Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy
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International intervention liberated Cambodia from pariah state status in the early 1990s and laid the foundations for more peaceful, representative rule. Yet the country’s social indicators and the integrity of its political institutions declined precipitously within a few short years, and inequality grew dramatically. Conducting an unflinching investigation into the case of Cambodia, Sophal Ear uncovers the pernicious effects of aid dependence and its perversion of democracy.
International intervention and foreign aid resulted in higher infant and child mortality rates in Cambodia in the 1990s and unprecedented corruption by the mid-2000s. Similarly, in example after example, Ear finds that the more aid dependent the country, the more distorted its incentives to develop sustainably. Contrasting Cambodia’s twin economic engines, tourism and clothing, with its livestock sector and internal handling of the avian flu epidemic, he showcases the international community’s role in preventing Cambodia from owning its national development. A postconflict state unable to refuse aid, Cambodia is rife with trial-and-error donor experiments and their unintended consequences, such as bad governance and poor domestic and tax revenue performancea major factor curbing sustainable, nationally owned growth. By outlining the terms through which countries can achieve better ownership of their development, Ear offers a way forward for governments on the brink of collapse, despite ongoing dependence on foreign intervention and aid.