President Mobutu Sese Seko was said to have sipped pink champagne daily, hired Concorde to fly his family to New York to shop and bought numerous friends in high places, much of it with the help of foreign aid.

From 1975 to 1997, donors including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank pumped billions of dollars into the former Zaire, to little effect.

By the time the late Congolese dictator was ousted from power, his legacy of institutionalised theft had helped bring Africa's potentially most wealthy nation to its knees.

While no African leader since has matched Mobutu's rapacious extravagance, corruption still clouds the continent, impoverishing its people and hamstringing development efforts.

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has put fighting the problem at the heart of the Washington-based lender's activities since taking the helm last year, halting lending to projects in Kenya and Chad, among other countries around the world.

But his drive to stamp out the abuse of funding by officials who siphon off the cash for personal gain has raised hackles among Western donors such as Britain, France and Italy, who fear his campaign could slow lending and punish the poor.

Despite the criticism, finance ministers backed a new World Bank anti-graft strategy at a meeting in Singapore Monday.

But there is a growing number of Africans who say foreign aid, regardless of whether it is tied to good governance, does more harm than good. They argue it weakens trade, supports corruption and discourages a spirit of self-reliance.

We want Africans to build their economic strength through creativity and talent, aid throws all that out of the window, said James Shikwati, director of the Inter-Region Economic Network (IREN Kenya), focusing on development policies.

To solve corruption we need Africans to be agitated. When the fight is done by someone else, Kenyans, Africans, don't think it's part of their system.


Examples of misused foreign aid abound in Africa.

Nigeria, which has the world's third biggest caseload of people living with HIV/AIDS, lost $50 million in aid to fight the disease in April when the Global Fund suspended two grants over a failure to meet targets on transparency and drug access.

In Uganda, the Global Fund temporarily suspended $367 million in aid last year, saying it discovered serious mismanagement in the distribution of the money.

Across the border in Kenya, the biggest scandal over foreign aid in recent years involved the National AIDS Control Council (NACC) whose director was suspended in 2003 accused of fraud by a government anti-graft watchdog.

The case prompted the World Bank to express concerns that the NACC had not accounted for the money over the six months to June 2004.

Despite concerns about graft, donors defended foreign aid.

I don't think it is realistic for the time being, for a country like Tanzania to be able to survive without that assistance, Swedish ambassador Torvald Akesson told Reuters in Tanzania, where donors finance 39 percent of its budget.

An international development agency official in Kenya said donors often went where private sector players feared to tread.

The question is do you stop aid and cut off your ability to influence policies or stay and work to improve financial systems, accountability and political dialogue? he added.

On the potholed, barely lit streets of Nairobi, residents wanted to see aid spent on roads and power lines.

Aid is important for Kenya, but it should be monitored, said Margaret Nafula, a lottery ticket seller. The donors should make sure every shilling is used for what they gave it. There is corruption in this country but if the donors say they will not give money because of it, we will never develop.

(Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in Abuja, Helen Nyambura in Nairobi and George Obulutsa in Dar Es Salaam)