You don't have to be an international development expert to be shocked by the suffering of the women, men and children affected by the East African famine. The images in the media distributed by TV stations and aid agencies alike paint a vivid picture of the full horror of starvation. The UK government has rightly led the world's emergency response to this disaster, and ministers deserve credit for pressurising their counterparts in other countries to do much, much more than their insubstantial efforts so far to stop the suffering and save lives.
But against this terrible backdrop, today there is also good news from the continent of Africa. A new report released by ActionAid, Real Aid 3, shows that many countries are making real strides towards a sustainable end to poverty. And that UK aid is playing a crucial role in helping this happen. The report finds that developing countries' dependency on aid has declined by a third over the last decade and that because of the high quality aid that it gives, the UK is leading the world in this area.
Aid dependency is the proportion of the recipient government's spending that comes from aid. So as a country develops and its economy grows, it is able to collect more and more revenue for itself, and needs less and less aid from foreign donors. ActionAid's report shows that this is exactly what is happening in Ghana, where aid dependency fell over the last decade from 47% to 27%, in Mozambique where dependency dropped from 74% to 58%, and in Rwanda where dependency has fallen from 85% to 65%.
ActionAid calls the kind of high quality, effective aid that supports this process "real aid". Overall, our analysis of real aid spending places the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) second highest of all donors when it comes to the delivery of real aid. It is way ahead of the USA, Germany, Austria, France and Greece who all give significant proportions of substandard aid.
Real aid is not tied but is targeted at the poorest, and gives recipient country governments the space to own and lead their development plans. It puts developing countries where they should be - in the driving seat of their own progress on the path to ending poverty. It helps to build democracy by making governments answerable to their own citizens, rather than to the donors. And real aid can help countries do things like raise tax revenues more effectively, so that they can generate more of their own funds for development.
Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, has spoken often of a need for the government to demonstrate full value for money to UK taxpayers on the aid budget. By delivering one of the highest proportions of real aid in the world, DFID provides genuine value for money. For example, £20 million of DFID money was used to reform the Rwandan Revenue Authority in 1998, and now Rwanda collects taxes equal to the value of that original grant every four weeks - a fantastic investment.
Keeping developing countries dependent on our aid, or actively undermining the development of basic state structures by bypassing governments and going straight to the private sector, is not in the long-term interests of either donor or recipient countries. So it is puzzling that last week the think-tank Centreforum published a report calling for this practice to be extended in the field of education. To do this would be short-sighted, unsustainable and would simply perpetuate the outdated type of aid that is a hand-out rather than a hand-up. Instead, we must continue supporting developing countries to stand on their own two feet.
DFID knows what works, and we need more of the same. This November, a High-Level Aid Effectiveness Forum in Busan, Korea will discuss and agree a global way forward on aid. ActionAid believes this forum must build on previous agreements, where donors promised to spend more aid in a way that allowed developing countries greater say in how that money was spent. From now on, Ending Aid Dependency can be DFID's new strapline - in November, Andrew Mitchell should challenge the rest of the world to follow the UK's lead, and put developing countries in the driving seat of their own development.
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