As Lebanon reckons with another round of crisis, what should the international community do to aid? In this Strategic Update, Valentina Finckenstein traces three decades of wasted aid and elite entrenchment, as well as the evolution of development theory, to advance a new course of action that will not make the mistakes of the past.
Prior to the countrywide protests which hit Lebanon in late 2019, the country had long sat on the periphery of the world’s attention. The political uprising and the detonation of 2750 tons of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port on August 4th, however, have brought eyes back onto a nation that has long been in a process of decay. The devastating explosion which killed more than 200 people, injured 7000, and left 300,000 homeless struck at a time when Lebanon was already experiencing an unprecedented economic crisis that has left more than half the country living below the poverty line. To add to the misery, the country declared bankruptcy in March and its soaring debt- to-GDP ratio, which reached 194% in 2020, makes it among making it the most indebted country in the world in relation to its produce.
When, if not now, should the international community step in to lessen Lebanon’s suffering? The shocking images of the explosion evoked a swift international response: Emmanuel Macron hosted a foreign aid conference just four days after, vowing to unlock $350 million if strict reforms were enacted. In statesmanlike posturing that stood in crass contrast to the paralysis of Lebanon’s leaders, the French President brought forward an ambitious reform plan. Its deadlines were remarkably unrealistic, however, in the eyes of those familiar with the numerous political bottlenecks of Lebanon. Repeating what previous reform plans suggested already, the tight time frame seemed to disregard any experiences with previous aid packages for the country.