The Age of Sustainable Development – Why give aid? Or not (Uganda gay laws example)

The President of Uganda signed a controversial bill that would see homosexuals jailed for life. The Netherlands (first to grant same-sex marriage), Denmark (first to legally recognize same-sex relations) and Norway stood up for the LGBT rights without hesitation. They have announced they will suspend financial assistance to the Ugandan government.

The news is a vivid example  of the issues and topics in development that Jeffrey Sachs has taught thousands of us in the last 2 weeks of lectures in the MOOC ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’.

Poverty is not a single issue problem. Countries are poor not only because its culture and politics, but very much so because of its physical geography and history that may have been inflicted on them.
Nor is poverty a problem that can’t be solved worldwide, but some countries are so poor they are trapped in poverty. A vicious cycle of lack of investments to boost economy and lack of income for investments.

Hence, what we are looking for is country specific and holistic strategies to rid the world of poverty once and for all. Official Development Assistance (ODA) is designed for this. They are funds donated by high income countries to be used for disaster relief (saving lives), but preferably for investing into systems that boost economic development (sustainably), i.e. improve agriculture, health, schooling, railway, roads, electricity, etcetera.

Now, with respect to the recent news.

Uganda. A mountainous, landlocked, equatorial and very humid country that is rich in malaria mosquitoes and British history, but not in fossil fuels. It struggles now with extremely poor dense population (>3 times world’s average) living mostly rural and growing with 3 daughters per mother average (in 2011). With so many mouths to feed the country’s farming yields(kg/hectare), at nearly half of the world’s average, are problematic[1]. All linked with their insufficient education, healthcare and infrastructure. Trapped in poverty.

The Netherlands, Norway and Denmark are rich, very rich. Did they enjoy long term healthy economic growth because of their outstanding citizens? Or, should we relate part of their wealth to their physical geography; its coasts, rivers, seasonal weather, availability of fossil fuels and not to forget its proximity to the start of industrial revolution in Britain.
They are rich and they offer ODA. They are three of the only five (add Sweden and Luxembourg) of the high-income countries that respect the United Nations General Assembly goal (1971) to provide 0.7 percent of their national income in ODA.

ODA percentages

I don’t think it is a coincidence that it’s three countries who care about giving a substantial amount of their income to development also now freeze their AID. That is because they care where there investment goes.  The world’s first country to grant same-sex marriage gave $9.6 million aid towards Uganda’s legal system.

Although, in this very example development and equality both unfortunately suffered, it seems many more positive changes are happening than negative in sub-Saharan Africa.  However, we can always try harder.
So, come one high-income countries. Show where you stand on equality and then open your wallet a bit further for those eager to make a real change for their impoverished societies!

Because really, beautiful things are also happening in Uganda, see the results of their millennium village.

Jiddu Alexander
Kathmandu, Nepal, 27/02/2014


Tools used in week 4 and 5 of The Age of Sustainable Development.
IRI maproom about Climate and Malaria Transmission.
Transparency International Corruption Perception Index
Maddison Project Database on “historical GDP per capita”
Food and Agriculture organisation of the UN: FAOstat

Twitter: #susdev and @JeffDSachs

Jiddu Alexander’s The Age of Sustainable Development Series
Brief History of Economic Development
Why give aid? Or not (Uganda gay laws example)

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