Development strategies based on African views

Hadeel Ibrahim

The current economic climate creates a series of challenges for the development community. While Western economies are increasingly required to justify development spending, developing economies, particularly in Africa, are suffering as a result of lower commodity prices, decreasing in-flows of investment, lower demand for African exports and falling government revenues. This is exacerbated by the disproportionate effects of climate change on the continent –Africa is suffering the consequences of other nations’ emissions. There is an urgent need to reconsider development strategies in this new context, and these revised strategies should be based on the opinions of Africans themselves.

As Ayodele Aderinwale of the Africa Leadership Forum points out, we in Africa and our development partners tend to fall into the trap of rewarding high nuisance value. It is only when men, women or children pick up guns that they are asked what they want. But law-abiding, conscientious citizens often have no voice. We never canvass the needs and wants of our continent’s most valuable resource.

One of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation’s core products is the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, a tool for African citizens to hold their leaders to account. It currently ranks all 48 Sub-Saharan African countries against 57 indicators ranging from security to human rights, and from human development to sustainable economic opportunity. As we look to develop the Index, including considerably increasing the number of indicators, one contentious issue has been how to include survey data – specifically opinion data to ensure that the Index reflects how well governed citizens think they are. The challenge here is that currently no such survey data exists. Various organizations, including the excellent Afrobarometer, poll intermittently or else regionally. However, there is no comprehensive, pan-African survey data on what Africans want.

This omission is magnified by the existence of a growing middle class in Africa, and a flourishing diaspora in many places, with important perspectives on the key issues affecting the continent. The disproportionate magnification of one such diaspora perspective, that of the Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, highlights the scarcity of African voices in development discourse. The most interesting aspect of the furore around Dr Moyo’s book Dead Aid was that is received a phenomenal degree of attention largely because an educated, black African woman’s perspective is such a rarity. Similar arguments about development aid had been made before, but never by a successful, attractive, media-savvy African woman.

If these arguments justify commissioning a survey of African citizens, what should we hope to achieve from this consultation process?

First, it would form the basis of a renewed mandate for the development sector that derives its legitimacy from Africans. It would create a direct link between suppliers and consumers of development assistance. It could also form the basis of open dialogue between African governments and their citizens on their visions for the future. African citizens would be empowered as a natural consequence of having a chance to articulate their aspirations for the future. Furthermore, it could open the continent up to itself by allowing Africans from across the continent to engage around these aspirations. The development sector would have an important new resource on which to draw to devise its policies, and moreover a resource that went some way to ameliorating the un-inclusive, top-down tendencies of the sector.

The data could then be passed on to thematic groups of African academics and practitioners to propose practical policy recommendations based on the aspirations of African citizens. These recommendations could be at local or national government level, regional or continental institutional level, or aimed directly at African civil society. Or all of the above. Such practical outputs would be central to the success of the consultation.

2010 is an important year for Africa. The first World Cup on African soil will focus the attention of the world on Africa in a way that is totally unrelated to the clichéd war/famine/repression imagery that is usually presented. Moreover, September 2010 will see the Millennium Development Goal review summit – the last real chance to align the international community behind a final, concerted push to 2015. Consulting with African citizens at this important juncture could create an important and valuable input into the MDG process, and also serve more broadly to re-energize and legitimize the development agenda.

Hadeel Ibrahim is Executive Director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. Email

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