Free Aid Decimates Local African Businesses

How to travel totally stress free… and help your host country in the process.

Here is a typical problem of free aid…..local businesses are bankrupted because AID projects come in and offer the same products for free. How can local business thrive if we do not support the local markets and mechanisms? How can nations develop thriving economic mechanisms when AID agencies, humanitarian, or mission organizations (of which there are many crammed into some countries) seek to bring in products duty free, and are in direct competition with local shops and suppliers.

Think about our flight luggage. Canada does not permit this free importing activity. Yet, if we are asked to pay taxes and fees by our host nation, just listen to an international bitch about it. Why?  Surely they will go on about how the government does not see a penny, it is pocketed, it is corruption etc. We do not really know this for certain.

Why not take another position. Be happy to invest in our host countries development.  The poor local has to pay a huge price for a laptop because of import taxes, and he earns much less money. But we have the means to pay, and then bitch when we are not granted the right to bring in our western laptop for tax free. Why should we have a better product, at half a poor locals price, tax free?

Why do we feel we have these rights and get so offended when they are not granted?

Is our white privilege offended?

Is our western privilege offended?

We must fill in custom cards when we return home to the west, and if we buy over a certain limit we can be charged duty. In Canada the limit is something  like $800. Yet we expect to walk through customs in foreign countries carrying thousands of dollars worth of stuff in our bags, or tens of thousands in our containers.

Is this fair?

Our donated cloths end up for sale cheap in Africa, putting local cloth, textile and clothing makers out of business.

Buy local when possible, unless what is needed in simply not present, and then there is no undermining local markets. Even if the similar product is of a lesser quality, buy local anyway. Supporting and strengthening local markets is a very important aspect of development work.

If we need to supply bed sheets…. don’t have Canadians  buy them in Canada and then transport the stuff. Buy from a local merchant and it supports him, his supplier, the suppliers importer to the country, and indirectly the government  with taxes – the whole economic structure is benefited, as well as the people we serve.

Our projects, if supplied locally, will have double, if not triple the effect for our African nations. It is like multiplication.

Do business, whenever possible within our host countries. Our “bring the stuff in” mentality and activity is killing local markets, and abusing the country we are are in.

“There’s a mosquito net maker in Africa. He manufactures around 500 nets a week. He employs ten people, who (as with many African countries) each have to support upwards of fifteen relatives. However hard they work, they can’t make enough nets to combat the malaria-carrying mosquito.Enter vociferous Hollywood movie star who rallies the masses, and goads Western governments to collect and send 100,000 mosquito nets to the afflicted region, at a cost of a million dollars. The nets arrive, the nets are distributed, and a ‘good’ deed is done.

With the market flooded with foreign nets, however, our mosquito net maker is promptly put out of business. His ten workers can no longer support their 150 dependents (who are now forced to depend on handouts), and one mustn’t forget that in a maximum of five years the majority of the imported nets will be torn, damaged and of no further use.

This is the micro-macro paradox. A short-term efficacious intervention may have few discern able, sustainable long-term benefits  Worse still,it can unintentionally undermine whatever fragile chance for sustainable development may already be in play……In terms of the mosquito net example, instead of giving malaria nets, donors could buy from local producers of malaria nets then sell the nets on or donate them locally. There needs to be much more of this type of thinking.”

(Dead Aid. Dambisa Moyo. 2009, pg44)

People ask my wife and I how we can go to Africa with a 20 lb carry on bag and stay for 3 or 4 months. Easy. We buy local, or do without. Honest, we can buy soap, toothpaste, belts and socks in any country.Our furniture is made street side in our town. My mattress is local made foam rubber. My small refrigerator is from the local market shop around the corner. My stove top burner is from a local store. My forks and spoons. Mercy, they sell glass cups here… wow!

Everything is bought local, or we do without. Not fancy and western looking nor western working. But when its broken i can get a local part too.

Can’t tell you the freedom, the liberty, the stress free flights we make each year to Africa because there are no frenzied shopping sprees, no panic attacks about over weight luggage,  no worry over how to fit it all in.I pack my personal stuff in about fifteen minutes.

Stop hauling. We don’t need to anymore. Stop shipping when possible, and invest that money in your host country. You will make amazing  connections in country as a result of this practice too. Imagine the people we could be connecting with in country if we spent all that shopping and supply hunting time in the local town versus back in Canada or the US.

Humanitarian organizations should buy local. Canada’s CIDA narrowly stipulates  any project they support has to source Canadian supplies whenever possible. They insist we help Canada suppliers as we do our supply buying, not the markets and shop of the local people we are going to help. Really?

Strange indeed!

Part of the reason Africa, though rich in resources and know how, is so underdeveloped. We keep shitting on their local enterprises and government revenue generating practices that are normal everywhere else.

Oh, we say we are going to help. But we undermine them and use Africa in so many ways we expect special treatment in return.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Mitchell says:

    Very good points. But what happens when a business that could be used to supply an item, such as mosquito nets, can’t meet the demand? Is it better for people to live without mosquito nets, thus risk getting malaria or dengue, and support local or to get as many people the nets they need as fast as possible? Not trying to be argumentative, I just see instances where it might be best to move quickly rather than support local businesses. In most cases I think it makes more sense to support local and regional economies when doing aid work.


    1. Can’t argue with keeping people alive… Africa needed nets 40 years ago … we have had ample time to respond with local sourced solutions on bug nets. But i don’t grudge anyone giving a bug net to anyone… regardless of its source…


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