I apologize. I was wrong.

Not wrong about the need for foreign aid, no. While it is a bit of a difficult stance to take and stick to, I still believe in it.

Wrong for thinking that the solution to poverty was simply education. Not only was it simplistic, but it was also naive. And for that I apologize.

A recent proposal by the new US administration to cut back its funding of aid instills a sense of bitter-sweetness.

Bitter in that the proposed cuts include shifts from Development Aid towards economic fund aid. The distinction here being that development assistance aid is mainly used to fund public goods such as encouraging entrepreneurship, improving education systems and public health. Economic support funds on the other hand are mostly used to influence policy and gain allies in developing nations. (The latter is the kind of aid I do not believe in).

Sweet though in that the policy proposal  seems to move the needle towards making developing countries self-sufficient, However, scholars such as William Easterly and Dambisa Moyo have sharply criticized the aid model calling for not just cuts, but complete termination of aid. With Ms Moyo calling for alternative solutions like debt-financing through capital markets -a model which has since crippled the Kenyan economy. But that’s a different debate.

The more I dig deeper into development research, the more I realize that one cannot solve for the question of poverty without solving for both endogenous and exogenous factors. That is to say that causes and effects of poverty are so interconnected yet misaligned that it may well be one of the greater questions in humanity.

Now where it gets interesting is that regardless of your school of thought on the issue, the big question seems to be whether economic development is a supply or demand plight? That is, You can’t have if you are not given, but you can’t be given if you do not want. So how does one try to solve for this?

Well let me put it contextually. I will call it the gym-dilemma.

Suppose you want to get healthier, perhaps lose weight because your diet sucks. Then a friend comes in and buys you a gym membership. Well this is all fine. But it doesn’t solve for the core issue that you want to address..

This is the paternalistic thinking that the likes of Dambisa Moyo are against -The fact that a more developed country has ideas about how to solve a poor country’s problems, and therefore imposes what it believes to be best. Regardless of the context of the aid recipient. But if you delve deeper, there’s more than meets the eye.

Why Aid may not the answer.

So why may you be reluctant to accept this gym membership? Well there could be factors preventing you from going to the gym. Perhaps it is a knee surgery from years ago –read colonialism, which refuses to heal and perhaps needs an entirely new body to recover. And therefore the gym membership will only add to the burn.

Or it could be that the gym is so far away from where you live, that it makes no sense to try and commute there and still have gas to get to work. This is the problem with trying to foster free markets within infrastructurally inept states.

But there is also the evidence. You’ve tried the gym before. It hasn’t worked. One time you went, but the gym was so full with other new-year’s resolution-ers that you couldn’t get a treadmill. Or the other time you went and got intimidated by the gym-maniacs, who, by some unspoken rule seem to have first priority on the bench-press. This is what is meant by warped institutions, weak rule of law and corrupt leaders. While a country may genuinely want to make good on the aid it receives, it is ultimately in the hands of a government or existing institutions.

Then there is the question of this gym membership. It may be free today, but someone will have to continue paying for it. You barely have enough to pay for your gluten free meal, let alone pay for a gym membership. What good is a membership for one month? Besides, your friend only wanted to help once, not for a lifetime. Unless she’s getting some return from it. In which case, you remain forever indebted with little to show for power or autonomy.

Herein lays the dilemma. While it is indeed essential for you to have a balanced diet, a gym membership is truly the fastest way for you to get healthy.

Why Aid may be the answer.

‘But why do you need the gym when you could work out from home’. Some will ask.

Yes you could do some home-exercises or some running outside, but not when the weather conditions are not permissible. And especially not when you have neighbors or roommates who will eat you and your salads if you dare do jumping jacks in the house. Refer to immigration and refugee crises, trade and civil wars, disease of neighboring countries.

‘But you go to the gym and we do not see any changes’. They will tell you.

Well yes, for all the reasons mentioned above. But if you want to get healthy as much as you say you do, and your friend teaches you how to spell and use an elliptical machine, and you continue to try different salad recipes, you will be unstoppable.

But in the face of misinformation about health benefits of exercise, coupled with your dozen copies of the south beach diet, you only want to focus on eating salads. Notwithstanding the fact that all the salads in the world could never build your muscles the way 10 reps could.

I get it, there is no simple solution. All it looks like from my point of view is that you need to eat healthy, and also need that gym membership. The two are not and should not be mutually exclusive. Because what’s the point of having your cake if you can’t eat it too?

Oh wait, we are trying to get healthy.