Development aid has had and will continue to play an important role in the global fight against poverty and inequality.
However, it needs to change. Some good results have been achieved, but not good as hoped for.
The prominent British researcher Paul Collier concludes that Africa south of Sahara would have been 25% poorer without development assistance. Other maintain that aid has undermined the ability of African governments to take enough responsibility for their own development.
Interestingly the most passionate advocates for increased aid to Africa are not Africans. This may be a reaction to the oversimplification in the donor community that more aid equals less poverty.
After more than 50 years of development assistance, some important lessons learned are:
1. Changes in a society largely comes from inside. Any nation, and in particular those who have a colonial history, will resist external pressure. With lack of involvement and support by those most affected by a donor initiated project, the project is almost bound to fail.
2. Without a good understanding of the politics, culture and power relations, the donors should not expect any effective impact.
3. The donors need to show respect for the recipients own decision-making process. Ability to relate and gain confidence is as important for effective aid as policy statements and money management. African countries want to be part of an international community that respect them and to not tell them how to run their country.
4. Africa has many realities. Every generalization is wrong. The opposite might also be true. To interfere and influence development in a foreign country requires knowledge and experience. Africa has never been short of advice or solution on paper from sources outside the continent. A recipient fatigue has developed.
5. Development assistance is a relatively small contribution to development. Goals and expectations on what could be achieved should therefore be modest.
6. Aid can speed up development that people have decided to carry out and has capacity to follow up. Money is not always the answer, but often it helps.
7. Donors and recipients need to reconsider where aid should intervene in development. Some countries in Africa should now be ready to take more responsibility for their own development and aid should gradually be reduced.
8. Donors should avoid building up their own state within the state with parallel structures. This might be efficient and give good short term results, but it is not development.
9. Donor support to a sector may tempt the recipient to switch their own money to consumption or to reduce their own commitment to raise taxes and collect revenues.
10. Donors should not be a key actor in another country’s policy making, but be allowed to propose ideas and solutions.