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Foreign aid compromises ‘sovereign state’ doctrine

OCTOBER 24 marked 50 years since rich countries pledged at the United Nations (UN) to dedicate 0,7% of their Gross National Income (GNI) to the development of the Global South. This has not been met by a number of donor countries with an exception of Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom (UK). The rest of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have committed 0,31% of their GNI to Official Development Assistance (ODA). Looking at the current situation, Covid-19 has resulted in a major setback for global development where poverty levels and inequality are rising. Business reporter Melody Chikono (MC) this week spoke to National Youth Organisations executive director Misheck
Gondo (MG) to understand how failure by advanced economies to keep their promises has impacted Zimbabwe and other African economies. Below are the excerpts of the interview:

MC: There have been arguments that bilateral aid has African economies poorer. What is your comment?

MG: Any relationship between and among countries must be based on mutual co-operation. One of the tenets for Effective Development Co-operation (EDC) is inclusive partnerships. Co-operation must address the interest of both parties in the agreement.

Bilateral aid is not a significant factor in making countries in Africa poorer. Africa has its can of worms outside of aid problems, a critical array of issues are at the epicentre of Africa’s slow pace in economic growth. These include corruption, human rights violations and inefficient utilisation of domestic resources among others.

Aid has also been abused or redirected to unintended uses. Resources meant for health or education are being redirected towards strengthening the security sector. Some African leaders have been entering into bilateral aid agreements without the consent of their people through established mechanisms such as Parliaments. Lack of transparency has contributed to the attraction of “Bad Aid”; that resulted in Africa losing more of its natural resources through exchange with aid.

Apart from (this), bilateral aid has not been effectively working in Africa because it comes with many strings tied to it, mostly serving the interests of donor countries. US$24 billion of development aid has been estimated to have found its way back to donor countries, instead of benefiting Africa.

MC: How has Zimbabwe and Africa benefited from aid?

MG: Zimbabwe has been a recipient of both bilateral and multilateral aid since 1980. It is important to note that about seven countries in sub-Saharan Africa fund their social protection programmes through international aid. The aid has been directed towards education, health, infrastructure development, water and sanitation, private sector, climate finance, democracy and good governance among other sectors.

A good example is in the health sector. In 1988, the World Health Assembly adopted the goal of poliomyelitis eradication by the year 2000. More aid was channelled to Africa, including Zimbabwe.

In 1999, Zimbabwe was declared polio-free by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The positive impact of aid is also felt in other sectors such as education, in particular girls’ education and academic freedoms.

Aid has helped in times of humanitarian crises such as times of hunger, natural disasters such as cyclones. The recent Covid-19 pandemic has seen more aid flow to Africa to complement domestic efforts by governments.

MC: Who have been the main providers of ODA in Africa?

MG: The main providers of ODA in the past 50 years are the high-income countries, most of whom committed 50 years ago to the spending of 0,7% of their GNI to low and middle-income countries.

In 1970, rich countries committed to sharing their incomes for the development of the global South.

In the 1970s, Sweden, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway reached the 0,7% target. In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, the high-income countries recommitted to the target of aid to poor countries.

In 2000, after the adoption of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Luxembourg reached the 0,7% target. In 2005, the UK hosted the G8 Summit, at which debt cancellation and mobilisation of billions of dollars for aid were agreed upon. In 2013 the UK reached the 0,7% goal.

In the past 50 years, aid has been also channelled through multilateral institutions such as the European Commission, UN, World Bank, Africa Development Bank, IMF and countries like the United States of America, Japan, France, Switzerland, Italy, Canada, Australia and others. The OECD, always ranks the top ODA countries.

MC: Who are the main beneficiaries of ODA in developing countries?

MG: The following 10 countries have been the highest recipients of ODA: Ethiopia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Kenya, Egypt, DRC, Morocco, Uganda, South Sudan and Mozambique. These countries hosted 46% of ODA and other recipients hosted 56%. Most African countries are eligible members of the ODA, including Zimbabwe.

MC: What have been the challenges associated with ODA accountability in sub-Saharan Africa and Zimbabwe in particular?

MG: ODA has created a dependency syndrome, including in Zimbabwe. Most countries in Africa have vast natural resources but the vastness cannot be linked to economic development, growth, or the general-good living conditions of the people.

Lack of accountability in managing ODA remains a worrying phenomenon, with people excluded from accessing the information on agreements or the deals by the governments.

In Zimbabwe, Constitutional Amendment Bill Number 2 is seeking to remove the role played by parliament in international agreements. (It is) a sad development if it passes through. This will mean more debt burden or aid agreements that have a dire negative result on the citizens.

MC: To what extent has aid been tied/untied?

MG: Aid has largely been tied. Every country’s foreign policy is aimed at benefiting its national interests, and largely its people. In doing so, high-income countries and multilateral institutions place conditions on low-income countries as aid requirements.

Aid is projected to mainly benefit the donor countries, as the resources find their way back. Some conditions placed by international institutions are based on experimentalism type of economics, such as the case of the Zimbabwe Economic Structural Adjustment Programme.

In 2012, the UK pledged to spend about 88 million pounds per year until 2015, the areas of support were to help to prepare the ground for a credible election, creating more economic opportunities for the people of Zimbabwe, improving girls education, creating new jobs, improving maternal and child health and water and sanitation.

As good as it looks, the aid was tied to the expectation that there will be a transition. The UK government noted that if a political transition takes place during the period, they will scale up the development programme to help a reforming government.

The whole aid matrix between Zimbabwe and the UK clearly shows how that aid was tied and compromises the doctrine of sovereign states. The role of reforms must be centred on the citizens of that country, not a foreign power. The same can be pointed to the unequal relationship between Zimbabwe and China when it comes to ODA.

MC: Can you say aid/ODA has been demand-driven?

MG: The new development co-operation trajectory has set a pace towards new principles that calls for both high-income countries and low-income countries to cooperate based on the actual needs of their people. Even though nations are struggling to shoot-out of their egocentric interest in aid, the new development co-operation framework has seen many countries, with their development challenges such as communicable diseases, humanitarian needs and basic social services being financed from aid. This is a testimony that the landscape has been speedily shifting towards mutual co-operation that is demand-driven. Foreign funding is coming in to respond to the needs of the governments. Other donors are not yet flexible to adapt to the needs of the aid recipients.

MC: What role should ODA/aid play to be an effective resource for supporting development?

MG: The new development co-operation landscape has called for mutual co-operation. The new development co-operation frameworks call for a results-focused approach. Countries must utilise resources on areas that bring economic growth and eradicate poverty, tied to accountability and transparency. The efficient utilisation of domestic resources must be emphasised, with zero tolerance to corruption and the curbing of illicit financial flows.

MC: At a time when the world is facing one of its worst pandemics in a generation how do you envision the future of international aid?

MG: The advent of coronavirus has shifted both global politics and global economics. The high-income countries have at the present been affected by the virus more than low-income countries. This has a negative bearing on the 0,7% commitment to aid towards low-income countries.

MC: What development co-operation challenges have recipient countries faced?

MG: The Istanbul Principles for CSOs development effectiveness has brought the CSOs as an important development actor in the work of government, of which most African governments are hesitant to embrace this new normal.

The other challenge has been reduced aid flow, as some high-income countries are facing pressing domestic challenges that need an urgent resource solution.

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