What are the Criteria for Helping Africa?


March 26, 2007 20:58 | By Camille Bauer

The meagre results generated by aid policies for African countries supposed to foster development have led to new questions about how aid should be distributed.

Looking back ...

The 24th Africa-France Summit, which has just opened in Cannes, with numerous heads of states in attendance, brutally brought back the question of the conditions for developing the African continent. If French diplomacy claims it wants to develop new approaches and supports multilateralal aid, pressure to respect the sacrosanct criteria of the EU stability pact has led Paris to reduce its state aid for development in the 1990s and to devalue the CFA [the currency used in many ex-French colonies in African]. So Jacques Chirac's adoption of the EU's monetary policies contradict the 'official' political line.

Should states be providing aid?

Countries receiving international aid have changed their views about donor-states. At the end of the 1980s it became clear that the aid given during the Cold War has created a host of enormously expensive and irrelevant white elephant projects - without real benefits to the people. Basing themselves on the debt incurred during this period, sponsors adopted a more neoliberal approach. For two decades, it then became a question of circumventing direct state-to-state aid, judged to be ineffective.

This was the time of structural adjustments: no aid without reducing the size of public services. For the supply of basic services, the aid had to go through NGOs. Progressively, nevertheless, the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001, modified this vision. It became clear that many states were incapable of providing minimum public services or controlling all thier territory, and were therefore becoming threats to the global stability. The idea that aid should enable the State to be reinforced become a decisive factor, to the point of being adopted by the World Bank in 2005. If, from now on, there seemed to be a consensus, this desire to put the state back in the centre of development is the object of criticism by civil society - citizens' groups - throughout Africa, who are very concerned to find their leaders perpetually enriching themselves at the expense of aid. In addition, impelled by 'security' imperatives, this aid toward reconstruction of the State often results in a concentration of money being investing in the security sector, at the risk of being used more to reinforce the regimes in place than to restore a real legitimacy with their populations.

Should aid be subject to political and economic conditions?

The notion of "good governance" has gradually become imperative. It implies that aid be conditional upon the application of neoliberal politicies, but also the recipient country's will to fight corruption and put in place a democratic system.

In the majority, African civil society representatives, meeting in Paris at the beginning of last week, at the time of the Africa - France Citizens' Counter-Summit agreed on the necessity to include political conditions on providing aid, so dictatorial regimes would not be able to remain in power at the people's expense. Nevertheless, they challenged the appropriateness of economic conditions which compel, for instance, African states to reduce their trade barriers, thus putting the rare emergent African economic sectors at the mercy of foreign competition. Furthermore, States will become increasingly fragile, unable to adopt economic policies reflecting local conditions.

Should aid be adapted to fit different situations?

The food crisis that ravaged Niger in the summer of 2005 showed the danger of applying elaborate aid policies without taking into consideration the real situation on the ground. In applying the dogma according to which only market forces were important, the sponsors "persuaded the State to dismantle all agricultural structures" recalled Moussa Tchan-Gari, of the Niger Social Forum. Prices of basic commodities were deregulated. Given the monopolistic nature of the cereal market in Niger, this policy led to speculation, bringing about an unprecedented rise in prices. Those providing aid, however, refused, for several months, to distribute free foodstuffs, sacrificing children's lives - in order to placate a market that was supposed to increase local production and the peasants' well-being.

This article first appeared in English on the English-language website of French daily newspaper L'Humanité It was translated on Monday 19 March 2007, by "Chidubem".

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