An East African living in the U.S., holding citizenship here but retaining ties to her country of origin, greeted me over the holidays with an exhortation to do more for the poor in Africa. Provoked by concern over the problem of “aid dependency” — the powerlessness that grows out of the soil of hand-outs — she questioned whether I understood that very poor people may lack even the basic ingredients for self-reliance. I responded with a different question and the start of answer:
“There is no question a welfare system ought to exist for people who have little or nothing. the question who pays for it. I’d like to see rich Ugandans, even rich Ugandans living in North America, pay for these essential welfare services for the needy in their own society. Having rich white people from far away pay for welfare services for poor Ugandans may seem like a sweet deal to the rich Ugandans in Kampala and the US, but these remote white people don’t have any stake in Uganda, they have no committment to making sure welfare services — deserved and necessary transfer income to the poor — actually happen. If rich Ugandans in Kampala and the US pay for these welfare services, you can bet they will make these services actually deliver the goods.
So the question of ends is not in dispute. Poverty demands a response — in Africa just as in the U.S. The question is the means of assisting the needy. Do the rich Ugandans pay, doing the rich whites pay, do they pay — and then how do the poor hold accountable the people who are delivering them services.”