Aid has the potential to transform the lives of millions of people: through cash transfer programmes that protect people against shocks like earthquakes and financial crises; by getting more children into school; in starting up microfinance programmes that give the poorest people access to credit; through introducing vaccination programmes; developing drought tolerant crops; the list goes on.
But as allegations of corrupt African governments siphoning off large percentages of aid money for their own uses – even to buy arms – continue to appear across the UK media, how can we make aid work better? How can we rebuild trust in aid from citizens in donor countries at a time when they are feeling cuts in government expenditure at home? How can we minimise this leakage of aid to the wrong uses and give additional voice to the people whose lives it is meant to improve? Below I have outlined six steps that I believe will improve aid effectiveness across Africa.
- We need to fix the broken feedback loop. Donors currently fund African civil society organisations to hold their own governments to account, but who is holding the donors to account? Who can blow the whistle when donors get things wrong? Donors must empower Africans to give direct feedback on the relevance, effectiveness and impact of their aid by funding African citizens to hold donor countries to account.
- All organisations should have to publish the results of their own efforts at meeting their own commitments – in particular when they fail to meet them. If a Millennium Development Goal is met, everyone takes the credit. If a Millennium Development Goal target is off course, no-one takes responsibility. Development organisations must make their commitments clear, support monitoring and evaluation and make plans for what they will do if they miss their targets. This should be supported by funding for the collection of commitment indices.
- We need to limit the number of donor transactions that recipients are expected to engage with. It might be possible to achieve this by introducing Owen Barder’s idea of mission trading – which would allow a finite numbers of visits (or missions) by any donor to each country. If a donor wants to increase their missions to a particular country they must trade with those who need less. This would change the power dynamic between donors and recipients of aid.
- Those of us who work in development need to focus more on influencing other parts of donor government – those that work in financial regulation, energy regimes, drug trafficking, and arms trading for example. These activities by donor countries all have a big impact on both development space and governance across Africa.
- We must begin to plan for aid exits, even if they won’t happen for 10-15 years. This will help to build trust in the citizens from donor countries and engender a sense of urgency on the recipient side.
- We need to do more to communicate the successes and risks of aid in a more genuine and less ‘public relations’ way. Uninterrupted success stories rightly make people suspicious. Citizens in donor countries will be better able to trust African success stories and will become less cynical of aid if they are able to understand why calculated and defensible risks don’t always work.
Dr. Lawrence Haddad is Director of the Institute of Development Studies.