Aid spent in the UK national interest is largely ineffective says new research

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Foreign aid that attempts to strengthen UK national security mostly fails to deliver its aim

  • 05 August 2021
  • 4 min read

Foreign aid that attempts to strengthen UK national security mostly fails to deliver its aim. That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of Portsmouth and Royal Holloway, who have analysed more than 140 projects in Africa funded by British taxpayers.

As UK government funding for foreign aid falls from 0.7 per cent of GDP to 0.5 per cent and following the merger of the Department for International Development and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the researchers are concerned that projects linked to the UK national interest will continue, whilst more effective programmes will see their funding cut. 

That is despite the clear evidence offered in this new paper, published in Development Policy Review, that projects aligned to the national security interest often fall short in terms of their intended outcomes and impact.

We conclude that the ‘securitised’ projects reviewed did not significantly strengthen the recipient countries’ institutions, stability, or security but had some negative side effects

Dr Melita Lazell, Principal Lecturer in Political Economy

Study co-author Dr Melita Lazell, Principal Lecturer in Political Economy at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Few of the projects we studied had a positive ‘impact’. We conclude that the ‘securitised’ projects reviewed did not significantly strengthen the recipient countries’ institutions, stability, or security but had some negative side effects.”

Researchers looked at 144 ‘securitsed’ aid projects between 2000 and 2018; in Kenya, Nigeria and South Sudan. These were schemes motivated by UK national security concerns. Despite most projects being relevant to the needs and objectives of the donor and recipient, researchers discovered the majority were ineffective in their outcomes. 

Dr Lazell and her co-author Dr Petrikova from Royal Holloway are concerned that the most vulnerable in the world will suffer unless the policy changes. Dr Petrikova said “We believe that ongoing reductions in UK funding are not likely to reduce aid spent on these ‘securitised’ aid projects, but rather on schemes more closely linked with saving lives and reducing poverty – such as humanitarian assistance to Yemen and Syria, projects focused on the eradication of malaria and polio, and investments in water and sanitation in low-income countries.”

Researchers used the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) evaluation criteria of relevance, effectiveness, impact, and sustainability. They found the lack of positive effects was largely due to a combination of misunderstanding the situation on the ground, over-optimism about the transformative potential of aid projects, and insufficient local ownership of the initiatives. 

We believe that ongoing reductions in UK funding are not likely to reduce aid spent on these ‘securitised’ aid projects, but rather on schemes more closely linked with saving lives and reducing poverty

Dr Ivica Petrikova, Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway

The report highlights a police-officer training academy that was constructed in Rambour, South Sudan as part of the Safety and Access to Justice Programme. However, the project funding did not cover the costs of equipment and maintenance for the building and the academy was never used. A new court building in Bor, built as part of a multi-donor United Nations Development Programme project met a similar fate, as the donors failed to build an access route to it.

The study concludes that the UK government needs to be more aware of the limitations of development interventions undertaken in the name of security and consider other means of enabling development.

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