Red Letters

Red Letters

Good Aid vs. Bad Aid

Is something missing in how we help the poor? I believe there is.

Despite an estimated $2.3 trillion in foreign aid dispensed from Western nations during the post-World War II Era, more than 2.5 billion people, approximately 40 percent of the world’s population, still live on less than two dollars per day. Why do you think this happens? Many of our best efforts don’t merit real, long-term help.

According to Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda in an interview given to the Acton Institute, there is good aid and there is bad aid. Bad aid is the kind of aid that continues to create dependency. It forces people to keep their hands out to receive help and when the hand is empty it remains open until it is filled again from an outside source. Good aid is short-term aid that empowers people to live on their own. It is a temporary solution to fill an emergency need but includes programs that build economic drivers into local communities. That’s what we’re missing.


“I have made revenue collection a frontline institution because it is the one which can emancipate us from begging, from disturbing friends… if we can get about 22 percent of GDP we should not need to disturb anybody by asking for aid….instead of coming here to bother you, give me this, give me this, I shall come here to greet you, to trade with you.”

-Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda (which collects 11% of GDP in taxes and receives a further 11% of GDP in aid), Washington DC, September 21, 2005.

Reading and researching these issues, as well as understanding the quote above by the President of Uganda, speak to the fact that the poor do not want to be stuck in the position of having to rely upon western aid. At the core it’s demotivating, disempowering, and downright humiliating to have your hand out. Yet by continuing our methods of aid only models, the poor cease to depend on themselves and rely upon those hand outs.


Yet when the option is to receive aid or die, of course one chooses the former. But wise country leaders have taken the position that aid creates too much dependency among their people and stifles the natural entrepreneurial spirit within. This is much of what we are seeing in Rwanda with amazing results. As those who deeply care for the poor, we have to make adjustments in how we care for them. Providing handouts when we’re on the ground in Ethiopia, Swaziland, Russia, or any other country is not helping to solve the problem, it’s prolonging the difficulties. This is the focus of my topic of my Doctoral dissertation at George Fox University. It’s also a key motivator into why we are changing our methods of ministry development at Children’s HopeChest. Watch this video on The Poverty Cure. It will give you a completely different perspective on Aid.

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Alycia Butler

posted September 22, 2011 at 8:08 pm

Amen Tom! When will we stop treating people in need like a project, and instead empower them? This is huge on my heart and something I want to be involved with. Thanks for the reminder.

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MIke Ratliff

posted October 16, 2011 at 7:43 am

Thanks for this video. I’m realizing that the paternalism exhibited in our global church has a great deal to do with what you’ve said here. The video is a powerful testimony from Africans themselves.

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