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Foreign aid: transparency will help African nations prosper
As humanitarian pressures slowly decrease, the need for openness to avoid exploitation or corruption will increase
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Observer editorial
The Observer, Sunday 22 September 2013
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Supporters of President John Dramani Mahama celebrate in the streets after he was declared the winner of Ghana's presidential election, in Accra, Ghana, in 2012. Photograph: Christian Thompson/AP
This year, each person in Britain will give the people of Ghana about £1.50. That money, £95m, will be spent through the offices of the Department for International Development in Accra on a range of programmes that currently prioritise two things: supporting girls and women in education and helping in humanitarian efforts in the desperately poor northern savanna region. Ghana receives one of the largest development budgets through DfID because it is a country in which aid is seen to work: extreme poverty has been halved in the last decade, infant mortality rates are in sharp decline.
By 2015, the money given by Britain to help Ghana progress toward the Millennium Development Goals will have seen 4.75m mosquito nets distributed to prevent malaria, cash grants provided directly to 100,000 people still living on less than a dollar a day, 70,000 girls remaining in school and 50,000 subsistence farmers given access to business services.
The end of 2015 marks the finishing line of those goals for development originally established by a Ghanaian, Kofi Annan. It also marks what will be the beginning of a new compact between the world's richest and poorest nations. The terms and objectives of that new relationship are still being debated but as the report from Ghana in today's paper argues, the changing narrative of sub-Saharan Africa in particular will require a changing emphasis. The economy of Ghana is currently growing at more than 7% a year. It is a country rich in natural resources, not only gold and cocoa, but now also significant oil and gas reserves.
Its president, John Dramani Mahama, has stated his ambition for the country to be free of direct government aid within 10 years. The challenges Ghana and other newly stable democracies face in achieving that self-reliance, while supporting and transforming the lives of their poorest people, are complex, but there is one word that will ease all of them: transparency.
Transparency works both ways. If multi-national companies investing in countries such as Ghana in order to extract natural resources are required by law to be open in their contracts with government, then the temptations of corruption, and the history of exploitation that has seen so little of Africa's natural wealth benefiting its own people, can be reversed. If governments are open to full scrutiny in their budgeting and spending, then the people, whose taxes must eventually replace donor funds, can hold their elected officials to account. Technology and the freeing of information can expand this engagement. There are, increasingly, smart and mobile solutions to many of the entrenched logistical and geographical obstacles to development and the democratisation of knowledge is only beginning.
The highly motivated young entrepreneurs, that "e-generation" of educated and resourceful Africans who are looking to make their opportunities at home, can drive that change. But it will also require a shift in emphasis from the west. As humanitarian pressures slowly decrease, the need to support robust civil society institutions that can demand accountability and enforce a fairer deal will increase. The existing development goals have not much to say about trade and justice and transparency; the new ones must.
Article history
Global development
Aid
World news
Ghana · Africa
Politics
Foreign policy
UK news
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Global development
Aid
World news
Ghana · Africa
Politics
Foreign policy
UK news
More on this story
Foreign aid is not the only African story worth hearing
Zitto Kabwe: It may not be popular but tax evasion and illicit financial flows across the continent are vital issues that must also be addressed
Tax dodging deprives many African countries of vital funds
Could abolishing tax havens solve Africa's financing needs?
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