Chad and the Dangers of Foreign Aid for Muslim Countries

At the end of last month, the US’s Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Molly Phee, went to Chad, an oil-producing nation in the Sahel that is 50 percent Muslim.[1] The goal, according to the State Department, was as follows:

“Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee will visit N’Djamena, Chad, March 20-22 for bilateral meetings. Assistant Secretary Phee will meet with the President of the Transitional Military Council Mahamat Déby and other senior officials to highlight the importance of an inclusive national dialogue and a timely transition to a freely elected civilian government. She will discuss our shared interest in security in the Sahel and Lake Chad region. Assistant Secretary Phee will reinforce the importance of shared U.S.-Chadian commitments to address humanitarian challenges and promote respect for human rights, including combatting trafficking in persons. She will also meet with civil society representatives, multilateral partners, humanitarian actors, and the private sector to advance stability and prosperity for the Chadian people and the region.”

It’s clear from Phee’s statement that the US is pushing for democratic rule. It’s also interesting that the US has chosen to take this role in Chad, a country that is known more for its relations with France than with the US.

A year ago since Chadian President Idriss Déby, an ally of France (he also reportedly had a good friendship with Macron), was killed. His son then took over.

This also comes at a time when France is struggling with its security goals (however meandering they may be) in the Sahel region.

Recall that Chad too is part of the G5 Sahel nations (along with Mauritania, Burkina Faso, and Mali, all of which are Muslim-majority nations) that work with the West to fight the often vaguely-defined “Islamic” terrorists. We’ve discussed here some of the problems that come with that. Chad has played a key role in French-led operations and has been planning to almost double its troops by the end of this year from 35,000 to 60,000, in part to help with this fight.

RELATED: France’s Forever War: France Kills ISGS Leader in Mali

The US Trip

The US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations also weighed in on their hopes for Phee’s trip:

“The Administration’s failure to call Chad’s 2021 unconstitutional change of power a coup significantly undermined our credibility as a voice for democracy and respect for the rule of law in the Sahel, and set a very worrisome precedent for the continent…We must be unwavering in standing with the people in Chad in their aspiration for a civilian-led democratic government that respects civil liberties and human rights.

We’re aware of the general stance the US takes. They will push for a certain world order, and while their model generally allows for more freedom than France’s model, it may not be what’s best for Chad.

That’s especially the case given that what the US is proud of with Chad, according to Molly Phee, is the amount of aid they give it.

The Harms of Foreign Aid

As the commentor on Phee’s tweet rightly points out, why immediately equate aid with pride? There has been significant work done to show that aid tends to be detrimental to the country receiving it.

Angus Deaton (who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2015) argues this in his book, The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality. In it, he makes the case that the system of giving aid to the developing and underdeveloped countries does more harm than good.

RELATED: How Western NGOs Use Aid to Attack Islam and Re-Engineer Muslim Society

Some of the primary reasons have to do with the lack of accountability local governments have to their people and the often misguided aims of the aid. To the former point, governments are then beholden to aid agencies rather than their own people. As he explains in this interview:

“If the government has all this money coming in from outside, it doesn’t really have to pay any attention to what its own citizens want” (1:03).

One can immediately see the irony in this, given that these agencies and NGOs often claim to promote democracy.

These agencies are beholden to donors. The agencies and the donors are often outside of the countries receiving aid and therefore may not understand the complexities and nuances of local problems. To the latter point, donors have their own motives, which may clash with the values of the local population.

Here’s a quick example I’ve personally witnessed—an agency that campaigns for human rights in the Middle East and North Africa may want to push certain projects that have to do with supporting and empowering local people in the face of an oppressive government.

The agency realizes that the way they will get the project approved and money flowing is if it focuses on empowering women. Doing so, however, leaves out a large portion of the population as well as some of the most urgent problems (like poverty). And of course, the types of programs they bring carry their own value system with them, clashing with those of locals and potentially causing more problems in the country.

From the other side, as Deaton points out, in order to keep aid coming, governments may compromise their own values (or let’s say claimed values). An example he gives is when Mauritania recognized Israel and then was able to regain access to aid (the two countries had diplomatic relations from 1999 to 2009, until the Gaza War).

What Deaton pushes for is skill-sharing and knowledge-sharing rather than pouring in money (an example being medical information and techniques that can be life-saving and inexpensive).

It seems no surprise (although we cannot make unequivocal conclusions here) that a country that has not only remained chummy with colonial nations like France but also relies heavily on aid is not in good stead.

Even in a 2021 study looking at the relationship between foreign aid and economic growth in Chad, the authors concluded that “no significant interaction exists between foreign aid and GDP growth in Chad.”

Plus, with all that aid, around 42 percent of Chadians—Muslim brothers and sisters—remain in poverty.

Then the question is, what will Chad do to keep aid flowing?

Given the ruling elite’s track record of corruption, we can guess they’ll do what they need to.

May Allah help the people of Chad, and may we not forget them.

Notes

  1. For the curious: “Chad’s oil production is dominated by the China National Petroleum Company in Chad (CNPCIC), the ExxonMobil-led Esso Exploration & Production Chad Inc. (EEPCI) consortium, Glencore, and Taiwanese Chinese Petroleum Corp (operating as OPIC). Other oil companies are exploring new blocs.” September 2020, https://www.trade.gov/country-commercial-guides/chad-oil-and-gas

 

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