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Forum for the Future of Aid

Southern Voices for Change in the International Aid System Project

The Forum on the Future of Aid is an online community dedicated to research and opinions about how the international aid system currently works and where it should go next

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Foreign Aid, Politics and Ownership: the Case of Sri Lanka

By Prashan Thalayasingam

This paper attempts to unpack some of the issues surrounding international aid. It is set in the context of Sri Lanka and explores local dimensions and local manifestations of international aid structures. It will focus on the issue of ownership of aid and the way this ownership has been negotiated over time in Sri Lanka. The paper is structured to first examine some critical ideas generated on the origins and agendas of international aid. It will then present a short summary of international aid and its engagement with Sri Lanka to highlight trends refl ecting changes based on internal political concerns and the external geopolitical environment. The final sections highlight links between more recent changes in international aid structures and their manifestations at the local level. The paper is organized in this way to highlight the importance of geo-political issues in relation to aid, to highlight the way some emerging international trends play out in Sri Lanka and to emphasise the links between international issues and domestic political changes in relation to the process of negotiating and establishing ownership. The key messages that emerge from this paper are:
• That the Aid system at present cannot be understood or explained without reference to its past. Any of the structures and signifi cant changes occurring at the moment have roots in older geo-political changes. The continuum of change in the aid system over time cannot be understood internally or locally without recourse to history.
• That this examination of history reveals how issues such as ownership have been negotiated within the aid system by Southern Governments within the geopolitical realities of each specifi c time period.

That changes in both demand from aid recipients and supply from aid donors will affect the future organization of the aid system. The rise of new forms of financing among the MICs, the rise of new donor governments and blocs all reveal the importance of both demand and supply. That international developments such as changes in regional power structures, and international conventions will continue to shape the aid system. And fi nally that aid is no longer accepted as benign and no longer accepted uncritically. It has been forced to become sensitive to historical, cultural and social complexities and to deal with the impact of its own failures.

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