Balloons for Baluchistan

It’s Silly Friday, a time to look at those development projects that transcend the ridiculous to reach a kind of clueless, navel-gazing glory.

This NYTimes article from May last year is a kind of classic of Development Bloat: what happens when the political imperative to exercise American soft power crashes head first into Afghanistan’s very limited capacity to absorb it.

The litany of development gimmicks here is grimly hilarious. For my money, the plan to “create a stream of shared instances of unexpected happiness” by handing out pink balloons to strangers on the streets of Kabul is unmatched in the annals of Development Bloat.

But then, the conditions for runaway Development Bloat are just about perfect in Afghanistan. The same factors that guarantee aid ineffectiveness – runaway corruption, rampant insecurity, missing institutions – push big agencies inexorably into this kind of Silly Development strategy.

Then again, perhaps it’s wrong to think of these efforts as International Development Aid in any meaningful sense. Surely, this is more like public diplomacy. Hopeless, hamfisted public diplomacy.

Right?

4 thoughts on “Balloons for Baluchistan”

  1. This really is “Clueless, navel gazing glory”. I have a mate working as security for Democracy International of some such thing funded by USAID. He has some great stories of wasted resources by the well-intentioned folks in Kabul. Maybe I can score a contract too….

  2. You can see from that gentleman’s face that, even if his family is killed by drones, he will still be our friend.

  3. Definitely, diplomacy is the main thing here.
    Open a bank account and write these sort of wasteful folks, asking them and any others to deposit their cash for more useful spend of their aid donations. In addition to the writing start collecting and spending. You’ll need a constitution, website, staff etc.
    I’ll be the treasurer. I can assure you that you can trust me with the money. I charge a reasonable fee as would the other staff leaving about $5 out of $10 for the needy. Perhaps that is too much. Let’s make it $7 out of $10 for us.
    More seriously, set it up as above and see where it goes from. Do the real things like measurement of success. I’ll give $100 after you define the objectives and if I think that I agree with them.
    Latter point is important. The administration of aid can be embarrassing.
    They were here again this week. Food Aid chaps and chapesses. Who got it I said – the givers are a bit short of things these days – so have to identify the really needy. Not everyone can get it -beans and oil. How did she get it! She has children in the UK, says I. Next time I see her I am going to have a word with her. I know , says another of my informants, what happens is that some people make arrangements with each other to recommend each other for support and those that don’t do that miss out. So the liars and crooks get it. Or at least a lot of them.
    So see if you can get it right. I see that you have 1,800 followers. At $100 a pop that makes $180,000. Serious money. Don’t go and buy a Prado with it. At $25 for 10kg hybrid seed corn that is 7200 10 kg bags which is 72 MT. Serious stuff. If you bought that much then you would get a big discount of the price so actually a lot more. Maybe double.
    Hey. Easy job. Get it organised. In fact if you send some of the money here I’ll make sure it is well spent cause I know every house in the community.

  4. I think you insult the Afghanis with the phrase “Afghanistan’s very limited capacity to absorb it.” That should be “Afghanistan’s extreme disinterest in absorbing it.” This is a sign of their astuteness.

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