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29.03.2009 Feature Article

Africa and “development assistance,” the way forward.

Africa and “development assistance,” the way forward.
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“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. Poverty is not natural” (Nelson Mandela).

According to UNICEF; Measles takes the life of a child nearly every minute of every day in Sub-Saharan African, while an effective measles vaccine costs as little as $1 per child. One in five or 20% of children die before the age of 5years in Sub-Saharan Africa.
What went wrong Africa? What is it that we are failing to do or recognize? Are we destined for perpetual poverty, struggle and pain? Are our socioeconomic challenges and problems so complex and confusing that no economic prescription can cure them? Is it that development practitioners, politicians, economists and global stakeholders are yet to understand the mechanisms of Africa's socioeconomic systems? Very interesting.

Sometimes it appears as if there is no hope for the continent. From structural adjustments facility to enhanced structural adjustment facility and systematic transformation facility Africa has still not been able to occupy it colourful position in the global economic system.

Ghana's poverty Reduction Strategy (GPRS), Ethiopia's Sustainable Development and Poverty Reduction Program (SDPRP), Kenya's Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS), Senegal's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), Uganda's Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) are all well designed and developed documents laying out practical steps ,strategies and action plans to reduce the burden of poverty and underdevelopment.

Interestingly, with these entire comprehensive “poverty reduction strategy papers” addressing the fundamental challenges confronting the continent and detailing measures to tackling them, we still have not made significant progress in the area of economic development.

Just about halfway to the deadline of the millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations said, Sub-Saharan Africa was unlikely to meet any of the poverty-reductions goals-nor the benchmarks on health, education and women employment.

There are absolutely no doubts that Africa's socioeconomic challenges and problems are complex, born of many interlocking causes. But that is not to say that they are outside the scope of answers and solutions.

For the purposes of this article I will look at “development assistance” in relation to economic development. By development assistance, I mean all the international aid or foreign aid given by governmental and international agencies to support the social, political and economic development of developing countries.

Wherever poverty and impoverishment become an issue Africa stands tall. More often than not the ultimate solution has always being “development assistance”. And anytime development assistances fail to achieve its goals and objectives “corruption” and “bad governance” carry the blame. Billions of dollars have been spent in various parts of Africa to address development issues. Although there have been some signs of progress, the reality is that not much improvement has been realized.

Despite all the “benevolence activities” and international resources that flow to Africa, the region is still wallowing in continued stagnation.

In the case of West, development assistances through the Marshall plan created a stronger foundation for countries of Western Europe after World War two. Started in 1948 and completed in 1952, the Marshall plan was actually one aspect of the development assistance programme of the U.S that greatly impacted and contributed to the Economic recovery of Europe.

I am not by this saying that, the fact that it worked in Western Europe it has to achieve the same result in Africa but rather Africa could ripe the maximum benefits of development assistances if the whole concept and approach is looked at again.

Most of the development assistances that flow into the region are “curative assistance” than “preventive assistance”. These assistances focus on the “symptoms” rather than the “causes”.

There is a popularly saying that “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime”. Until we learn to fish we will always be fed. Until development assistances are genuinely aimed at building and restructuring the social, political and economic institutions and systems of the region, no amount of assistance or aid will rescue the continent from the dungeons of poverty.

The foundation for our growth and development lies in the strength and stability of our social, political and economic systems and institutions. The maximum impact of these assistances can only be realized if they are first aimed at building and creating these political and socioeconomic systems.

Today, the U.S has hope in its numerous economic and social programmes and policies aimed at revamping its economy because there are well developed social, political and economic systems and institutions that will respond adequately to these measures.

The truth is that, Africa can take-off with its development ambitions and aspirations if development assistance empowers them in terms of abilities and structures. If development assistance is to be seen as an effective tool in addressing and tackling some of the challenges in the continent then it should be devoid from conditionalities and be purposely aimed at building and creating vibrant social, economic and political institutions and systems that will help break the vicious cycle of poverty.

God bless Africa.

Credit: Daniel Akwasi Kanyam; International Development Studies
Ohio University [[email protected]]