“Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows, the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn’t.”
What does Pooh Bear have to do with the battle against poverty, illness and ignorance in the developing world? The memorable opening lines of A.A. Milne’s tale of life in the Hundred Acre Wood could be describing the world’s sincere but flawed approach to aid.
News junkies reading this will know that the UN has recently held a massive jamboree in Ethiopia to consider the Sustainable Development Goals. These will replace the previous Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire this year.
You could be forgiven for asking why the summit didn’t ask why so few of the MDGs were achieved, despite the expenditure of billions of dollars. You might also question what is achieved at these events, apart from enriching the hotels, restaurants and limousine hire firms in Addis Ababa.
Here are some obvious ways to boost development in Africa:
1) Make multinational companies pay tax locally where they have profitable subsidiaries; tax evasion costs the developing world $160 billion a year.
2) Stop dumping the wealthy world’s agricultural surplus on African markets, thereby making it impossible for African farmers to compete. To make a level playing field we have to stop subsidising the wealthy world’s farmers.
3) Stop laundering the money ripped off by African elites. It takes Western bankers, accountants, lobbyists and lawyers to facilitate the kleptomania of corrupt rulers.
4) Make it easier and cheaper for African Diaspora workers to transfer their earnings home as remittances.
We hope these suggestions might make it on to the agenda of future summits, but in the meantime, we at Network for Africa will continue investing in training people in the skills they need to grow food more efficiently, to open local shops, or hairdressing businesses or cake stalls. The virtue of baby steps like these is they deliver a tangible benefit: people make enough money to feed and educate their children and to buy health insurance.
Perhaps it is time to de-mystify the question of what aid works and what doesn’t. In our experience our African partners are aware of what they need to equip people with the tools to rebuild their lives. That’s why we work directly with African civil society groups with a proven track record, rather than navigating our way through government bureaucracies or conferences or international consultants. With your help we can help people transform their own life chances. Thank you for supporting our approach. We are grateful for any contributions. Please click the arrow to the right to donate.