The focus was on development. Like my dad, most were sandal-clad volunteers who worked for the charity for free. They helped farmers cultivate better crops or breed improved livestock to stop soil erosion, vaccinate cattle, plant trees and dig boreholes.
Around the turn of the century, during Tony Blair’s government, everything suddenly changed. (…) Aid groups got so much money they could hardly keep up with the ‘burn rate’, which is what they call the need to spend funds before the end of a financial year so that donors do not cut the flow of future cash. (…)
Some of this ‘social justice’ work involves what Oxfam calls ‘holding governments and businesses accountable’ in third world countries. Talk to people in Africa and many will say this involves harassing private investors and bypassing local elected rulers. Oxfam says this is about building a fair and just world without poverty, but this huge shift in its focus seems to be aimed at exonerating the poor from responsibility, inciting their resentment against private capital and blaming the West, stoking guilt and making Africa into a utopian playground for socialists from Sussex University. (…)
It was with sadness that I read in the charity’s report for last year that it is carrying out a great deal of work in Kenya’s Turkana region, where, it notes, 95 per cent of people live in absolute poverty. This is exactly where my father helped start a number of projects for Oxfam in the early 1980s. In those days, I recall that people lived simple lives, but few lived in the dire poverty of the sort we see now.