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Africa: Decline of paternalism in sight
Garry Whitby
Published: 27-MAY-05

I recently assisted the United Nations with its strategy for reconstruction and development after the Asian tsunami. My concern, however, is the effect the tsunami has had on Africa. The tsunami not only hit the African coast, resulting in loss of life and livelihoods; but it also drew attention away from Africa’s perpetual miseries – conflicts, wars, political infighting, corruption, disease, flooding and famine.

Sub-Saharan Africa and her poor are often forgotten by most of the developed world unless they are sung back into memory by Bob Geldof, Sting or Bono, who have embarrassed the donors to rethink their strategies, as demonstrated recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Africa – and the poverty suffered by her 1.3 billion inhabitants – was recognised as the most critical issue to be dealt with by the Forum and voted as such by those who attended. The leaders of developed countries have finally realised that for all nations to prosper, interdependence amongst the rich and poor of the world is essential. This thinking forms crucial policy as is evident in the recently published report of the Commission for Africa, and the thought piece from the British Government on “Partnerships for poverty reduction: rethinking conditionality”.

Sub-Saharan Africa is likely to miss the 2015 deadline to meet the agreed upon poverty reduction goals by 100 years. Pervasive poverty denies dignity; conflict and violence rob life; and HIV/ AIDS kills. Hope is an endless torment and life is lost.

But today international donor organisations operating on the continent are taking huge steps to ensure that Africa and her people become independent of donor aid. They are assisting countries to form fair, stable and secure economies and governments that encourage growth and development. They are committed to assisting those nations that promote good governance, transparent public budgets aimed at poverty eradication, and those that have wide consultation with their electorates.

In addition, the donors are rethinking their stance on conditionalities for donor funds to be released. As President Mkapa of Tanzania has said “Development cannot be imposed. It can only be facilitated. It requires ownership, participation and empowerment, not harangues and dictates.”

A multi-donor funded initiative in Tanzania has established a rapid funding envelope for quick disbursement of funds to fight HIV/Aids, in response to NGOs who complained that slow fund disbursement was killing people. In Mozambique, the USAID-funded flood relief programme gave US$100 to each flood-affected family to assist them to get back on their feet. It gave money, not aid – which allowed the families to buy what was essential to their particular needs.

Since 1999, African countries have had to develop Poverty Reduction Strategies to qualify for aid or loans. Africa’s record for handling this money has been far from spotless.

Too often the funds were misused or mishandled and the poor continued to suffer. The funding only succeeded in creating donor dependency instead of fostering and creating sustainability and prosperity amongst the people it was meant to help. Now donors investigate ways of making market forces work for the poor, through wide consultation with communities about where and how they need the money to be used. In Malawi, for instance, through the British Government-funded community schools project, more than 100 schools have been built, involving the communities in which and for whom the schools were to benefit. By developing the communities to become community contractors, economic benefits have been spread throughout the community. The programme is still running five years later.

I have been involved in a number of projects where the private sector and public sector have collaborated with far reaching results: not only has infrastructure been built, but communities empowered and economies kickstarted. In all instances, the key was a partnership, which involved a shared understanding of the end goal and a joint commitment to that goal.

The consequences of these partnerships is that more donors are attracted to giving aid to Africa, and that solutions to the complex issues of governance and poverty issues on the continent will be found. Only severe and critical re-evaluation of the way money is managed on the continent, coupled with a transparent and honest structure of government, will ensure that the lives of a majority of Africans are substantially improved.

Garry Whitby heads up Deloitte’s Development Solutions division.





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