International aid has always been a highly contested issue. Should aid be directed to help those most in need or does it merely feed corruption and shore up inefficient governments ? Not only does the United Kingdom’s decision to refocus its spending in international aid imply an underlying belief in the former, it also signifies a distinct shift in the funding agenda of many Western aid donors.
The global economic crisis ushered in a new wave of concern about the way in which governments spend taxpayers’ money. Consequently, a lot of advanced counties are now reconsidering their roles in stimulus packages across Africa and are resorting to fiscal consolidation.
Earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that developing countries need to ‘step up’ their efforts in demonstrating their commitment to improving the lives of their citizens. Clinton insisted that the focus on this new strategy will be to solve problems one at a time, considering more fully the circumstances and consequences of decisions made by leaders.
And perhaps this is the kind of strategy that some African nations require. Andrew Mitchell from the UK’s Department for International Development highlighted Sierra Leone as a country to be watched especially in terms of the financial management of its rich mineral resources. Between ‘08 and ‘09 DFID spent £47.8 million in Sierra Leone, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a substantial amount of aid is being wasted.
There are countless African leaders who simply exacerbate their country’s capacity to grow just so that they can fill the lines of their pockets. In respect of this, withholding international aid may not be a bad thing.
Funding must be something that leaders work for; they must demonstrate their commitment and enact pledges for the sake of their citizens. The suspension and reduction of aid might just galvanise some leaders to act in the interest of their peoples and into improving accountability and transparency.
Over the coming months, it is clear that many aid donors will treat international spending with prudence and that the spotlight of the types of projects and institutions that funding goes to will be allocated with a significant amount of caution.
It is time for some leaders to be held accountable for the decisions they make and feel the true impact of such choices. Reshaping the way in which aid is delivered prompts a moment in Africa’s history where leaders are not simply expected to fulfil the hopes of international donors, but to also satisfy the expectations of their citizens.