The Big Debate: Should aid only go to democracies

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Should UK aid only be given to democracies? On Thursday 31 January 2019 a high profile set of policy actors and thinkers – including our own Professor Nic Cheeseman – met to debate this topic at the University of Birmingham. Due to the high demand for the event, it was live streamed on Facebook and the video is now available for you to watch at your leisure …

Many countries around the world receive UK aid, including more democratic states such as Ghana and more authoritarian ones such as Rwanda. The logic behind supporting governments in authoritarian states is that we can encourage democracy where it does not exist, and improve the lives of citizens by promoting development in authoritarian contexts. But isn’t it hypocritical to call for human rights on the one hand, while funding repressive regimes on the other? And does it even make sense to fund development projects in countries where problematic politics so often undermines economic progress?

In this lively debate, speakers provide fresh perspectives on this important topic and address the case for international aid.


  • Professor Nic Cheeseman, Professor of Democracy and International Development, University of Birmingham
  • Tufail Hussain, Deputy Director and Head of Fundraising at Islamic Relief
  • Claire Leigh, Director of International Development Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns, Save the Children
  • Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, Former Secretary of State for International Development, University of Birmingham
  • Toni Pearce, Head of Advocacy, Oxfam GB

Chair: Professor Richard Black, Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Head of the College of Social Sciences

For Nic’s blog post explaining why we might want to give aid money to authoritarian governments – under certain strict conditions – go here.

One thought on “The Big Debate: Should aid only go to democracies

  1. I have commented elsewhere that foreign aid is an act of charity. Whereas it may be a sensible thing for donors to attach some principle or other, and principles do matter for the purposes of auditing the success or otherwise of any given project; however, if we are to have principles attached to foreign aid as a matter of policy, please let it be with a tacit understanding the democracy is a long haul endeavour. Education for instance is one example of a haul undertaking. For sound education is critical to the development of strong democratic institutions. It is a point I make very clearly in: Please sir, do not belittle teachers; esteem them – 2018 Edition

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