Earlier this year, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) published Development for Results, a 70-page summary of the agency's activities plus a synopsis of what it is doing in the 20 "countries of focus" selected for receipt of CIDA bilateral aid. To CIDA's credit, the report summarizes some socioeconomic statistics of the 20 countries and CIDA priorities within each.
In the past, many--including me--have criticized CIDA for dissipating aid in small amounts in far too many countries, with negligible impact. In recent years, CIDA has responded to this critique by selecting "countries of focus." This is certainly an improvement, though the list has not really been reduced to 20, since 14 Caribbean countries have been bundled together as one. On the whole the choices are sensible, although apart from pressure exerted by the Ukrainian diaspora in Canada it is hard to justify the presence on the list of relatively prosperous Ukraine.
More serious than questions of who is and is not on the list is that CIDA has not really come to terms with what it can and cannot achieve. CIDA has specified three "thematic priorities": "increasing food security", "securing the future of children and youth" and "stimulating sustainable economic growth." It also specifies "three long-term crosscutting themes essential to effective international development results": "environmental sustainability", "equality between women and men" and "governance." In relation to the last point, CIDA insists that "for development results to be sustainable, developing countries need effective, accountable governments and institutions that are responsive to their people."
These are admirable priorities. However, the appropriate test is to ask: what projects or what countries do these priorities preclude? The answer: none. From humanitarian aid in Haiti to subsidized mining ventures in Sudan, any activity can be interpreted as falling under one or more of these priorities. And the only low-income country that might be excluded by application of the governance theme is Zimbabwe.
More so than elsewhere in official Ottawa, CIDA embodies a certain Canadian angelisme that prevents grappling with the world as it is. In many of CIDA's countries of focus the major impediment to development is not lack of financial resources; it is the strategic decisions taken by the governing elites. Among the poorest of these countries, those with per capita incomes under US$2,500, whether the...