Godfrey Bloom, British member of the European parliament, who came under fire for his 'bongo bongo land' comment. Photo by: Euro Realist Newsletter / CC BY-SA

Where is “bongo bongo land?”

According to Godfrey Bloom, a British member of the European parliament, the U.K. should stop delivering aid there. In a time of severe budget constraints in Europe, he says, that money is being spent on sunglasses and luxury cars instead of development, in a thinly disguised reference to corrupt African leaders that allegedly pocket official development assistance funds.

“How we can possibly be giving a billion pounds a month, when we’re in this sort of debt, to bongo bongo land is completely beyond me,” the EU parliamentarian said during a meeting with supporters of the euro-skeptic United Kingdom Independence Party, or Ukip. He added those funds are used “to buy Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it that goes with most of the foreign aid.”

Bloom also complained that Pakistan has bought a new squadron of F-18 fighter jets that he says the U.K. Royal Air Force needs — with money from the U.K. Department for International Development.

The comments sparked a strong reaction from the aid community as well as other British politicians.

“Anyone who thinks that aid doesn’t save millions of lives is living in la la land,” tweeted Melanie Ward, chief advocacy officer for U.K.-based NGO ActionAid.

Development minister Lynn Featherstone posted a picture of her handing out DfID-funded textbooks to children in South Sudan and noted on the same social media platform: “Giving out Ferraris in ‘Bongo land?’ Never.”

After the outrage, Ukip issued a formal apology and reprimanded Bloom, who at first refused to back down but finally admitted his remarks were offensive. He told local television he had simply meant to describe “corrupt despots across the globe … who either spend the money we give them on arms or who misdirect it.”

Bloom’s comments however do describe how a sector of British conservatives actually feel about U.K. foreign aid policy, which they believe should not be a top priority for the country, especially at a time of budget constraints for most government departments. 

Prime Minister David Cameron has so far ignored such views and continues to support DfID’s work as well as the agency’s budget. The U.K. this year achieved its goal of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on foreign aid.

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.

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