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Moral Issues Facing Ethics In Africa Politics Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Politics
Wordcount: 2461 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Ethics is one of the hottest and interesting disciplines in academic jargon. Ethical concerns exist in almost all fields of study and daily life practice; be it in medicine, environment, politics, governance, law, business, aviation or even in religion. Why is this concept so significant in almost all arenas of life? Its simply because, ethics is not only philosophical, theoretical or abstract, it relates to real life practice; what we do, why do we do it and how we do it. Ethics defines us and our actions.

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Ethics-often referred to as moral philosophy entails developing systems, preserving them and suggesting concepts of right and wrong behavior. Morality often denotes believes and compliance of deeds of right or wrong (for instance “lying is wrong”). These concepts are often used interchangeably. Discussions and debates on ethics often revolve around controversial issues; abortion, rape, war on terror, among other issues. Affluent information on this concept is found in the works of Aristotle (Nichomachean Ethics), Plato, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill among other ancient writers. We are highly indebted to them.

Feeding the World Poor; Ethical Challenge of the 21ST Century

After a critical analysis of the theories and issues pertaining ethics and moral conduct, it is almost-impossible to determine what is right and wrong. Human beings often face numerous challenges in their pursuit of their “good” deeds. One of the biggest challenges of the 21st century is alleviating global poverty, malnutrition and hunger-one of the Millennium Development Targets. Populations most affected by poverty, hunger and malnutrition are in the developing countries, especially Sub-Saharan Africa.

In the midst of this is the debate on feeding the world poor through foreign assistance. What initially started as a Marshal Plan to reconstruct Europe has been replicated in the underdeveloped parts of the world. With the end of colonialism, colonial powers created ideological ties with their colonies, and as a show of “goodwill” foreign aid (of different forms) was created to assist the latter in “development”. During the cold war, the two major powers (USA and Soviet Union) “poured gifts” to friends and allies.

As the donors review their aid-giving strategies, developing countries and some other scholars argue that it is an obligation for the rich countries to assist and feed the world poor. Singer gives an example of a child dying of measles in Ghana, because the parents cannot afford money to take her for medication (4). He argues that more die in developing countries, a situation that either doesn’t exist or is not fatal as such in developed nations. He supports the role parlayed by humanitarian organizations like UNICEF and Oxfam and calls for more fund to support them (5). In this paper, I discuss the moral and ethical underpinnings regarding aid; are donors morally justified and obliged to continue feeding the mouths of the world poor?


Foreign Aid (often referred to as Official Development Assistance (ODA) often refers to all the Official Development Flows from the developed countries to developing-poor countries. This doesn’t include other un-official “flows’ like military aid. However, in my discussion, I will focus on all forms of aid expended to poor countries; whether bilateral or multilateral, Economic, military or ideological. Why do governments and other charities give foreign aid? Is it a divine command? Let us look at some insights.

Tony Blair’s “big push” and plan for Africa was meant to, help the poor escape the basket of poverty; hunger, illiteracy and HIV/AIDS (Easterly 1203- 1250). This “Marshall Plan for Africa” therefore seems morally ordained and justifiable. Is it? Many people, especially children die in Africa daily because of hunger and disease. Compared to other parts of the world Sub-Saharan Africa leads.

Figure 1: Official Aid Trend from 1999-2009 (Source: OECD, April 2010)

In her article, Foreign Aid: Diplomacy, Development, Domestic, 2007, Carol Lancaster observes that, there is no clear reason as to why governments give foreign aid. He cites bilateral aid that often serves divergent interests to suite the aid giver. She reiterates that foreign aid has been given as a tool for realpolitik diplomacy. During the cold war for instance the US and its European allies modeled it aid to counter the spread of communism. The Soviet Union also gave massive monetary and military aid to communist friends like Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea. To Carol this aid is morally wrong-not meant to help the poor but to suite ideological goals of the giver. In a classic low-income country, foreign aid accounts for a substantial source of external funding, almost adding up to 7-8% of GNP (World Bank, 1998) (figure 1). The dilemma is what has this massive transfer of aid yielded in reducing poverty in developing countries?

Empirical research has shown that there exists no correlation between aid and economic development (Boone 289-329.)

Other studies show that aid can support economic growth positively under certain conditions; in countries with viable and sound macroeconomic policies (Burnside and Dollar 847-868, Svensson 275- 297). This reminds us of aid-conditionality; that aid should, but is not always channeled to where it is needed; where it can spur growth and address policy changes. So does it mean that the more than 60 year period of aid giving has been unethical?

Dambisa Moyo argued that aid is not working in Africa and proposes a better way forward. She observes that aid has increased over time, but laments that Africa’s growth has decreased with increasing poverty-more than 1 trillion US dollars expended to Africa in the last 60 years but not much to show about it. To her aid is harmful; it supports corruption and undermines local accountability (29-48). Moyo then proposes alternatives to foreign aid; attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), raising money for capital markets, minimizing trade restrictions and improving financial services for the poor (98-148) Myopically, Moyo doesn’t see any utility in aid giving. With this entire pessimistic story on aid-giving, what is the way forward, what approach are aid-givers turning to.

Recent Approaches in Aid Giving; Devising a New Strategy

Pessimists argue that aid enhances corruption, encourages laziness and dependency, it serves ideological interests of the donor and it should be abolished; in short, there is no utility in aid giving. Dismal performance of aid in aiding the economic growth of poor countries over the last 60 years has elicited sharp reactions and attention. Agreeable is the need to re-evaluate the strategies and motives for aid giving.

During the cold war, much aid was bilateral and ideological. It was readily available to friends and foes that were ready to shift allegiance and loyalty, to either support communism or democratic capitalism; rather than assist the poor (Lancaster Carol, Alesina and Dollar). Much aid was tied-to suit specific needs of the donor, for instant much of US aid was tied to its security and geopolitical considerations. After colonialism most colonial powers gave foreign aid to maintain cultural ideological ties with their former colonies; for instance, the French development aid to Francophone countries and Britain’s commonwealth development aid.

After the cold war, focus is on development and poverty alleviation, although some donors still “tie” some forms of bilateral aid to serve commercial or diplomatic interests. Most donors especially the Scandinavian countries have focused their aid on addressing the “Basic Needs” of the poor. This rhymes with Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the Basic Needs Approach to development.

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Another approach that has been adopted by donors is “aid conditionality”, a view supported by Burnside and Dollar. The multilateral aid agencies, such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) give aid with conditionality, they demand political accountability and sound economic policies The Structural Adjustment Policies are good evidence. Some bilateral aid givers also demand that they be involved in project selection, monitoring and evaluation. The applicability of aid conditionality in enhancing aid efficiency is however another story all-together.

Lancaster observes that much aid giving since the cold war has shifted from Bilateral to Multilateral. This has been accompanied by more demand for accountability in its use. It is also observable that certain forms of aid have considerably reduced since the end of the cold war; for instance military aid. The debate on aid giving continues and new approaches, theories and paradigms arise every new day with ethical and moral considerations being watered by human rights crusaders occasionally.

Moral Obligation: Are We Commanded To Give?

Is there moral obligation in aid giving? Are the “rich” morally obligated to help the poor? According to UNICEF, in 2007 alone, close to 9.2 million children less than five years of age died from mostly preventable diseases. These are caused by sicknesses such as diarhoea and malaria or HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, conflicts and poor hygiene. Women also die during delivery or few days afterwards. UNICEF adds that, low technology and high impact interventions such as vaccines can prevent avoidable deaths. It is possible that the world can afford this. But the question is why has it been impossible to abate poverty, reduce hunger and provide cheap and adequate treated mosquito-nets to the worlds poor? Are the rich giving enough to assist the poor? And are they morally obliged to do so?

Singer posits that we spend money on things that we may not really need; they may be movies, concerts, new cars or houses. He challenges us to donate a small amount to save a child-by not contributing we are living a child to, a life we could have saved. Singer proposes that we should give (5). Are we morally obliged to help the poor if we are rich? Is it a divine command from God as the theory of divine command holds? Or is it a practice of natural law, as pioneered by Aquinas? Is helping the world poor “natural” and failing to help “unnatural’ or vise versa? Or could helping the world’s poor be driven by the psychological theory of Thomas Hobbes, who observed that human beings are selfish and helping others is driven by self interest. All these theories find a place in the myth of feeding and helping the world poor, Christians can argue that “giving” is a divine command “the hand that gives is more blessed that the hand that takes”. Critics of aid claim that it serves the interests of the rich (Hobbesian), while others can prove that we give or fail to, because it is “natural”

Talking about affluence today, singer observes that equivalent to the 1.4 billion poor, are 1 billion people living in affluence, spending their wealth on palatial homes, luxurious boats and planes. To meet the needs of such people singer argues that Lufthansa Technik, unveiled plans to configure Boeing’s new 787 dreamliner, with the private version carrying 30 while in commercial service it carries 330 passengers (9-10).

Singer gives us a seven-point plan on how we can be part of the global efforts against poverty. He proposes that we give to aid agencies-monthly, yearly, and quarterly or otherwise, tell others about it and make sure that we are part of this-no showing of though, and petitioning corporations to give part of their incomes to charities (Ch, 5).

In his categorical imperative, and “standing” at the right opposite end of utilitarianism, Kant gives us a framework of determining the absolute moral principles that we should follow. Kant observes that consequences do not guarantee moral authority to what we do, because we cannot predict the consequences. He identifies and differentiates hypothetical and categorical imperative, the former being conditional while the latter is absolute and functional. Kant argues that we should “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.” He also proposes that we should always act as if our actions are models of universal law (Kant 402-437).

In the light of Kantian meta-ethics, moral principles are affirmed and not dictated by circumstances. Is giving to the poor a sign of good will or a duty to do so, irregardless of circumstances? If I give a million US dollars to help the victims of cholera in Haiti, only for it to enter into the pockets of powerful politicians, I’m I obliged irregardless of the outcome to give more? Nevertheless Kantian ideas emphasize universalism; they are democratic and values humanity. We can learn much from his ideas to be responsible.

Resting the Case: Recommended Approach

We can never be peaceful, so long as our neighbors are suffering and miserable. North Africans poverty and unemployment has become mayhem, not only for the region but also for bordering European states. Cases of illegal immigrations to France from North Africa abound. Walter Rodney often argued that Europe is the cause of African’s problems; colonialism delayed development. Whether this is true or not, poverty in poor countries often bothers the developed nations.

It appears morally unethical for the likes of Bill Gates, Abramovich and others to board a private jet to meet a friend in a nearby restaurant while at the same time a child dies of cholera in the Central African Republic, a life that could have been saved by less than Five US dollars. A hierarchy of issues however arises in the efforts made towards eradicating poverty in poor societies. We should continue giving-for those who can give, but at the end of the day the giver and the receiver should ask themselves whether it a worthy cause.

Ethical issues in aid giving are associated to aid conditionality, “tied aid” and motives of the donor. Critics argue that aid is not free money as it sounds, and poor countries often pay much than they borrowed leading to the debt crisis and an unending obligation of poor countries to always beg and rely on the rich for “debt forgiveness”


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