The foreign aid ‘cornucopia of corruption’ in Afghanistan
The fallout from America’s two decade war in Afghanistan continues to fall, this time on the foreign aid establishment that eagerly spent tens of billions of dollars to achieve…next to nothing.
As Cato’s Steve Hanke writes:
In Afghanistan, none of the mountains of evidence pointing to the failures of foreign aid and nation‐building were ever allowed to see the light of day. As it turns out, the professional elites who live off the “delivery” of foreign aid are a tightly knit epistemic community that promotes and runs the foreign‐aid show. For them, the show must go on. In Afghanistan, it did, and what an extravaganza it was.
…this gravy train delivered…a cornucopia of corruption. In 2010, bribery amounted to a staggering $2.25 billion in Afghanistan. It then shot up to $2.88 billion in 2016 and settled down to $1.6 billion in 2018. To put these sums into perspective, the taxes collected from Afghans were only $1.12 billion in 2018 and $889 million in 2019.
The Afghan economy was controlled by what was, in essence, an organized‐crime syndicate: the Afghan elite who were connected at the hip with the foreign‐aid donors. The bribes that flowed up the hierarchy formed the tribute, the protection money, or the informal taxes that were a necessary part of obtaining employment and conducting business in Afghanistan. While the corruption cornucopia made the Afghan elite rich, it also sowed resentment against them. It was not a model designed to win friends and influence people.
The other cornucopia that crackpot foreign‐aid plans opened up was the production of opium. Instead of fostering traditional agriculture and markets in the rural areas where most Afghans live, misguided plans gave rise to a massive opium industry. Today, over 40 percent of Afghanistan’s agricultural land is dedicated to the production of opium poppies. As a result, Afghanistan produces a staggering 85 percent of the world’s opium.
Corruption, crime, waste, abuse…and yet there are those who, with straight faces, say we should have remained in Afghanistan indefinitely.