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JOHANNESBURG, Sep 15 2011 (IPS) - In the hope for a fairer deal on aid for the continent, African leaders are planning to present a unified position at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) in Busan, South Korea. Currently, discussions are underway between the African Union, New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), and private sector and civil society representatives on how to improve the impact of aid for the most vulnerable and marginalised. The outcome of these discussions will then be taken to Busan in November this year as the ‘African Consensus and Position on Development Effectiveness’.

As 2000 high-level delegates and experts converge on Busan, to review global progress on the impact and effectiveness of aid, it is imperative that the needs of Africa take centre stage. Present aid policies are failing Africa, as evidenced by the fact that 33 of the world’s 48 Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are on the continent. UN estimates of progress on the Millennium Development Goals show that Africa is lagging behind the rest of the world in reducing poverty. According to 2005 estimates, which are still quoted by experts, half the people in Sub-Saharan African live on less than UDS 1.25 a day.

Civil society is hoping for enhanced commitments in Busan from donor and recipient countries to set a new agenda for development that maximises the benefits of aid for those most in need. It is thus imperative from an African perspective that political leaders and senior government officials coming to HLF 4 reiterate their commitment to implementing principles agreed to in previous high level forums on aid effectiveness at Accra (2008) and Paris (2005).

At Busan, Africa needs developed donor countries to live up to their aid commitments and ensure the predictability of aid flows to allow recipient countries to plan for the future on the basis of aid that has been promised for development. Following the global financial crisis of 2008, a number of developed countries reneged on official development aid commitments by drastically slashing the amount of aid that had been promised, putting to waste the efforts of African countries who had spent considerable time and resources in formulating extensive plans for the utilisation of the projected aid.

Additionally, the failure of developed countries to allocate a minimal percentage of 0.7 percent of their Gross National Income to developing countries to meet their development goals through aid from abroad needs to be in the spotlight. This figure was agreed through a UN General Assembly resolution way back in 1970. Sadly, only a handful of developed countries have met this target in official development assistance while most fall woefully short of it.

Moreover, if official aid is to work, it must be de-linked from political or economic considerations of the donor government in keeping with the agreed principle of non-conditionality. This is a highly-contested issue as aid flows remain dependent on the strategic and geopolitical priorities of donor governments, including security concerns. It is an open secret that some LDCs in Africa have received more aid than others not on the basis of the actual needs of their populations but because of to their governments’ willingness to cooperate militarily in the global ‘war on terror’. There is a strong demand from civil society that conditionality be focused only on ‘development results’, including a commitment to the protection of human rights, social justice, and transparency.

From Africa’s perspective, while it is important to spur economic development on the continent, there is also an equally pressing need to re-orient global economic governance towards meeting the needs of the impoverished and the marginalised. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF), from which many African states have borrowed huge amounts of money, continue to be governed by (and serve the economic agenda of) a handful of traditionally rich countries. Discussions at Busan cannot be divorced from reform and democratisation of international financial institutions whose work has a powerful resonance on the continent.

Another key principle of aid that has emerged from previous high level forums is that of ‘national ownership’. Many African states have sought to interpret this as ‘government ownership’, as evident in the proliferation of policy pronouncements and legislation to allow governments to maintain hegemony over aid money to the detriment of other stakeholders, such as parliamentarians who sit in the opposition, civil society, and local communities.

Since the last High Level Forum in Accra in 2008, a number of legal and policy restrictions across the African continent have been put in place to prevent civil society groups from demanding accountability from governments through provisions that restrict the advocacy work of NGOs and force them to bring their activities in line with national development plans decided by governments. The serious crisis of shrinking civil society space on the continent is exacerbated by the fact that many vocal civil society advocates exposing corruption and human rights violations are being intimidated through motivated prosecutions, threats, attacks on their reputations, and extreme physical violence.

There is also a worrying paucity of information from African countries regarding the impact that aid is having on the lives of the impoverished. This is linked to the lack of democratic institutions that can independently verify the actions of governments.

In Busan, the world cannot afford to fail Africa, and nor can African leaders. (END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

(*) Mandeep Tiwana works as the Policy Manager and Netsanet Belay works as the Director of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, a global alliance of civil society headquartered in Johannesburg.

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