Colonialism, war and aid dependence in Cambodia

Cambodia is a great case for study topics such as technologies appropriation and social change. We have a country that was few decades ago the scenery of violent tensions and now is struggling to recover its lost time by joining globalization. Even we have several objections, it is true that its economy is growing and much has been done in the last ten years in Cambodia. Therefore, we need a constant flow of analysis that any policy maker shouldn’t refuse, not inscribing in any monolithic conception of development. When we talk about growth and social change, we must know the distinction behind these two terms, used as synonyms by certain sources. M. Gillis, D.H. Perkins, M. Roemer and D.R. Snodgrass (1983) give us a good definition of it: 

‘The terms economic growth and economic development are sometimes used interchangeably but there is a fundamental distinction between them. ‘Economic growth’ refers to a rise in national or per capita income and product (…) Economic development implies more.[1]

To illustrate this distinction, the authors present as a model what happened in South Korea and Libya during the 1980s. Both countries experienced a great growth in their income per capita. However, the Libyan growth is explained in the discovery of new oil wells that attracted US and Europeans corporations. Although the Libyan government and its people got high revenues for it, they did not have contact with the oil production. This fact meant that Libya was not considered a developing country. As for South Korea, since 1960s development meant deeply changes in its society and financial structure, the equal distribution of economical responsibilities not only to the industry, but also to sectors such as agriculture and urbanization. In this sense, the Cambodian growth during the last decade does not guarantee itself a deeply development process, though we cannot deny absolutely the experience of certain kinds of social changes in the Cambodian society during such period.

There are three elements to be considered in Cambodian in order to evaluate its growth and social change: The impact of its colonial period, its troublesome 1970s – 1990s period and its aid dependency.

Countries coming from the experience of colonialism are deeply traumatized in all its elements of constitution even for long generations to come. It is even possible to question the authenticity of a national project in for example several African countries that were born from the messy colonial intervention that created fictional borders made to the benefit of the colonialists only, but remaining like that after independence over the head of peoples. What is true is that several global conflicts are explained in colonialists’ abuses which consequences are alive, even if actors and scenarios have changed. How the French colonial time affects the modern Cambodian development? This is a question we need to study more.

The 1970s-1990s troublesome Cambodian periods are another factor of analysis. It is because such time that Cambodia assumes a role of reconstruction in all its elements of constitution. However, material reconstruction is not enough to guarantee the living together in a divided society.[2] We should not forget that Cambodia comes from a deep division and thus any development conception should be planned in order to avoid further divisions or the return to former conflicts.

Lastly, Cambodia seems to endure an aid dependence that could weaken its own institutions. According to Sophal Ear,[3] aid dependence weakens the institutional capacity, moves away the scarce talent from the public sector, weakens accountability, encourages corruption, foments conflicts over control of aid funds and alleviates pressures to reform inefficient policies and institutions.

[1] Malcom Gillis, Dwigh H. Perkins, Michael Roemer and Donald R. Snodgrass (1983). Economics of Development. Norton & Company, 4th edition. New York, 1983. ISBN 0-393-9685-0. Pag. 7-8.

[2] Lucía Alonso Ollacarizqueta (2003). Reanudar lazos rotos. Estudio sobre reconciliación en Camboya. Fundación Seminario de Investigación para la Paz. Barcelona: Icaria Editorial.

[3] Sophal Ear (2013). AID Dependence in Cambodia. How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy. Columbia University Press, New York, 2013. DS554.8.E25. Pag. 18.


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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