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Lessons for Africa at Busan Aid Forum

Miriam Gathigah

Achieving MDGs through effective aid.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Achieving MDGs through effective aid. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

BUSAN, South Korea, Nov 30 2011 (IPS) - There are many inspiring stories that delegates from Africa attending the ongoing Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness can take home to provide insights to their respective countries on making the transformation to middle-income economies.

Achieving MDGs through effective aid.  Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Achieving MDGs through effective aid. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Most African countries are in a much better place than the host of the HLF4 was five decades ago. South Korea, now a solid economy, presents an alternative for African countries keen on forming partnerships for better growth.

It was with admiration that delegates heard South Korean President Lee Myung Bak at the opening ceremony recounting the long and bitter-sweet journey that the Koreans took to become a developed country.

That journey involved making painful sacrifices, but it has borne fruit.

“The history of Korea’s economic development and democratisation is one of sweat and tears of ordinary people, who worked hard to escape poverty and dreamed of having decent lives.

“People often ask me what the key to Korea’s success was. Without any hesitation, I say that it was the power of education. Even when they did not have enough food to put on their tables, Korean parents sacrificed everything to educate their children.”

“These children grew up to lead the economic development of Korea,” the President said. “I believe that education is the key to the advancement of individuals, countries, and the world. ”

Moses Dura, a Kenyan aid consultant, hopes that Africa is listening. “Aid is a good idea. It is meant to supplement domestic resources. But in most African countries, political regimes thrive on corruption. In Kenya for instance, there has been a series of corruption allegations in key ministries such as education, water and land.”

Corruption and lack of accountability at the government level is the cancer that is eating into efforts to transform African countries from low to middle-income and make them less dependent on aid.

Hillary Clinton, the United States secretary of state, during the same ceremony, exhorted developing countries to take responsibility and show accountability for the slow place of development.

She said that often money that is set aside for sector budgets is supposed to be supplemented by aid. Unfortunately, “this money is usually allocated to other areas when these countries receive funding.”

Many civil society organisations saw Clinton’s presence as an opportunity to hold the U.S. accountable for its role in the ineffectiveness of aid. Clinton acknowledged that U.S. aid remains tied and cannot be completely free.

This although it is well understood that untied aid is a significant aspect of effectiveness. It means that all the money given as aid goes into the recipient country for development assistance.

“Between 2005 and 2009 we have doubled the percentage of untied aid from 32 to 68 percent. We still need a percentage of aid to remain tied in order to get political support for the budgets that we turn into aid for development assistance,” Clinton explained.

As 2015 beckons, many African countries are hard pressed to make aid work in order to achieve the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in 2000 by a United Nations summit to fight global poverty by accelerating economic and human development.

For those African countries who think it is too late to attain these goals, President Lee had something to say. “When I was a child, Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world. Our per capita GDP stood at less than 100 dollars, and the country was full of people without jobs.

“However, within half-a-century, Korea rebuilt itself, emerging from the ashes of a devastating war and extreme poverty to a vibrant economy and democracy. I firmly believe that the Busan forum will galvanise the world to achieve the MDGs and to make a better world for all.”

Now more than ever, Africa has a great opportunity to achieve significant growth.

Michael Sudarkasa, an expert with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) says there are new opportunities to mobilise resources through partnerships with China, India and even Brazil. “But Africa needs to have donors follow their countries’ development strategies while giving aid.”

“The private sector in Africa should also play a greater role towards achieving development aims. Investors coming to Africa are looking for strong private sector representatives to form mutually beneficial partnerships,” Sudarkasa said.

Clinton also emphasised the importance of forging partnerships to “help countries that are rich in natural resources escape resources curbs that make them rich in oil and gold but poor in all other ways.”

She said that towards this end the U.S. is already working with African countries such as Ghana and Tanzania, and noted that Brazil is working closely with Mozambique in the agricultural sector since the two countries share similar soil types.

Sudarkasa said he would urge African countries “to enhance the combined impact that all these opportunities for development present and to implement donor funding in a manner that acknowledges that aid is a catalyst to improve human and economic development.”

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