Africa and development – is Africa ready to reform the donors?
Aid debate in most Western countries has a donor perspectives on development. The size of the aid budget is often more important than discussing the role aid should play in development in a foreign country. Visions and missions are discussed before programmes have been agreed upon with the recipients and implementation possibilities considered.
That more aid equals less poverty is still a simplification common in many sectors of the aid community. The opposite could also be a reality in some countries in the South.
Time has come for donors to remind themselves that the long-term goal for aid is for countries in the South to take greater responsibility for their own development. A success for a donor should be when they have to close down because the recipients are able to solve their own problems.
This will be a very hard step to take by many in the aid community.
But aid at its best could still contribute towards important development goals. To provide basic services to people who need them is a legitimate goal in its own right. There are still more than 500 million people in Africa living in permanent poverty.They are not likely to benefit from any other money flow than aid.
There is extensive evidence to show that aid does reach intended beneficiaries and provides them with key services. Norad’s annual result report gives many examples of success stories that both Norway and recipients have reasons to be proud of.
However, there are also examples of quick and well-meant funding that has been counterproductive. “Needs” of a country or a sector have sometimes led to lack of efforts by those who should be in the driving seat. Sectors are taken over are enthusiastic and well-financed donors. Donors have built up their own state within a state with parallel structures and created their own decision-making systems. The government has abdicated and donors have delivered services.
Donors have often had their finger in the pie, making some countries in the South skeptical of aid from Western countries. Opposition is particularly strong against foreigners who tell them how they should do their job. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe has managed to achieve for us a baffling popularity in many parts of Africa by playing on national pride, the right to make their own decisions in their own country and not to be bullied by a former colonial power.
Many feel that they are better able to choose which donors to work with. Soon, maybe, the offer of assistance will exceed demand. Not so much because of the content of the assistance program, but the way it is presented and planned. Lack of respect for countries’ own decision-making processes is still a major weakness in the aid community.
In countries with growing economies and vast natural resources, the donor role will change. It will be an ongoing challenge and find a balance between what countries in the South request for and believe foreign players can contribute with, and the donor organizations’ impact agenda.
Aid can never be more than a small tool in the efforts to combat poverty. Lack of sobriety and realism have been goodies for the critics of the aid. They point out, often with good reason, that there is a large gap between what the aid organizations say they will do and what is actually achieved.
The most realistic believe that aid at its best can only support the positive trends that are already there and only modestly change the politics and power relations, although that is what we most want to do.
The role of Norwegian aid in the years to come, in addition to humanitarian help to countries in crisis, should primarily concentrate on knowledge transfer, innovation, development of programmes of quality in health and education, exchange of experiences from the role of civil society, exploitation of natural resources, taxes, trade and economic development.