African News

Canada’s Aid to Africa is Largely Unproductive

1 April 2007 at 20:09 | 523 views

Commentary

By Kofi Akosah-Sarpong.

Despite its good intentions, a new Canadian Senate report on development aid to Africa says for the past 40 years Ottawa’s foreign aid to Africa has not been effective in alleviating poverty and calls for “a new roadmap” to “overcome 40 years of failure.” The failure is suggestive of other international development agencies working in Africa and their realisation that their ineffectiveness is as result of lack of a broader input of Africa’s history, experiences, norms, values and traditions into the designing of development aid for Africa.

Dubbed "Overcoming 40 Years of Failure: A New Roadmap for Sub-Saharan Africa", the highly critical Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade study, released on February 15, 2007, however, acknowledges the emergence of “African Renaissance” as a “positive advancement” in Africa’s development process that “will result in a lasting change” in the continent’s development process.

The noting of African Renaissance as a positive advancement in the report, which more or less recognises that Africa’s history, experiences, norms, values and traditions should be part of the core factors in designing foreign development aid programs for Africa, confirms the growing impact of international development literature and research in this direction. In this sense, whether there is “decline in sub-Saharan living standards,” among other declines in development indicators,” the key thinking is not overly having any trouble with the neo-liberal paradigms driving foreign aid programs for Africa, but the ability to have a thorough grasp of the development challenges facing Africa from within the continent’s history, values and experiences in relation to the dominant Western neo-liberal values.

Part of the troubles of international development agencies working in Africa is that their programs, for long uninformed by Africa’s experiences and values, do not reflect genuinely the development problems on the ground and these have affected their efficiency to the detriment of Africa’s progress. No doubt, the well-researched Canadian Senate report concedes this, to the acknowledgement of current development thinking in Africa, and takes the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), as the key face of Ottawa’s foreign aid policy and practices to task by concluding that CIDA “has been largely ineffective and its future must be reviewed.”

The picture here is that, you don’t solve a problem if you don’t understand it - you solve Africa’s problems by understanding Africa’s values first and any other second. In addition to the need for CIDA to incorporate African values into its African programs and use African-Canadians, the report argues that CIDA “is hampered by its structure, lack of a formal statute and consistent leadership, and the fact that 81% of its employees work in Ottawa and only 19% actually work in the field.” Not surprising therefore, that such lack of holistic policy framework has seen CIDA, since its“inception in 1968, spend $12.4 billion (Canadian) in bilateral assistance to sub-Saharan Africa, with few notable or lasting results.”

What African bureaucrats and other elites, who are office-bound and are currently under intense fire for behaving like CIDA since the inception of the African nation-states some 50 years ago, can borrow from the Canadian Senate Committee members who did the report is that they “heard testimony from over 400 expert witnesses in Canada, Africa and Europe. In addition, Committee members traveled to Africa to conduct interviews and see conditions in African countries firsthand.”

And to make this more feasible to an Africa which is the only continent where foreign development paradigms dominate its development process, as Ghana’s development expert Dr. Y.K. Amoako will tell you, to the detriment of Africa’s development process, “the report recommends that the Government of Canada create an Africa Office, comprising aid, trade, security and foreign affairs staff with a principal mandate of achieving economic development in Africa. At least 80% of Africa Office staff, resources, and financial decision-making authority should be decentralized to the field.”

* For a full copy of the report, a complete list of recommendations, and the executive summary, please visit: www.senate-senat.ca/africa.asp . More information about the Committee is available at: www.senate-senat.ca/foraffetrang.asp .

Photo: Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada.

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