The Future of Direct Aid to Africa

November 9, 2010

Quietly, a sea change is taking place in Africa: a significant reduction in conflict and the march of democracy across the continent, accompanied by great progress on economic stability and growth, poverty reduction; several African countries now are in the top ranks of countries (e.g. Botswana, Mali, etc.) that are improving their social indicators and the environment for the private sector. 

Nevertheless, great challenges remain.  Even though 17 nations on the Continent are holding critical elections in 2011, unfortunately Africa’s poverty rate simply is not declining fast enough to offset its high population growth rate. The number of people in Africa living in at the poverty level is likely to increase by 2015, the Millennium Development Goals’ deadline. Women’s empowerment is moving too slowly even though it is absolutely central to progress on nearly all the MDGs. Continuing capital flight from Africa dwarfs aid flows to Africa. The threat of unabated climate change threatens hard fought progress on the continent least responsible for it, Africa.

Economic and social progress in Africa fundamentally has been, and will continue to be driven by what Africa does for itself, including reducing corruption, increasing transparency, improving the environment the private sector, and mobilizing more of their own resources for development by stemming the tide of capital flight and more effective use of remittances.

The good news is that we are seeing many countries stepping up. Unlike in previous global downturns, many African countries have proven to be far more resilient this time. As we saw from at the Global Fund replenishment, many African leaders have stepped up to prioritize health spending. A dozen countries in Africa are putting ten percent or more of their budgets into improving their food security.

But Africa cannot do it alone. Aid to Africa will continue to have an important supporting role. Yet it is still far below the commitments made by the G8, and the prospects for substantially increasing aid to Africa are dim given the competing needs at home in Western countries that have to reduce budget deficits.

Increasing the effectiveness of aid is going to be at the heart of the future of aid to Africa, driven by a few core principles that now are widely embraced in the international community.  Development programs have to be country-owned, country-led, reach the grassroots level, and be focused on producing sustainable results. Top-down national programs have to provide the space for, and complement, bottom-up community-based efforts.  There has to be a sharp focus on women’s empowerment, where policies are built around the needs of women. Vigilance against fraud and corruption is absolutely essential. There also has to be greater accountability of aid dollars, including concrete third-party evidence of what works and can be scaled up to have national impact.  Public-private partnerships are needed to leverage aid to increase opportunity for Africa to lift itself out of poverty.

On our 40th Anniversary, that is the commitment that we at Africare have made in our work across the continent—to walk the talk on these core principles every day. We have projects focused on the community development model which have significantly helped small farmers improve yields, moved countless Africans out of poverty, and used innovative and integrative approaches to improve the education and health sectors in many nations making us one of the leading NGOs on the Continent at the forefront of new development models for the 21st Century.

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