International intervention in Africa

By Christ Lokonda Makanga

The general consensus among researchers in the economic field is that international intervention has the potential to lead to poverty reduction in Africa with the right environment and the right policies. Many researchers have tried to understand the causes of Africa’s economic failure. Some argue that these causes lie in the disadvantageous geographic features of Africa (Collier, 2); Indeed contrarily to popular beliefs, many countries in Africa are land-locked and resource-scarce (Collier, 5), two characteristics antagonistic to economic growth. As for the human geography of Africa, small populations and large ethnic diversity have been very problematic for the continent’s economy in the past (Collier, 10). Although ethnic diversity may enrich a society, it can also make it prone to division leading to ethnic conflicts (Collier, 11). For instance, many African nations have experienced civil conflicts due to their ethnic diversity: Rwanda, Burundi, just to name a few. Paul Collier’s study of 66 post-conflict situations suggests that international intervention may only be useful in conflict resolution and peace-keeping (Collier, 13), two factors primordial for economic growth. He makes a strong argument showing a direct relation between international intervention and peace-keeping in Africa. Nonetheless, there is no mention of how an international intervention can directly improve the economic situation of African countries, many of which are land-locked and resource-scarce.

A lot of researches have also looked at international intervention in Africa in the form of humanitarian aid. Several billions in foreign aid and investments have been given to the continent since 1990 (Handley, 22). Most economic studies agree that foreign aid has failed to reduce poverty in Africa. According to several economic studies, this failure was due to the lack of a better government ownership of the aid given (Handley, 23) and the composition of the public expenditure: In several African countries, an unreasonably large percentage of government expenditure go to political leaders as their salaries, and only a very small percentage of the aid is actually used for development purposes (Mosley, Hudson, 233). However, there is still some hope to make foreign aid work aas a development tool in Africa. In order to avoid governments’ slippage and maximize pro-poor expenditure of aid, aid donors must negotiate more carefully with aid recipients, make their demands clearer and actively watch governments’ spending.

Another interesting argument among researchers is that aid should not be used for consumption. Foreign assistance should be targeted to investments, more specifically public sector investments (Sachs, McArthur, 30). Sachs and McArthur, two prominent economic researchers make a strong point in one of their studies by implying that investments have the potential to add value and wealth to an economy, something that foreign aid is unable to do. Although foreign assistance is usually perceived as an exchange between Western countries and Africa; foreign assistance to Africa can also come from African themselves (i.e.: the African diaspora) in the form remittances. Studies have shown that international remittances can directly affect the level of poverty in Africa. Indeed, a 10 percent increase in international remittances can decrease the level of poverty in African countries by 2.9 percent (Anyanwu, Erhijakpor, 1). All in all, foreign investments and international remittances are two things that should be targeted as development tools for most African nations. International intervention in the form of foreign aid has not really worked in the past decades and should now only be used as a last resort, it cannot be used anymore as a primary source of development.


  • Collier, Paul. 2007. “Poverty Reduction in Africa.” Department of Economics, University of Oxford.
  • Handley, Geoff, and Kate, Higgins. 2009. “Poverty and Poverty Reduction in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Overseas Development Institute.
  • Jeffrey, Sachs and John, W. McArthur. 2004. “Ending Africa’s Poverty Trap.” Brookings Institution Press.
  • John, C. Anyanwu and Andrew,E.O. Erhijakpor. 2010. “Do International Remittances Affect Poverty in Africa?” Africa Development Review.
  • Mosley, Paul, and John, Hudson. 2004. “Aid, Poverty Reduction and the New Conditionality.” The Economic Journal.