Why is Conditionality Good for International Aid and Development?


We live in a world where there are developed and developing countries. Usually, developed countries help developing countries. In the realm of international relations, aid and development assistance stand as distinct areas of study. They hold significant influence over the dynamics between nations and the global balance of power. The field of international aid and development involves a myriad of organizations and countries working together to foster economic growth and enhance living conditions in developing nations. The assistance provided takes various forms, such as financial aid, technical support, capacity building, and even military aid.

A crucial element of this assistance is the concept of “conditionality”. This refers to the specific conditions or requirements set by donor countries or organizations that recipient countries must meet to qualify for aid. This aspect of international aid plays a vital role in shaping the outcomes of development efforts. These conditions are often the implementation of certain policies or reforms that the donor believes will promote development and economic stability. There is a lot of criticism of conditionality in recipient countries. I am thus writing this article, as I believe that conditions are the only thing that really shows the result of this aid.

Conditionality, despite some criticism, plays a crucial role in ensuring effective international aid and development. It provides a basis for accountability and results. Conditionality is the most important aspect of ensuring effective international aid. When we tie aid to specific conditions, donors can be confident that their aid is being used to achieve the goals they set out and truly help the recipient country. This can apply to all types of aid, from improving infrastructure and healthcare to promoting education and sustainable economic practices. By setting clear goals and monitoring the process of achieving those goals, conditionality provides a guarantee that aid will not be wasted, misused, or simply slipped into the pockets of recipient country officials.

Finally, conditionality can stimulate necessary reforms in recipient countries. Often, these conditions require the recipient country to implement policy changes that promote better governance, economic stability, and social development. This can lead to long-term improvements in the political, economic, and social structures of recipient countries.

An important factor in this assistance is the human one. When receiving aid, there may be problems with corruption, usually on the part of the recipient. This happens especially often when aid comes without strict conditions, which leads to the misappropriation of funds or spending them on unnecessary things. There is also the problem of openness of this aid, because usually the recipient country will only show where they spent the money to donor countries, but if there are no strict conditions, they will not show this reporting to anyone at all, making it almost impossible to investigate such cases. It is even more impossible to prove that the aid was squandered and one can only guess where the money went. 

There is one country in Southern Africa – Eswatini, formerly called Swaziland. Eswatini has the highest rate of HIV infection in the world, with 27 percent of adults affected, and because of this, the country receives significant international assistance, both from various organizations and, for example, directly from the United States. Aid from the US is one of the few that has strict conditions and is observed almost directly, which leads to effective aid for Eswatini. 

However, it is worth noting that the country has received a lot of aid with almost no conditions. For example from: Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), World Health Organization (WHO), and The Global Fund. If you search how people live in this country, their infrastructure, and their GDP, you can understand that the country is poor. About 31 percent of the population was estimated to live below the US$2.15/day in 2017. It is extremely interesting that while the country is in such a state, the king of this country lives like some king of France in the 17th century. He buys watches for himself that cost one million dollars and beyond. While Europe, the UN, and other organizations are investing money without strict conditions, one can only guess whether this money really helps the country or the king’s wallet.

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Watch Collection of King Mswati III. Photo by IFL Watches

The conditionality of international aid has led to positive results in various cases. For example, a study by Montinola (2010) showed that assistance from Bretton Woods institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, promotes fiscal reform in more democratic countries. This only confirms that conditionality can lead to positive results if it is aligned with the political regime of the recipient country. Even if the regime is not democratic, it contributes to the development of reforms towards democracy and the democratic structure of the state receiving aid. In addition, the European Union (EU) has used conditions to support democracy, human rights, and good governance reforms in Africa, including increased democracy development assistance, sanctions, and political reform support. 

Furthermore, according to the OECD, evaluations of donor support for public sector reforms show that the flow of aid through country systems strengthens budgetary processes and improves the country’s administrative and financial systems. Critics say that international aid can contradict the culture of the recipient country and the conditions that are set to democratize the country are contrary to democracy. I don’t see how the terms of a certain aid can go against the culture. Are there cultures that are not compatible with development? Cultures are compatible with democracy and development through shared values such as respect for human rights, equality, and justice. Cultures adapt and evolve. They are not static; they evolve and change over time. As societies develop, so too can cultural norms and practices.

Also, some argue that the terms for aid violate the sovereignty of recipient countries, which forces them to implement policies that may not align with their development priorities. Others say conditionality could lead to social unrest or economic instability if reforms are not carefully pursued. I support conditionality that can be designed in a way that does not violate the sovereignty of recipient countries, where they take part in the decision-making process and tailor the conditions to their specific needs and circumstances. As for the risk of social unrest or economic instability, I think that careful planning, continuous monitoring, and the ability to respond quickly to changing circumstances can minimise these risks. Finally, the purpose of conditionality is not to impose a “one-size-fits-all solution,” but to promote sustainable development that is appropriate to the context and development goals of each recipient country. Therefore, conditionality is a necessary tool to ensure that aid is used effectively and as was intended.

Featured image by: The New Humanitarian

Stanislav Vynnytskyi
Stanislav Vynnytskyi
Hi there! My name is Stanislav. I am second-year BIR student. Ukrainian 🇺🇦. Occasionally write opinions as spicy as borscht (if enough spices are added).

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