Did more African aid deliver fewer coups?

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A meal in a displacement camp in Sudan's Darfur region (left). Soldiers in Niger after a coup in February 2010 (right)

Five years on from one of the most ambitious aid packages ever devised for Africa, the reviews have been mixed on how successful the plans have been in reality.

When developed nations met at the Gleneagles Summit in 2005, they promised to double their aid to Africa by 2010, while Africa said it would end the coups and corruption that have blighted the lives of millions.

The publication of two reports shows that both sides have gone some way towards fulfilling those pledges, while falling short in other areas.

And they highlight how Africa is now moving beyond the era of aid and dependency.

Have the rich countries delivered on their promises?

The answer to this - from Data (the organisation set up to monitor the promises made in 2005) - is clearly no.

Good cop, bad cop

In 2005, developed nations known as the G7 agreed to "an increase in official development assistance to Africa of $25bn [£17bn] a year by 2010, more than doubling aid to Africa compared to 2004".

The best estimate is that by the end of this year the G7 nations (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and US) will have provided just 61% of this planned increase.

But this total hides some really significant differences.

The report highlights the achievement of the UK, which has seen the fastest growth, in relation to the size of its economy (see graph below).

Perhaps this is not surprising, since the Gleneagles summit was the brainchild of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

But it is not just the quantity of British aid that is impressive, it is the quality.

The UK's aid agency Dfid is singled out in the report as "the world's most respected bilateral aid agency".

By comparison the Italian effort - with development aid actually falling by $235m (£163m) since 2004 - is described as "appalling".

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was forced to apologise for this performance in July 2009, saying: "I am sorry we did not respect our promises, we are sorry we reduced aid to Africa, and for this reason we have opened a debate within the government."

Image caption,
School attendance in Zambia has reached 90% thanks to aid

So far this debate has failed to produce results and Data suggests that Italy should now be excluded from future discussions on aid.

Perhaps the most important achievement since 2005 has been to severely reduce African debt.

Almost $100bn (£69bn) has been written off, or is about to be.

But the report warns that this trend could go into reverse, with 28 African countries building up debts again and now classed by the IMF and World Bank as having a high or moderate "debt distress".

Shady business

A parallel report, produced by the Africa Progress Panel, chaired by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is equally critical.

It shows that while African leaders are increasingly willing to sign up to international treaties promising good governance, they frequently fail to live up to their promises.

"Chronic problems remain, including state fragility, corruption and widespread lack of basic freedoms."

The report goes on to highlight recent trends.

"The most high-profile setback is the return of coups d'etat - the last five years have seen violent and unconstitutional changes of government in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Madagascar, Mauritania and Niger - despite the professed zero-tolerance policy of the African Union."

Michael Keating, director of the panel secretariat told the BBC: "Governance and leadership are still the missing ingredients in Africa's development."

The most scandalous example of this is the way in which the continent continues to be plundered - frequently with the connivance of its rulers.

The report says some $854bn (£593bn) left Africa illicitly between 1970 and 2008. When mispricing of services and smuggling are added, this rises to a staggering $1.8 trillion (£1.2 trillion), with between $37bn (£26bn) and $53bn (£37bn) lost in 2008 alone.

The Africa Panel Report says that this outflow is facilitated by a "global shadowy financial system comprising tax havens, secrecy jurisdictions, disguised corporations, anonymous trust accounts, fake foundations, trade mispricing and money-laundering techniques".

But perhaps the most important message is that the era of aid and dependency may now be a thing of the past.

Power of the private purse

Africa is continuing to grow despite the barriers thrown up by a skewed international trading system, corrupt governments and rapacious warlords.

Aid was important in softening the blow of the economic crisis, but now other flows dwarf the contributions of the G7.

Far more is now given by workers sending home remittances from abroad, by private investors and by some of the giant philanthropic trusts, like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or the Ford Foundation.

Aid has played its part. This is clear from both these reports.

It has helped millions into school, with 75% of children now attending classes across Africa. In Burkina Faso and Zambia attendance has reached 90%.

Malaria has been tackled through the delivery of bed-nets, with 200 million delivered by the end of 2009.

And nearly three million people now receive anti-retroviral drugs to fight HIV/Aids, compared with 100,000 in 2003.

As Kofi Annan puts it: "The ingredients of success are not a mystery."

With growth, good government and continued international involvement, Africa can provide for its people.

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