Should we provide financial aid to former colonies? By Robin Boers, 5A2

This argumentative essay was originally written as an assignment for school, that I later editted and published here.

Recently I had a conversation with a few of my teammates at handball practice. We saw a news item about colonialism and were discussing whether countries should aid their ex-colonies. This debate mainly revolved around the how and why. It is a very interesting and nuanced topic that is highly relevant in our current society. Our conclusion? Countries should definitely support their former colonies.

First of all, providing aid is the morally right thing to do. While we arguably are not directly responsible for the colonisation of these countries — we had not yet been born back then — we do still benefit from past colonialism. For example, the colonial system helped kick off the industrial revolution (Acemoglu et al., 2005). Just as we still benefit from the colonial system, our ex-colonies too still suffer the effects of years of suppression and exploitation. How can we wash our hands in innocence if we still profit from the riches attained from past colonialism in our daily lives? The least we can do is donate a small portion of our wealth — which we partially deprived from exploitation of our ex-colonies in the first place — to our former colonies.

Furthermore, providing aid to these countries will allow them to flourish in the modern global economy. Financial aid allows countries to escape the “poverty trap” and develop their own, self-sustaining economies (Stiglitz, 2002). Consequently, we not only get to right our wrongs, but by providing support to our ex-colonies we also improve the global economy and welfare by reducing worldwide poverty.

However, in some cases money is not the kind of support these countries need. We should also consider alternative ways to support our ex-colonies. For example, we could establish quality education and provide knowledge, resources and workers. According to the Mochy Trivium Foundation (2021) quality education is an “essential investment since it reduces poverty, boosts economic growth, increases the GDP of a country, creates employment opportunities, and improves overall health.” Therefore, providing alternative aid, such as good education, will help countries grow economically stronger and more independent, which means that long-term, they will not need financial support or other kinds of aid anymore.

While we should unquestionably support our former colonies, some people disagree. Admittedly, these countries can be pretty corrupt. According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (Transparency International, 2022) — a ranking of countries by their perceived corruption — former colonies are among some of the most corrupt countries in the world. Therefore, we should, as noted earlier, consider alternatives to financial support. That way, we can make sure that our aid actually ends up with the people of our ex-colonies.

Moreover, we should also consider that by providing financial aid, our government obtains a position of power in our ex-colonies, which could easily be abused. According to Caldwell (2017), former colonies are very susceptible to neo-colonialism — “the involvement of more powerful states in the domestic affairs of less powerful ones” (Campbell et al., 2010). How can we claim to stay neutral when we have conflicting incentives in these countries? How will we make sure that our government will not use this position to exercise control over its ex-colonies? For example, according to The Guardian (2015), most of France’s development aid goes to its former colonies, where it’s mostly used to exercise economic power over the countries, as stated by Pigeaud and Sylla (2021) in their new book titled Africa’s Last Colonial Currency: The CFA Franc Story. Therefore, we should be very careful, and consider alternatives before providing financial support, since it can easily be abused by our government. In addition, we could also let the government be audited by independent third parties, to prevent this kind of abuse.

In conclusion, providing development aid to our ex-colonies is the ethically right thing to do, because we still actively benefit from past colonialism. The least we can do is provide aid. Furthermore, it allows these countries to set up their own economies, which will benefit the entire global economy. However, we should be cautious when it comes to financial support, because this can border on neo-colonialism. Therefore, we should also consider alternative ways to support our former colonies — for example providing people, knowledge, or materials — and let our government be audited by third parties.