to people being turfed out of their homes, because you knew that anyway.

          • Kempe

            The road or railway that the bridge supports will need regular attention. The bridge will need regular inspection and cracks filled to prevent the ingress of rain water, flood damage and movement due to earthquakes and settlement are also a problem.

            The Westway in London suffered similar faults to the Italian bridges but regular maintenance checks discovered the problem early and it was strengthened before a collapse could occur.

  • conjunction

    I have a simple point to make about professionalism. i believe that all managers are extremely likely to become out of touch with the workers, even if they have come from the shopfloor. I myself once managed a residential home for people with severe learning disabilities and even though the residents frequently walked in and out of my office I was out of touch with the actual daily experience of my staff and as a result made wrong decisions sometimes, as a brave member of mystaff kindly pointed out to me. I solved this problem by putting myself on the rota once a week to do a shift.

    Good managers find a way of keeping in touch but they will have to go out of their way to find it.

    I am very grateful Craig for your African report. Having once spent three months in West Africa I am hungry for this kind of info.

    • Mishko

      Manager culture was introduced from good old USA because they set the trend and we follow.
      So here we are with a toxic layer of professional asshole narcissists on top of the work environment.
      Hip hip hooray neoliberalism! The only way! TINA!

  • Republicofscotland

    Here’s list of some chartity CEO’s salaries, its a few years old so I’d expect the salaries to be much higher now.

    Also I wonder if aid from the UK via the FCO in future will be allocated any differently or will it still be the same old under a new title.

    Also I tend to support, and will do when it opens again my local charity shop and not one of the UK wide ones.

    • Mishko

      Whether FCO moneys will be allocated differently or not, terrorists will receive their stimulus from the FCO.
      (or we accept that LeMesurier was the only character who liaised with fanatics, which is highly unlikely)

  • Ken Garoo

    “But I believe that the Russian occupations of Crimea and a section of Georgia are illegal, acts of military aggression”

    I would pay good money for the author to go to Crimea and tell the poor oppressed Crimeans about their dire straits. Ditto the South Ossetians.

    Here is why Crimeans voted to return to Russian sovereignty – a pogrom against Crimeans returning from the Maidan.

    • Logic Mint

      I also would like to point out a very unique fact about Crimea annexation: it is the only redefinition of borders that happened without victims, as far as I know, in recent and less recent history. This fact alone speaks volumes about the real intent of the population. There is no way that Russian troops could control the population that well, force them against their will, without violence sparking out from such a large mass of people, unless joining Russia was not their real intention. Of course the same is not true for all other cases… last time I was in Abkhazia, for example, people hosting me had loads of firearms in their home and recollected the last war. This is unthinkable in Crimea.

      • Tim Rideout

        If you go back before 1900 then the majority of the Crimean population were Tartars who are a Turkic people, originating because Crimea was under Ottoman control for a long period. They were deported en masse to Uzbekistan by Stalin in 1944. After 1967 some have been allowed back, but I believe today they are less than 15% of the population. So whoever the current population are they are mostly relatively recent arrivals in the last 150 years. That would suggest a lot are probably ethnic Russians hence the support for the annexation (or re-annexation) to Russia (which of course goes back to 1856 and the Charge of the Light Brigade and all that at the time of the Crimean War – a failed attempt to keep the Csar out).

  • Peter

    Excellent Craig. Just bloody excellent – one of your finest pieces I would say, amongst a host of contenders for that title – thank you.

    That of which you write is, of course, entirely representative and symptomatic of the deteriorating state of this country.

    Articles like this should be heading the Today programme and news reports for several successive days – not such as the Cummings nonsense.

    And the b******s at the top want to put you in jail for your writing – again, symptomatic and representative …

    Long may you thrive and strong may be your support, if needed, in the coming weeks and months – count me in.

  • SA

    This is part of a process of Americanization of UK. The process started by Margaret Thatcher and then accelerated by Blair’s government. This alignment, not limited to UK, is a corporatization of all publicly owned facilities by privatisation , outsourscing, PPI and so on. The process also has a linguistic component so we started having CEOs instead of Directors and managers, Marshals instead of guards, law enforcement agencies instead of police and so on. Recently Johnson instead of talking about schoolchildren in relation to reopening of schools, refered to children as ‘kids’. The process is now going to become completed after we strike a chlorinated-chicken, GMO-crops, growth hormone-treated-beef deal with the US. This will be slipped together with a no-deal Brexit. This is all happening quietly and come January we shall all be celebrating being the 51st state. No wonder the lockdown is being lifted on the highly symbolic date of the 4th of July.

    • Blunt Gaper

      I think the chlorinated chicken and hormone beef are red herrings.
      Johnstone will make a big play of doing some “deal” about them. The real issue is opening up UK markets to the no.1 agricultural exporter in the world.

  • Geoff

    Approximately 2% of this important and well considered article is concerned with Russia, and simply tries to suggest a slightly more nuanced approach than painting an entire nation as either perfect or evil. The comment wasn’t central to the article, simply trying to put a viewpoint into perspective.


    Yet half the comments here are screaming that its unfair to say that Russia is less than perfect in everything. Why are so many so protective that they’re blind to any other issue? The Russia question has been done to death on here, and yet the blinkers come on and 98% of the article is ignored in the race to be the loudest in the herd.

    This Russia before everything attitude killed the old medialens message board, and i know many of you here were part of that too, Please lets have less drum beating here.

    I guess I’ll get my coat…

    • Phil Espin

      I agree Geoff. I disagree with Craig’s view about Crimea but it does not detract for me from this excellent piece.

      • Logic Mint

        I agree – actually I wanted to add something on the 98%.
        It is about the Italian reconstruction contracts that were signed between Ghaddafi and Berlusconi right before NATO decided to destroy Libya entirely. These projects, albeit under the questionable justification of “war reparations” by Italy, were indeed turnkey projects, the most notable of whose was a national highway to be built by Italian companies. Both countries would have benefited, Libya with a new infrastructure, and Italy with some badly needed support for its economy. What I want to add here is that not only the establishment is now against turnkey projects, but it also actively engaged in an extremely violent and dishuman war to make sure that they would not have been built. This is the extent of the corruption that permeates the false message of “helping poor neighbors”.

    • Stonky

      “2%… Yet half the comments here are screaming that it’s unfair to say that Russia is less than perfect in everything…”

      Well done on measuring the 2%. Pity about the bit that followed. You know, the bit about “half the comments are screaming etc…”

      Out of the 100-odd comments posted so far, there isn’t a single one “screaming that it’s unfair to say that Russia is less than perfect in everything…”

      That’s not a single one as in none. As in zero.

      Apart from that, good post. And don’t let the door skelp your arse on the way out.

  • Mary

    The Executive Director of Save the Children UK is one Kirsty McNeill. In 2018, she was being paid £100,000. She is also ‘on the board of the Holocaust Educational Trust and is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.’

    The latter would be a branch of the US CFR, a right wing think tank – Kissinger, Albright, Burns et al. There’s a long list of gangsters-in-charge.

    ‘Previously, she founded a consultancy advising some of the world’s leading charities and spent three years as a Special Adviser in Number 10. She came to Downing Street having led the policy and influencing work of DATA, Bono and Bob Geldof’s advocacy organisation, in Britain, Germany, France, Italy and the EU institutions. Before joining DATA she was on the board of Make Poverty History and managed the Stop AIDS Campaign, successfully negotiating a commitment to universal access to AIDS treatment from the 2005 G8. Today she is on the board of the Holocaust Educational Trust and is a member of the European Council on Foreign Relations.’

    YCNMIU but at least Justin Forsyth has gone. After Save the Children, he went on to UNICEF but they let go of him when the sexual harassment allegations came out. He retweets BLiar on his own Twitter and this is his biography as he sees it.
    He has set himself up as a management consultant. North End Strategy Ltd and has a new mouth to feed, having remarried and become a father. He started life as a chef. Should have stuck to cooking.

  • Giyane

    I worked as a volunteer at a charity for homeless people with alcohol relsred problems . My supervisors trained volunteers in a broad range of related areas. To be eligible to be a volunteer you had to be part of that cycle of despair that is alcohol addiction, so that you could understand the issues subjectively and then participate in practical assistance.

    I may say that I have seen outreach workers last winter helping homeless people find somewhere to stay outside my local Tesco and that is much more demonstrably useful than anything we were able to do. But our work consisted mainly in reaching out passively and often in silence to people whose psyche’s were challenged by the same psychological issues as our own, the cycle of reaching out to help an addict, getting rejected, and trying to find more inner resources to cope with the rejection in order to repeat the same process the next day.

    My grandfather’s addiction to alcohol was the result of three generations of being millionaires. Money has no solution to British racism when you are from France. Money is not in itself interesting. Money attracts criminals like sewage attracts flies.

    So I draw the painful conclusion that whatever millions these charity sector gaffers get paid, their own children , like for example Muhammad bin Salman, will curse the parents for its legacy.
    What would he give to be poor a taxi driver in the city over which he is overlord, rather than be the abuser and murderer of innocents on a daily basis?

  • Stevie Boy

    It’s funny how often the refrain is made that ‘we have to pay top rates to attract the best’. Unfortunately, the evidence is that those on huge salaries in industry, local and central government are not the best, they are just members of a self supporting club, or gravy train.
    The system is corrupt, foreign aid is not there to aid foreigners just as insurance is not there to protect policy holders it’s all smoke and mirrors to fool people trying to do the right thing ! It’s a sick world.

    • Bayard

      It’s easier to understand why that refrain is being made when you look at who’s making it.

  • Marmite

    I won’t mourn. I stopped all donations to and volunteering for charities a while ago. I only regret the years I was swindled by those scumbag CEOs.

    I still support Friends of the Earth and World Wildlife Fund, hoping perhaps naively that they are different.

      • Mishko

        WWF was founded by the late prince Bernard from the royal dutch House of Oranje.
        Rumor has it that he hunted elephants from within a helicopter and that the anti poaching material / weaponry
        also served to support violent encursions into neighbouring territories.

  • Tom74

    Why not reform the department then? We didn’t close the Foreign Office and MI6 after they lied to the Brtish people about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, with all the billions of pounds and lives that cost. The faults of the DfID seem on a much smaller scale to that and would be relatively easily rectified. If the broader culture of government is to blame, then closing the department would obviously solve nothing anyway.

  • Dr Adrian Dubock

    Thank you Craig for your analysis. I have worked on Golden Rice ( for 20 years. The technology involved has been controversial. Your view of DiFid (which i share, but without your grasp of the detail) is similar to my view of UNICEF, WHO, FAO – all of whose employees, and therefore their organisations, studiously ignore showing the slightest interest in a free-to-Governments-and-users additional intervention for Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) which kills about 4,500 poor children daily, and is the largest cause of blindness in children. Embracing modern technology is more controversial than the preventable deaths of 1 – 2 million poor children annually. VAD kills more than HIV, Malaria, TB, Ebola and Covid-19 – but is ignored.

    • Alexander Harper

      Very interesting point, Dr Adrian, I hadn’t been aware that VAD was such a killer, thanks for the info.

      • Kempe

        Golden Rice is a GMO and has been opposed for that reason alone by Greenpeace and others activists who have destroyed experimental crops in the Philippines. Meanwhile children continue to die.

        • Thomas

          GMOs are not the answer and as you indicate, that alone is good enough reason to stay away from not so “Golden Rice” Further, Golden Rice only contains a vitamin precursor, which not all people can convert to the true vitamin.

          • Kempe

            Beta-carotene; most if not all Vitamin A rich plants carry the vitamin as the same precursor and if you can’t convert it you are in serious trouble.

    • John A

      Golden rice is a very expensive and not proven way to overcome vitamin A deficiency. Treatment for subclinical VAD includes the consumption of vitamin A–rich foods, such as liver, beef, chicken, eggs, fortified milk, carrots, mangoes, sweet potatoes, and leafy green vegetables. For VAD syndromes, treatment includes daily oral supplements. All the above far more cost effective than the shining city on the hill that is golden rice propaganda from the GMO brigade.
      Basically, if everyone in the world was paid a living wage, most of these deficiencies would disappear.

    • nevermind

      One of your best writing Craig, thank you for highlighting this blatant moneygrab of large international and national charities.

      @Dr. Dubock. Could you explain to us how much rice a child would have to eat to get its daily allowance/ need of vit. A?
      As I understand most green leafed vegetables, diary products, sweet potatoes, oranges eggs, and a plethora of others foods are already containing vit A.?

      Lastly, is Golden rice a product of conventional breeding or is it genetically engineered?

    • Mishko

      Dr. Dubock, Adrian: what has become of the goldenrice project? From what I have read on anti-GMO websites,
      goldenrice was developed but did not deliver.
      If we just take a cursory glance at this VAD problem, the first suggestion would likely be nutrition through diverse foodstaples
      as opposed to a magic bullet/wonderpill provided by applied GMOs. GMOs->Roundup->pollution and cancer.

  • Peter Collins

    Lots of issues here, and I agree with the general thrust. However, as you acknowledge at the end of your piece, the merging of DfID into the FCO is a cynical move to link aid much more closely with British ‘interests’, so it can only be a retrograde step. I wonder about the ethics, too, of aid continually bypassing the local or central authorities in the target country, especially if they were elected – surely that would be even more of the ‘white saviour’ effect you talk about. But, yes, in general you are right about the green light this gives to corruption. On the issue of high executive pay in the charity sector, this is indeed the subject of much discussion. Yes, there is a moral argument against it, though in some senses I would prefer people to be paid a lot of money to do (some) good than to shuffle money around in the City. I’m not sure you proved the link between high salaries and lots of government money coming in, and the appalling sexual and human rights abuses that have afflicted some household-name charities. There are plenty of smaller organisations with tiny incomes where these things happen. Human nature? The other truth about the charity sector in general is that most are tiny organisations, with few staff, run mainly by volunteers and doing exceptional work in resource-light situations. The Oxfams of this world are not typical. Good piece though.

  • Bayard

    Years ago someone made the point to me that all international aid was, ultimately, paid in sterling and the only place anyone can spend sterling is the UK, so effectively, all the money spent in international aid ends up buying stuff from the UK. The ultimate beneficiary is the UK economy, so not poor Africans, but rich Britons.

  • Fredi

    The concept that that money alone produces better results the more that is offered has been thoroughly discredited. Paying people adequately is essential, but overpaying usually brings about worse outcomes.
    Mr Pink has done some great research regarding the science of motivation.This is a must watch for those interested in what gets the most out of people, surprisingly some of the greatest outcomes were achieved by people not being paid at all, Wikipedia is a good example, most of the content was given at very little cost by passionate people working for nothing.

    The puzzle of motivation | Dan Pink

  • Laurie Joshua

    The announcement to merge UK DFID with the FCO is not a surprise. But, the timing clearly was…

    The prospect of a merger had been signalled by Boris Johnson soon after he came to office. Indeed, his first act was to install joint Ministers of State to cover common policy briefs across the FCO and DFID while retaining separate Secretaries of State for the FCO (Dominic Raab) and DFID (Anne-Marie Trevelyan). This measure was a stepping stone towards merger under the slogan of “Global Britain” Most observers believed an actual decision on whether or not to merge DFID and the FCO would be taken after completion of the integrated foreign policy, defence, security and international development review led by John Bew from Policy Exchange.

    So I was thrown by the fact that Boris Johnson decided to announce the merger ahead of the review submitting its report, and ahead of the next spending round. The timing of the announcement appears not have been predicated on a strategy, but on short-term PR driven tactics to deflect attention away from the performance of the government on COVID and the U-turn on free school meals. A more worrying interpretation of the timing suggests the UK has lost its strategic compass. Indeed, Matt Hancock claimed the merger was not even discussed in cabinet. Merging DFID into the FCO is not part of the solution to the UK’s problems, and could easily end up compounding existing challenges.

    No doubt some sections of the media will convince the public that the merger of DFID into the FCO is a success and that getting rid of what Boris Johnson described as the “gigantic cash point in the sky” is a significant achievement. A few UK Ambassadors might rub their hands at the prospect of getting their hands-on chunks of the DFID budget. But they are likely to be disappointed. This is because over 60% of DFID’s budget is allocated to 47 multilateral organisations including the World Bank (IDA and IBRD), the UN (UNDP, ILO, WHO, etc), Regional Development Banks (Asia Development Bank, African Development Bank etc), and a series of specialised global vertical funds (covering vaccines, HIV/AIDs/TB, climate change etc). The UK has made long term commitments to these multilateral bodies, so budgets cannot easily be switched or re-negotiated. DFID began reducing its sector budget support operations a while ago, and its contribution to international NGOs (like Oxfam, Save the Children, Plan International etc) is minuscule.

    If the UK rescinds its obligations to multilateral organisations a less “Global Britain” will be the outcome. So, over the medium-term I cannot see the merger amounting to much beyond window-dressing. However, one area where we are likely to see a more immediate change is in the definition of what constitutes Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) – as defined by the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC). The UK may decide it no longer wants to abide by the OECD definition, and will seek to embed the FCO budget and defence spending into the mix. This specific change will, in the government’s eyes, give meaning to the slogan “Global Britain”, generate favourable headlines in the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. But, managing the FCO-DFID merger will expend political, financial and administrative capital – all of which are in short supply and would be better deployed in expanding the government’s bandwidth for addressing Brexit, the global economic fall-out from COVID, climate change etc

    Meanwhile, I and many others will look back at the good fortune we had to work in DFID at time when it was bound with optimism and enthusiasm. Those times are captured in a recent book Ending Global Poverty: Four Women’s Nobel Conspiracy by Constantine Michalopolous – former Senior Economic Adviser at the World Bank in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region – see:

    PS: We met in Lagos in the late 1980s/early 1990s when I worked with Tom Harris and Brian Barder on a joint Home Office/FCO/DOH programme on drug and child trafficking between West Africa and the UK. I believe you then worked in the Commercial Section. I worked in DFID between 1998-2003 in Eastern and Central Europe and the Balkans, but subsequently went freelance to work with the World Bank, the EU, GIZ and UNDP.

  • Kim Sanders-Fisher

    As this toxic Tory Government lurches from one disastrous plan to the next I have been contributing regular comments on the 2nd Elections Aftermath Discussion Forum where I expound on the Covert 2019 Rigged Election with the dire need to investigate what happened and remove this corrupt Government from office ASAP. Only a few days ago I wrote about the demise of DfiD saying, “The Boris Johnson wrecking ball swung into action today with him announcing an extremely poorly timed merger. In a Canary Article that spells out the implications of yet another disastrous plan for gross mismanagement they report that, “The prime minister has announced he is to scrap the Department for International Development (DfiD) in a merger with the Foreign Office.”

    I think the Foreign Aid budget should be maintained as a ring-fenced source of funding, but my concern over this latest harebrained scheme wasn’t because I thought our Foreign Aid budget was being spent wisely on vital projects, but because I fear it will become a lot more like the unhealthy coercive control model used by America to exploit countries in the Developing World. I saw firsthand how much charitable money was squandered when I went out to Aceh, Indonesia as a Medical volunteer after the Boxing Day tsunami. There were far too many highly paid NGO functionaries who expected to be mollycoddled in a disaster battered combat zone while they conducted masses of redundant assessments, many of which were never actually used.

    Which country offers effective Development Aid with the minimal demand for pay-back? Without a doubt I would have to say Cuba. With their impressive program of Medical Diplomacy, they have supplied and trained doctors all over the globe and the world’s largest Medical School is in Havana. There are aspects of the Cuban model we should consider emulating in terms of increasing our positive impact overseas. I admit I did a ten country “Needs Assessment of Anaesthesia Care in sub-Saharan Africa” in 2009, but it stimulated my design work and seeing the damage done by our morally bankrupt policy of scavenging Medical Personnel from countries who can ill afford to train them prompted me to devise a more collaborative solution.

    Well before the disastrous Brexit vote I was busy writing up a set of proposals for “Collaborative Circular Migration.” The first I worked on involves setting up mutually beneficial Medical Training programs, in stable countries where the cost of living and tuition is low, with UK and locals paired throughout their training. Another involves a concept for “Mentorship Diplomacy;” encouraging people to retire overseas offering part-time skills training via VSO. A third targets a Collaboration involving so-called “Economic Migrants”” in an “Earn, Learn and Return” scheme. Craig some time ago I sent you copies of these proposals; I wondered if you ever had a chance to read them as, given your extensive experience overseas, I would be really interested in your opinion on the viability of these concepts.

    A Charity I still support is SCI Foundation, formerly the “Schistosomiasis Control Initiative,” out of Imperial College London. They provide vital humanitarian Healthcare solutions at genuinely low cost with a program targeting the eradication of parasitic diseases in Africa. Recommended as a top charity for International Development by GiveWell, who provide a break-down of how the donated money is spent by each charity listed. SCI manage to devote the maximum of donated funds to practical work on the ground to get a lot accomplished on a modest budget. When I first donated just 50p could treat 2 people once a year for 7 Neglected Tropical Diseases so I save 50p coins! I still poke around charity shops for unusual items, but they are getting so up-market now.

    I think we can agree that it is not the Foreign Aid itself that is so pernicious, but the way it is corruptly allocated to divert huge sums of money back into the greedy pockets of our wealthy elite in the UK. I believe that in reality there is a massive unpaid debt that we owe to almost every single one of the commonwealth countries that we plundered in the name of the British Empire. I used to think that a progressive socialist Government here in the UK might be persuaded to implement the “Collaborative Circular Migration” proposals that offer a fair, mutually beneficial solution for the management of migration that would render Brexit totally redundant. Since the Covert 2019 Rigged Election I have been trying to fight back to get this injustice overturned before we sink into decades of Tory dictatorship under Dominic Herd Nerd Cummings after he forces crash-out Brexit on his puppet, Boris Man-Baby Johnson. Procrastinate at your peril as the PM directs his “Covicide” cull and “Democracy” morphs into “Dominicracy;” Take Action and Join our Forum.

  • LorPak

    I did geography at Uni in the late ’80s. We did “regional geography” which include subjects like China, France, Africa. In retrospect that sounds quite racist. Anyway, I did all 3, all with good lecturers. It wasn’t as easy to fact-check things in those days, so this may be total rubbish; but we were taught that British Aid in Africa at the time involved lending African nations money, with slightly reduced interest, but they had to spend on goods and services bought from the UK i.e. they paid to support our economy and banking, which didn’t stop the media reporting that Britain was squandering taxpayer money overseas.

    • Bayard

      As I asked above, if we lent them sterling, where else were they going to spend it than the UK?

  • John Manning

    With regard to your article about the DfID, I have given up criticizing charities because of the few at the top who exploit them. Think of the many who who are at least trying to do some good. The ones without big salaries, the ones doing a little to help each day. I make donations for them even though they may receive less than half the donation.

    But on another matter why do you criticize Russia’s 2014 intervention in Crimea? My understanding of the history of Crimea is that under the soviet system it was an independent republic: one of the second tier republics which required new legislation to be confirmed by the soviet government before being enacted. On the dissolution of the USSR, Crimea’s legislature expressed a wish to be an independent state, albeit with a special relationship with Ukraine. In 1996 without any reference to the Crimean legislature, Ukraine annexed Crimea by creating a republican state which included Crimea. They did however leave the Crimean legislature intact.
    In 2014 when a coup overthrew the Ukrainian government the Crimean legislature did not accept the new unlawful government in Kiev and sought protection from Russia. They then held a referendum (the first time Crimea was given a choice about its overlord) to decide whether to be Russian or Ukrainian. Unsurprisingly they chose Russia, Crimea being 65% ethnically Russian.
    The soviets stole the old Crimea in the 1920’s under the rule of Stalin. Russia did not steal it in 2014.

    So what is your argument against Russia’s actions in this regard?

    • Piotr+Berman

      One can point to some inaccuracies in what you wrote, but the main point where we agree is: the opinion of the population should have some bearing on the judgement we make. Why are such opinions important in Catalonia and Scotland, and not in Crimea?

      BTW, in polls, Ukrainians of Crimea respond identically to Russians of Crimea, “nationality” often means “ancestry” which is not strongly related to political opinions and allegiance. At the time of dissolution of Soviet Union and the following period, it mattered very little to common people in which state they were formally citizen, the travel was free, the economic connections were preserved, education was as before etc. Over time, Russia recovered from the deep post-Soviet depression and Ukraine did not, Ukrainian government was increasingly inclined to “Ukrainization”, imposition of Ukrainian language, economic ties were increasingly torn, and the takeover by extreme Ukrainian nationalists was assuring deeper misery and some outright personal danger.

      In effect, Crimeans were like inhabitants of the town in Ghana on the other side of the fallen bridge, neglected because of their antipathy to the government that was additionally fueled by that neglect.

  • John Monro

    Thank you Craig for your enlightening entry. Sad, depressing. But no surprise, isn’t “austerity” African politics and economics imported into the UK?
    In regard to Crimea, I strongly disagree though. Russia really had no choice but to take back Crimea, which only temporarily became part of Ukraine. My understanding is that the vast majority of Crimeans, except the Tartars and expat Ukrainians, were more than happy to have Russia be their guardian. Ukraine is no less corrupt than Russia, but the Ukraine is neo-fascist and is for the most part run by the CIA. A referendum in the Crimea overwhelmingly supported Russia’s take over (and before anyone says how can you trust a referendum in an occupied country, that’s a bit rich, considering we’re supposed to recognise election results in Iraq and Afghanistan, the difference is of course we’re the good guys, the Russians are just the Ruskies) The hypocrisy stinks. I believe the Russian take over averted a civil war and saved tens of thousands of innocent lives and much additional misery. The sanctions against Russia are just another failed power play by a nearly foundering USA state and Europe should have nothing to do with them.

  • Tim

    Hmm. Some I agree with, some I profoundly disagree with, some in between.

    Top line: as with ALL parts of government and indeed any large, complex enterprise, there are lots of problems in aid and international development (not the same thing). HOWEVER, it is *very* hard to see how folding DFID into the FCO will make any of these better, and there is a real risk it will make many of them much worse. Fundamentally, this seems like the wrong decision (makes aid serve UK foreign policy interests rather than those of the recipient country – something I would have thought you would be wary of), taken for the wrong reasons (a sop to elements of the Conservative party base and papers such as the Mail, and a helpful distraction from the government’s shortcomings on covid-19 response), implemented in the wrong way (no consultation, no analysis of implementation options, no thought to the practicalities of combining two different departments, budgets, IT systems..), at exactly the wrong time (in the middle of multiple, inter-connected global crises – a fast-spreading pandemic and global economic crash bigger than 2008, when UK revenue and budgets are collapsing and most civil servants working from home: really, is this the time? Seriously? Are there perhaps not some other things we should be focusing on?).

    The fundamental issue, Craig, is that this has been justified by the Prime Minister primarily in terms of making aid and development policy serve the UK national interest. That is just wrong. Aid is meant to benefit the recipient, not the giver: when you are thinking about what to give, and to whom, and how, based on your own interest, then it ain’t really aid. If there is a Venn diagram between the two objectives of UK interest and ‘good’ aid, there is overlap, but it is definitely not perfect, and most of the overlap only exists if you take a long-term view – it is in our long-term interest to have a peaceful, prosperous, more egalitarian world) – whereas much foreign policy is of necessity reactive and very short-term. Aid should be focused on (i) where it is needed most (the poorest people in the poorest countries) and (ii) where it can work. Those two are already in tension with each other a lot of the time: balancing these (do we avoid working in the really tough countries, with large numbers of desperately poor people, because there is a higher risk of failure?) is kind of what aid professionals spend their life trying to do. But if you then throw in ‘well, what does it mean for UK PLC?’ then you are screwed. When you start saying that aid should serve our foreign policy, you are opening the door to tied aid (aid must be used to buy British, even if that is not the best value for money) and eventually embarrassing, morally bankrupt fiascos such as the Pergau dam affair.

    If you wanted to be optimistic, you could hope that folding DFID into the FCO would get the best of both worlds. Realistically, I think the overall quality of the UK’s aid will sink. DFID’s aid efforts are more clearly focused on poverty than those of the FCO. DFID routinely scores highly for programme performance and transparency in management of ODA; the FCO – while improving over time – routinely scores much, much lower: see reports by ICAI, the International Development Select Committee, many others. Reviews of experience bringing aid agencies under the ministry of foreign affairs in Australia, Canada and Norway suggest it brings few benefits and many problems. And NAO and Institute of Government analysis of experience with merging UK departments suggests *minimum* immediate cost of £15m; and around £200m over a horizon of a few years. Do we have this kind of money to be throwing around?

    On to the detail. Like you, I am uncomfortable with the size of senior NGO salaries: I don’t see that people doing good work (and most are) should have to live hairshirt existences but yes, these numbers are excessive. But why do you think any of this will change with DFID folded into the FCO? If anything, the ‘national interest’ case for the merger means we are likely to see more, not less, of total ODA going to large UK-headquartered international NGOs of the type you criticise, and less to smaller, more modest, hopefully national NGOs.

    Infrastructure: yes, absolutely essential. The aid world made a mistake by substantially withdrawing from building stuff for a considerable period (in part because well-meaning NGOs often campaigned against big projects) – but to be honest, that has been corrected over the last decade, with substantial amounts going into infrastructure now. And it isn’t as simple as you make out – even after decades of hammering home the importance of operations and maintenance, and fitting projects funded by particular donors into, say, and overall national roads plan, you will still find countries with sections of roads built at great cost by different donors which then decay five years later because there is no budget and no support to units in the Ministry to actually keep it in working order. Which is where the case for budget support came from and which, despite all it’s problems, does get beyond a situation where you have multitudes of donors (or ambassadors…) doing their own individual pet projects based on their own individual perceptions of what matters or where they can plant a flag and sell it to taxpayers with minimum controversy, rather than what is strategic and builds domestic capacity and democratic accountability.

    So: I agree with many of your critiques of aid practice; there are many ways in which they could and should be improved; but DFID was clearly among the least bad; and the proposed merger is likely to make things far, far worse, not better. Not sure why you can’t see that.

  • Jo Dominich

    I have, for many years now being a loud and vocal critic of the Charity sector in this country. I do not, as a matter of principle, donate to any charity int this country as 98% of it goes straight into the Charity administration budget – hence, these highly paid executives, highly paid staff and very little or no value for money. What they produce is not visible because it is Local Authority’s that deliver most of the key services. The only thing you see them do actually is mount very expensive advertising campaigns asking for more money. I am personally sick of these adverts. It is not about the vulnerable people because only 2% of the money spent goes on them and then not on very good services. I don’t know if anyone here read the Medicins Sans Frontiers (the only charity I donate to incidentally) after the first Tsunami that hit on Boxing day. What it says about the charities and aid agencies is damning and well evidenced. It said five years later not one penny, yes that’s right, not one penny of the money donated had been used to rebuild houses, communities, schools etc. It had gone straight to the charities and used for their own purposes. It damns charities like Save the Children. They said the charities to whom money had been donated were more concerned with using the incident to raise their own profiles and raise more money for themselves than to help the communities they were meant to serve.

    I am not sure whether this is widely known but the charitable sector in this country is worth more than the entire agricultural industry put together. Now that should be a national scandal. I can tell you from my own professional career that these charities employ poorly skilled staff who are merely ‘yes’ people, poorly skilled managers and promote only internally. They deliver services that are well below par in terms of quality and that only serve a very small sector of the community. Age Concern and Barnardos are two good examples of this. In-depth experience of Barnardos allows me to state with 100% that, they will, even in the most shocking of circumstances, defend their staff to the hilt and seek to defend their image and themselves rather than conduct investigations into financial fraud. I am doing the second edit of a book I am writing about this. The level of corruption is shocking.

    As far as I am concerned, people shouldn’t be fooled by these adverts. They shouldn’t donate one single penny more unless these charities can provide properly audited and documented evidence of where all this money goes. It certainly isn’t to the vulnerable people.

  • Tatyana

    In my opinion, in Mr. Murray’s position on the Crimea there are several axioms that, in my opinion, are incorrect assumptions.

    For example, he believes that the Crimean Tatars are the indigenous Muslim population of the Crimea, which of course is not true. Secondly, Mr. Murray considers the mass deportation of Crimean Tatars to be a brutal act of Stalin, without considering the actual reasons for his decision. Thirdly, Mr. Murray discovers ignorance of Russia’s efforts to resettle the Crimean Tatars and restore their culture and their rights, he continues to believe that they are still oppressed and infringed on their rights. Fourth, Mr. Murray, in his own words, has several acquaintances from the Crimean Tatars; obviously, he trusts their opinion and their assessment.

    Unfortunately, he did not specify whether those Crimean Tatars live in Crimea, or are they his acquaintances from the Tatars living in Uzbekistan, who have long ago settled in their new homeland among culturally and religiously close population, with an established life and their own plans for future, who simply don’t think of moving to the Crimea, but remember that once upon a time… their ancestors were abused by a state which generally doesn’t exist anymore … but compensation is never bad…

    Honestly, I don’t like such psychological motivation, I don’t respect it, I see it in anti-Semitism blaming, racism blaming, in the BLM movement – everywhere the same thing “my ancestors suffered from your ancestors, so today you owe me.”
    Everytime I think ” I’m sorry, but what have I to do with the sins of my ancestors? I can say I’m sorry, I’m very very sorry. I condemn those crimes. I’m not going to commit those crimes again. That’s all I can do.” The problem is – they are never happy with “I’m sorry” it’s always about some sort of profit, e.g financial compensation or social privilege.

    • Tatyana

      Remembering that English is not my native language and Western realities and stereotypes of social behavior are unfamiliar to me, I clarify – in my commentary I emphasize the emotional component. Namely, at the sight of injustice, I can feel regret, I can feel anger, I can feel the desire to help to restore justice, I can feel shame for the misbehavior of my ancestors.
      But it is completely useless to make me feel guilty for a crime which I did not commit, and it’s useless to assure me that I should be punished for the crime. It’s nonsense.
      In a nutshell, I will help because I consider it’s right to help, and not because I am to blame.

      Too many and too often want to force me to do something, and I do not want to be a naive victim of such manipulations. I generally believe that the search for those guilty of historical events has only educational value, but not practical value. Conflicts must be resolved, negotiated, forgiven and forgotten. Life is short and spending it on digging into negative is bad decision. While we quarrel, our neighbors cooperate build and prosper.

    • Nick

      Agreed 100 percent Tatyana
      Where there’s blame, there’s a claim.
      American influence creeping into rights movement (an apology isn’t enough, we want cash!)

  • Blissex

    «But I believe that the Russian occupations of Crimea»

    The point about this is about hypocrisy: Crimea first became independent and seceded from the Ukraine with an independence referendum whose outcome was certainly not manipulated. Crimean independence was a very popular move in Crimea given the “ruthenian” anti-russian policies; then understandably newly independent Crimea asked to join the Russian Federation as a member state. I think nobody even tries to argue than Crimean independence happened against the wishes of the crimean citizens, or the subsequent request to join the Russian Federation as a member state was not supported by an equally overwhelming majority of Crimean citizens.

    The hypocrisy I see is that our blogger is a scottish nationalist, and I guess he would be outraged if once Scotland had declared independence and joined the European Union it were claimed that was the result of european military aggression (which of course many english supremacists would say).

    «and a section of Georgia are illegal»

    I guess this is a reference to south Ossetia, where there were russian military forces s a result of an agreement with the Georgian government, as peacekeepers. Those peacekeepers were attacked by the georgians some years ago, as a prelude to an “ethnic cleansing” of south Ossetia. The attack was so vile that even the “Telegraph” and the BBC reported:
    “5:13PM BST 08 Aug 2008
    World leaders have appealed for a ceasefire in the conflict, which erupted after Georgia launched a huge offensive aimed at imposing its control over the rebel province with its large Russian population. Separatist leaders in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali claim that more than a thousand people have been killed in Georgian shelling.”
    “Tensions came to head in early August 2008, when, after nearly a week of clashes between Georgian troops and separatist forces, Georgia launched a concerted air and ground assault attack on South Ossetia’s main city, Tskhinvali.”

    Even the most sordid propaganda could not hide the essential fact of who did the “military aggression”.
    “Fatefully, the Georgian leadership attempted to pre-empt further Russian aggression and advanced into Ossetian territory. In doing so, they allowed Russia to claim that Georgian aggression started the war.”

    «acts of military aggression.»

    We all mourn the dozens of thousands of victims of russian bombings of Kievs, Lviv, Sevastopol, Yalta, Tblisi, and we all remember the photos of columns of russian tanks advancing through the rubble in those ukranian and georgian cities; while we cannot forget that USA and UK troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia, Libya were welcomed with garlands of flowers. 🙂

  • Kempe

    ” The hypocrisy I see is that our blogger is a scottish nationalist, and I guess he would be outraged if once Scotland had declared independence and joined the European Union it were claimed that was the result of european military aggression “

    What if that once Scotland declared independence English troops appeared across the country, wearing no identifying badges, and forced their way into Holyrood. What if the Scottish government then strangely forced out Nicola Sturgeon in favour of an unknown unionist (with possible links to organised crime) who then declared a referendum which gave Scots the choice between union with England or an even worse deal. IE a return to independence was not an option? What if MSPs who voted for the referendum were relieved of their ‘phones and voting cards by English soldiers as they entered the debating chamber which was also barred to independent journalists. What if the referendum took place without any accredited international observers and produced the result Westminster wanted with a suspiciously high turnout?

    • Blissex

      «What if the referendum took place without any accredited international observers and produced the result Westminster wanted with a suspiciously high turnout?»

      OK, so the argument is that it was a blodless “coup d’etat” so vastly unpopular with the local citizens that after it they all refused to take english passports and there is now a vast civil disobedience campaign against the occupiers and the scottish “We ourselves” independendist guerilla army is fighting every day against the english troops. But as to the doctrine of Self determination” what matters is the popular will, not the formalities.

      By contrast in the crimean situation there was no “military aggression”, and the legally elected crimean parliament declared independence, and the overwhelming majority of crimeans approved it and becoming a member state of the Russian federation, and they all took russian passports, and there is no dissident movement or guerrilla army to speak of, and “nobody even tries to argue than Crimean independence happened against the wishes of the crimean citizens, or the subsequent request to join the Russian Federation as a member state was not supported by an equally overwhelming majority of Crimean citizens“.

      So according to the Kosovo precedent (which was enforced by months of bombing of Serbia and a well publicized, even boasted of, military aggression of Serbia) about the right to self-determination, the crimeans got what they wanted, and they seem quite happy with it, and no longer part of a failed state like the Ukraine where the “ruthenian” supremacists hate their russian compatriots.

      Hypocrisy makes the wheels of international foreign policy turn, but hopefully the Kosovo and Crimea precedents will both support Scotland’s independence.

      As to our blogger, he has supported a made arguments for a declaration of independence for Scotland made by the assembly without a referendum and illegally in violation of UK law, and independence and being a member state of the EU are supported by a much smaller percentage of scots than of crimeans supporting independence and being a member state of the Russian Federation so I doubt that our blogger can question the actions of the crimeans, never mind call them the victims of russian “military aggression”.

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