Op-Ed: Making Africa work – some hints for donors

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    Africa received $51-billion in overseas
    development assistance in 2015, more than any other region,
    more than one-third of the global total.

    Over several decades, donors have developed a
    reputation for demanding reforms and continually interfering in
    the decisions of African governments, but also more often than
    not keeping the money flowing irrespective of how the recipient
    country acts. Countries like to publicise how much they give to
    development – the United Kingdom is for example committed to
    donating 0.7% of its GDP – thus creating severe pressure within
    bureaucracies to keep writing cheques.

    With the migration crisis top of mind for
    many European leaders—especially after the recent German
    elections—there is fresh impetus to try to spend as much as
    possible to incentivise Africans from attempting the trek to
    Europe. Inevitably, the focus is how much will be spent rather
    than what the results will be.

    Recipient countries know the game
    by now.
    Business
    as usual

    combines making sufficient noises to
    placate donors while more often than not continuing poor
    governance practices.

    For example, the Ibrahim governance index
    rose by just one percentage in the 10 years between 2006 and
    2015. It appears that African leaders did not take advantage of
    the significant increase in aid prompted by the 2005 Gleneagles
    G-8 Summit or the subsequent period of historically high
    commodity prices to create economies that were attractive to
    both domestic and foreign investors and thus prepare themselves
    for coming challenges.

    Now the economic future of many Africa
    countries looks precarious. The IMF’s most recent (July)
    projections forecast only a modest uptick in the region’s
    expansion to 3.5% in 2018 (from 2.7 in 2017). That is only a
    slight positive per capita increase overall and probably means
    that one-third of the countries will experience negative per
    capita growth. More importantly, 2018 will mark the fourth year
    when the region’s economic growth has, at most, equalled its
    population increases (after gains of 3.4% in 2015 and 1.3 in
    2016).

    Donors are now pondering what to do: should
    they further increase aid to make up for lack of commodity
    revenues and to try to deter migrants, while allowing “business
    as usual” to continue, or should they walk away when
    governments refuse to change their ways. The potential for
    negative publicity against a backdrop of highly unequal world
    puts pressure on them to stay.

    Going
    forward,

    three
    essential
    shifts
    are
    necessary to get aid to work better for
    Africa.

    First, it is essential to change the metric
    of the debate from the amount of money spent to what it
    actually accomplishes. To be effective, aid needs to be
    carefully focused. We believe that donors, in general, are in
    too many countries with the result that their own contributions
    are not significant, and, despite almost a half century of
    pleas for aid co-ordination, international co-operation remains
    weak.

    This, second, demands that donors move away
    from attempting to micromanage projects to assessing whether
    their programmes are aligned with the highest priorities of the
    governments they are supporting. The urgent domestic need to
    stem migration has certainly tempted European governments to
    manage new projects themselves rather than spend the time and
    effort to ensure African management. If there is not agreement
    on basic priorities, no amount of management or hectoring will
    keep donor money from being wasted.

    And third, greater thought must also be given
    to seeking out key multiplier areas to aid expenditure, where
    spending could have a strategic, long-term effect. The
    development problem is often political rather than technical.
    Thus a focus on supporting democracy – not just over elections,
    but between them – is crucial, given the clear, empirical link
    between the health of democracy and the state of the economy in
    Africa.

    Bureaucracies and caring publics inevitably
    want to be involved as many countries as possible and like to
    feel good about how much money is given in aid. But the blunt
    truth is that this approach has not delivered the rate of
    change needed. Moving the rhetoric of aid from “what do we
    spend” to “what do we get as a result” will involve tough
    decisions, especially regarding the overall number of
    recipients.

    Sometimes less really is more.
    DM

    Photo: Children with
    gourds wait for permission to gather the spilled grains from
    air-drops of World Food Programme aircraft in the drop zone
    near Thiekthou, Sudan. UN Photo/Eskinder
    Debebe

    Mills, Herbst and Davis are with the Johannesburg-based
    Brenthurst Foundation, and are co-authors of
    Making
    Africa Work: A Handbook for Economic Success
    which is
    being launched in Brussels this month.

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