The concept of dependency in mainstream aid and development discourse has come to refer to the inadvertent reliance on handouts created by wanton aid-giving. It is often argued that such dependency hinders development in the South. Poor countries have to learn to rely on themselves if they ever hope to stand on their own two feet.
I take the position that the above definition of dependency flips the actual existing dependency relationship upside-down. Rich countries depend on the developing world to stay poor and actively work to sustain the current arrangement of things. Low-priced minerals and other primary commodities, cheap labour, and favourable exchange rates for Northerners when they go vacationing (or to do development work) in the South, among other things, are what this dependency is about.
Whereas the conventional definition creates the image of a despondent, pathetic, third world which has become further stultified as a result of the goodwill of the North, a more accurate image would show a ravenous, exploitative, first world which does all it can, feigning goodwill all along, to maintain its superior position.
Poor countries can certainly become reliant on aid from the North, which then hinders their development. This occurs, however, not by accident as it is usually suggested, but by design. Aid given for budget support wins influence for the donor over policy decision-making – “He who feeds you, controls you” (Thomas Sankara); the influence is palpably used to undermine development. As for multilateral aid, the development sector has been forced to become structured in a way that only allows it to take palliative measures in trying to alleviate poverty; and the efforts to help often undermine economic development and democracy in the long-run.
Development organizations routinely claim to be concerned about dependency, though most often they miss altogether the way in which dependency actually exists.