March 11, 2007
Prosperity is not an impossible dream...
A better way to help Africa
By: HUGH SEGAL
Published: Thursday, February 22, 2007
Africa stands alone as a continent excluded from the economic growth that has reduced poverty and swollen the ranks of the middle class in other parts of the world. Last week's report from the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade makes a strong case for a new Canadian approach to development in this impoverished continent.
The report, Overcoming 40 Years of Failure: A New Roadmap for Sub-Saharan Africa, reflects the testimony of hundreds of witnesses in Ottawa and throughout Africa, as well as the reality observed by committee members on the ground in various sub-Saharan African countries. A principal conclusion is that we must improve the quality of our aid, as opposed to focusing on the number of dollars we spend. Unless the way we deliver aid changes, increasing our expenditures won't advance the cause of a self-sufficient, entrepreneurial and prosperous Africa.
The high regard we have for the diligent work done by the employees of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) does not diminish our concern for the slow, often ineffective and top-heavy structure the agency has assumed.
Consider an international comparison: In the case of the U.K.'s equivalent aid agency, 80% of its staff are in the field. In Canada's case, 80% of staff are at home. This helps explain why it costs us more to distribute our aid, per aid dollar distributed, than many other donor nations.
Since 1968, CIDA has spent $12.4-billion on aid to sub-Saharan Africa. Yet the standard of living in the region has declined over that period. Since 1989, CIDA's Minister has changed 11 times. Clearly, we need to ask ourselves whether our approach to international development makes any coherent sense.
My committee colleagues and I have learned much from our study of Africa. We have seen and heard countless examples of the determination of Africans to work and survive. Most Canadians cannot possibly fathom the scope of the absolute poverty in that part of the world. We can surely find in ourselves and our government the determination to assist Africans.
But we must be more choosy about where we spend our aid dollars. Canada's aid is currently diffused throughout many nations and represents no more than 10% of the bilateral aid received by any one target country, thus producing little impact. In the future, CIDA should have a clear statutory mandate identifying critical priorities. CIDA should also have a unified Africa office that deals in a co-ordinated way with diplomatic responsibilities, aid, security and trade.
Africa cannot be left to wallow in a morass of bad governance, corruption, disease and global neglect. In strategic terms, the dire situation in Africa creates the risk of more failed states and the spread of terrorism. It also threatens democracy and creates huge, potentially destabilizing, migratory pressures.
Africa has the mineral wealth, agricultural potential and popular will necessary to move toward a promising future. But realizing this goal requires improved governance, a more effective fight against corruption, targeted job creation and the reduction of Western agricultural barriers to African exports. It also requires Canada to look at our African policy, separate the strengths from the weaknesses, and move ahead as an influential aid partner.
Above all, we should understand that the remoteness of Africa geographically has no bearing on its importance to us strategically. Many of our commonwealth and francophone brothers and sisters are among those countries with the greatest need and potential. The 40 years of failure in global aid to Africa must end. With a more streamlined, less top-heavy aid apparatus, Canada can and should lead the way.
Senator Hugh Segal (Kingston-Frontenac- Leeds) is a member of the Standing Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade.
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