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Donor harmonisation

“Make national systems the default option”

by Tobias Kahler

In depth

Dembowski

Dembowski

DATA is an organisation that presses G8 governments to keep their aid pledges. The acronym stands for Debt Aids Trade Africa. U2 singer Bono was one of the organisation’s founders. Tobias Kahler runs DATA’s Berlin office. In an interview, he discussed DATA’s hopes for the OECD summit in Accra in September. [ Interview with Tobias Kahler ]

DATA has recently published its third annual report, looking at how and where poverty reduction works best. Which initiative do you consider a particular success?
A good number of development programmes work very well indeed. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, for instance, is successful in various respects. It is very reliable in terms of keeping financial pledges, its operations are transparent, and it has a clear mission. It also gets good results. For example, around 2.1 million AIDS sufferers in Africa today receive antiretroviral drugs. That is a third of those affected. By comparison, at the beginning of the decade, only 50,000 patients were properly medicated. And that is just one of many gratifying statistics. Another one is that the numbers of deaths due to malaria has gone down in Rwanda, thanks to mosquito nets sprayed with insecticides. That is also a success of the Global Fund.

What other programme strikes you as exemplary?

The Education for All – Fast Track Initiative is a good example of how rapid progress can be achieved on the basis of developing-country ownership. The number of children enrolled in schools in Africa has risen by 29 million since 1999, not least because effective local programmes were given support.

So what do you expect from September’s OECD High Level-Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra?

Above all, we hope it will give the Paris process new momentum. The debate on aid effectiveness – which really started in Rome in 2003 – is very exciting. DATA insists that the G8 must keep their aid pledges. But it is also of obvious importance that the money be spent as effectively as possible. The current debate is moving in the right direction. National systems need to be made more use of, because only the administrations of the partner countries themselves can ensure coherence of individual measures with their development strategies. Moreover, un-tying aid is key.

Ownership is a core principle of the Paris agenda, but the notion is a bit confused. If the countries concerned were sovereign in the sense of being able to run their own affairs by themselves, nobody would speak of ownership – nor of aid, for that matter. It often seems that rich-country governments have an agenda they want to see implemented in poor countries.

“Ownership” is certainly a somewhat fuzzy term. We consider it a goal of development efforts, rather than a prerequisite. If donors reliably make pledged funds available, if they cooperate transparently and meaningfully with local institutions, if they harness constructive forces – which certainly exist in Africa – the result will be responsible ownership. Development depends on the processes adopted, and those processes are designed. For example, we would welcome decisions in Accra to make national systems the default option, and to require explicit justifications for any exceptions.
But governance conditions can be pretty awful in Africa. What kind of positive developmental ownership can one expect from the Kenyan
government, for example? The cabinet includes 80 highly paid ministers who had to be mollified so that they wouldn’t set off a civil war.
That’s a rather blunt observation, but the recent election in Kenya really was a sorry affair. Nonetheless, we must not be put off by individual setbacks. On the whole, development in Africa is encouraging. At the beginning of the decade, 16 armed conflicts were raging there. Today, there are only five. There is also progress in terms of corruption, as Transparency International has noted. In their assessment, sub-Saharan countries like Botswana, Namibia, Cape Verde or Mauritius rank higher today than EU member Poland.

Let’s return to the issue of ownership. Who is responsible for making develop­ment happen: the G8 or poor-country governments?

Of course, nobody can compel a foreign government to assume positive ownership. Responsibility for Africa rests with the Africans themselves. But the rich nations have made promises that need to be kept. Cooperation matters very much – and official development assistance (ODA) is only one aspect. We just as much need development-friendly trade rules. There will be no progress so long as US and EU trade policies thwart development. But there is no point in overburdening the agenda in Accra. We will have to focus on crucial aspects of aid effectiveness, if progress is to be made in this field.

How does Germany rank in your assessment of donors’ commitment to the Paris agenda?

The picture in our recent annual report is basically positive, but there are some areas of concern. In terms of predictability of payments, Germany ranks second in the G8 alongside Canada. In terms of transparency and reporting, however, there is real need for improvement.

Questions by Hans Dembowski.