New Strategies for Helping Third World

For more than a year now, a wonderful smell has wafted through Rwanda's drought-stricken Kigali Rurale province.

It is the aroma of a local delicacy, fried bread, delivered by 21-year-old Jean-Paul Safari as he pedals his bicycle through the dusty streets.

But to Safari himself, it is more.

Before he started his business, Safari and his five orphaned siblings were among the thousands of wretched survivors of his country's notorious genocide. They were destitute and needy, living in orphanages and surviving on handouts from the developed world.

Then Safari received a grant to buy the materials he needed for his business, and he began bettering his life. Now he makes enough to support his business and his siblings, and even pay for some of them to go to school.

To Safari, and many others, that delicious smell is now not only his product, but a sign of hope.

Waste of Money?

Safari's story is one of the many recounted by the New York-based aid organization Trickle Up, which gave him $50 to buy the first batch of ingredients and utensils he needed to make his bread, and a bicycle to transport them with.

The developed world has spent billions of dollars in efforts to aid people like Safari since World War II, when the Marshall Plan mostly succeeded in restoring war-ravaged Europe with a $13 billion outlay.

But in the following half-century, foreign aid has not always had the best reputation.

With many of the developing world's countries actually declining in development levels despite aid payments, critics paint it as a lost cause, a gaping fiscal black hole that has few effects other than to support corrupt regimes and ineffectual international bureaucracies.

"The United Nations has declared that 70 countries — aid recipients all — are now poorer than they were in 1980," said Doug Bandow of the libertarian CATO Institute. "An incredible 43 were worse off than in 1970."

Interactive: Click to learn about where American aid dollars go

The news media have also reported some of the failures: giant roadway projects that went nowhere, gleaming facilities that went dusty with disuse, energy generators that drained nothing but coffers.

The African nation formerly known as Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) wasted so much in foreign aid that the spending of its dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko, became almost as a much of a personal trademark as his leopard-skin hat.

Mobutu notoriously redirected funds earmarked for his poverty-stricken nation and used them for extravagant shopping sprees on the French Riviera or for elaborate personal palaces in the middle of the African jungle.

Foreign aid was so badly used across Africa that Africans even invented a word for the corrupt bureaucrats that helped themselves to the largesse of the developed world.

They were called "Wabenzi" — "People of the Benz: in Swahili — in reference to Mercedes-Benz, the fancy German cars these politicians bought with aid money instead of helping their people.

"Anybody who's been around developing countries for any amount of time recognizes that there's been mistakes made," said Richenda Van Leeuwen, Trickle Up's executive director.

No More Afghanistans

The margin of error has become slimmer since Sept. 11 though, when the world came to realize by failing to help war-torn Afghanistan, it allowed the Central Asian state to become a haven for terrorists.

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