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.