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The Inconvenient Truth about Foreign Aid

Courtesy of torbakhopper/Flickr. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This article was published by Transformation at openDemocracy on 6 February 2017.

For recipients aid has been a very mixed blessing, but for donors it’s been a bonanza.

It’s astonishing when you think about it. Why should an old and poorly-performing industry carry on, burdened with even more tasks, and provided with yet more money? I’m talking about foreign aid, whose mixed results have been reconfirmed countless times in the last 70 years.

For aid’s backers, such skepticism is unfair or at best premature. Successes, from combating diseases to promoting the ‘green revolution,’ are held as self-evident. With new, smarter policy formulas and management focused on results, failure is soon going to be minimized. Across most of the Left-Right spectrum, aid still enjoys political backing. Western spending continues largely upward. New aid donors from Turkey to Thailand are joining in. And tasks are expanding.To achieve the 169 targets of the world’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals by the year 2030, global leaders concur that foreign aid is vital.

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Peering into a Murky Crystal Ball; Where Will Africa be in 2030?

Somalia Famine Food Aid

Courtesy of Surian Soosay/Flickr. CC BY 2.0

This article was originally published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) on 5 January 2017.

Africa will miss most of the internationally-agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the target date of 2030. But it might just reach ‘escape velocity’ enabling it to break out of its extreme poverty orbit by 2045 or 2050.

This is the sense of experts who participated in a seminar on Africa’s future at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria recently.

‘Almost no Sustainable Development Goals will be met without truly revolutionary improvements in governance and the way services are delivered,’ said ISS chairperson Jakkie Cilliers, who also heads the institute’s African Futures and Innovation programme.  Even in an optimistic ‘Africa Rising’ scenario projected by the ISS, most African countries would not meet the 17 SDGs.

The principle SDG is to eliminate poverty. But extreme poverty (quantified as living on US$1.90 per person, per day or less) was unlikely to be eliminated by the 2030 SDG target date in any plausible scenario, Cilliers said.

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Lessons Learned from the Pioneers of African Unity

On the beach of Chitimba, Malawi

“Africa” written in the evening sky in Malawi, courtesy Jack Zalium/Flickr

This article was originally published by The Nordic Africa Institute on 31 May 2016.

May 25th is a memorable day for Pan-Africanism. This is the day when, 53 years ago today, representatives of 32 African governments signed a treaty in Addis Ababa to establish the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Many meanings and ideas can be projected into Pan-Africanism, and indeed there has been, and will continue to be, a lively debate about the definition of this too often politicized term. However, the merit of such a debate is far less important to the discussion here than the fact that there are dimensions of Pan-Africanism, and also that Pan-Africanism has passed through many phases before its present phase where it is being celebrated as an ideology for African development. This conception of Pan-Africansim seeks and emphasises the unity and solidarity of all Africans for the purpose of African development.

Pan-Africanism gained prominence in Africa, especially in the 1950s, and became a veritable tool for anti-colonial struggles. The influence of Trans-Atlantic Pan-Africanism as a movement of ideas and emotions was remarkable. Much in this regard can be attributed to the efforts of black Pan-Africanists in diaspora. The pursuit of Pan-Africanism as a movement of liberation in the 1950s helped in promoting awareness about the essence of ‘African unity’. For example, there was broad consensus among African leaders on the need to promote the unity of African countries towards the total liberation of Africa. However, the movement towards African unity was evidently characterised by differences among African leaders.

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Many Refugees, Poor Data: Development Cooperation Requires Higher-quality Data

Rowing boat on a house roof

Courtesy Norbert Nagel/Wikimedia Commons

This article was originally published by the German institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in August 2016.

In June 2016, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) presented his latest annual report on the situation of refugees and displaced persons around the world. Once again, this account documents new record levels in refugee numbers, both in industrialised and in developing countries. For governments and aid organisations, these statistics constitute an important basis for addressing displacement-related challenges in a more effective manner. However, the data provided by UNHCR is often incomplete and marked by a number of shortcomings. Increasingly high expectations are being placed on development cooperation in terms of tackling the root causes of forced displacement. Meeting these expectations requires reliable data.

Refugee crises can only be adequately addressed on the basis of comprehensive and reliable data. Displaced persons must be able to register as refugees in order to receive access to international protection and the related legal rights and aid. Host countries and communities depend on data pertaining to current displacement situations in order to plan the required services and provide the necessary administrative, personnel and material resources. The credibility of international aid organisations’ appeals for donations also rely on substantiated information about displacement situations.

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A Look at the American ‘Countering Violent Extremism’ Strategy

Stop Terrorism

Courtesy bykst/Pixabay

This article was originally published by Saferworld on 26 July 2016.

The US Department of State and USAID have laid out how American development and diplomacy agencies will work together to reduce violent extremism abroad. David Alpher urges caution in the melding of development and security agendas – a prospect that risks undermining the objectives of both.

The Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda has grown so rapidly in American policy that, “at this point,” one government official jokes, “even the lunch ladies in the cafeteria are doing CVE.” The White House held a head-of-state level summit on the subject in 2015, and the State Department recently merged its CVE and counter-terrorism work into one combined bureau—but until May 2016, the term had never been officially uttered by USAID. Alternative phrasing like The Development Response to Violent Extremism, for examplethe title of the last USAID report on the subject — helped insulate American development and peacebuilding efforts from the securitized aspects of the rapidly growing CVE agenda.

The Department of State & USAID Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism – released at the end of May, officially changed all that. The strategy sets out how American development and diplomacy will work together to help to reduce violent extremism. Navigating this cooperation is a complicated and at times dangerous path, and following the upcoming election, the next US administration will have a good deal of work ahead to decide whether it is really progress or not. My thoughts on that are here.

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