News stories tell of the cost of war; they highlight the life of western soldiers, the young western recruiters, the lost western marines, the lost tax payers’ money but talk seldom about the loss of income, life, future and opportunities for the people who have to live in the middle of the war. When people look at the effort that has been put into Afghanistan, one cannot help but ask – why did it not work? Why is it that after 52 billion dollars, Afghanistan is still in such a dire condition? Why should more money be spent in a country that cannot get itself out of continuous endless wars?
An answer that many like to give is because in Afghanistan, it is not about building on each year of investment but about doing the first year over and over again. Beautiful schools and clinics that get constructed in remote mountainous areas to serve the poor, fall with the change of seasons as poor quality material rotten and degrade. But why do they fall after 20 million dollar investment? The Afghan government states that corruption exists amongst donors as 77% of aid goes outside the government, while others raise concerns over the Afghan government as it is considered to be crippled by corruption. Many civil society organisations have stressed the need for coordination, ownership and prioritisation in order to make aid more effective in Afghanistan but many of the aid decisions are still based on political priorities rather than the needs of the Afghan people.
Contracts and project details remain unknown, making it very difficult for citizens to hold implementers, government and donors accountable. The provincial authorities seldom have complete information on what is suppose to be delivered in their own territory. They know there are projects, they know the objective but seldom the details, making it really hard for them to monitor and control whether what is being constructed is actually what was planned or whether corruption has infected the process. It would be easy to say that the only problem in the accountability mechanism is that people are excluded from their own development process or that there was not enough information or that there was a lack of government capacity but the truth is far more complex. The truth of why aid in Afghanistan still has a far way to go before it becomes effective, includes powerbrokers, traditional governance mechanisms, external/international pull factors and criminality amongst several other factors, but maybe the biggest problem of it all, is that leading actors look outside themselves for solutions to the problems they themselves are part of.