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Africa can be Free of Dependence on Aid in a Generation

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Many African countries, and many lives, depend on aid. For countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia, emerging from brutal conflict, aid makes up the majority of government spending. It pays for the essentials: clean water, healthcare for mothers and young children, educating the next generation. And yet when I speak to the leaders of African countries, they tell me they want to move quickly beyond a dependence on aid. As new Nobel Laureate President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia put it "Liberia should not need aid in 10 years ... we've got the resources ... We're going to go from dependency to self-sufficiency." Like any self-respecting leader, anywhere in the world, Africans want to stand on their own two feet, not depend on handouts.

The international community must take this desire for aid independence seriously. I believe that within a generation, no African country need be dependent on aid. Of course this is a hugely ambitious goal. But it is attainable with the right thinking and enough political will -from leaders in both the developed and developing worlds.

It may seem perverse to talk about ending aid dependency while the British public is responding so generously to the famine in the Horn of Africa, and while aid is doing so much good in many parts of the world. I believe in aid. I am proud of the changes we made at the G8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005 -doubling aid to Africa and delivering debt relief. I am proud that I set up DfID which continues to lead development thinking. And I am proud to have contributed to the new consensus in British politics that development matters - I commend the commitment of the government to the 0.7% of GDP target for development assistance.

But aid on its own is not enough. Ultimately, Africa's progress depends on governance and growth. African countries, like all societies, need governments that can deliver tangible improvements in the lives of their citizens and can be held to account for the results. And they need economies that generate wealth and improved living standards for all.

If we're serious about aid independence, there are clear steps the international community must take.

First, we need to deliver aid in a way that strengthens African governments. In Paris in 2005 the world signed up to a set of principles for how aid should work -putting aid recipient countries in the driving seat, using and thereby strengthening local systems, and with clear accountability on both sides. These were, and remain, the right principles. But they have not been delivered. A recent OECD report found that only one of the thirteen Paris targets had been met, and placed the blame largely on a lack of political will from donor countries. A first step is for the rich world to deliver on its commitment to country ownership.

Second, we should support African governments to develop the capacity they need to deliver for their citizens. This issue of governance, how to get things done, is the biggest single challenge I see for governments across the globe. And it is the issue I have focused on since leaving office through my charity the Africa Governance Initiative -which works alongside reforming political leaders to help them build their systems so they can implement their development plans and tackle poverty.

Third, growing Africa's private sector is the only long term way to escape from poverty. African leaders have a responsibility to ensure that: they are able to attract high quality, sustainable investment; that the rules of the game are clear and adhered to; and that they work together to remove regional trade barriers. But the rich world has a role to play to play too, in opening up its markets to African companies and ensuring that global trade rules work for Africa.

Supporting all this, we need a fundamental rethink of the way rich and poor countries interact. We must move on from thinking in terms of rich countries helping poor countries, to an understanding of how everyone can contribute to common, shared goods. Security is part of that -something that no single country, rich or poor, can tackle alone. So too is climate change, and how we manage scarce resources like water or oil. We all share a common interest in achieving a more stable financial system after the shocks of the recent crisis. And, of course, there will always be humanitarian crises, whether caused by nature or man, and the world will need to respond to these, whether in Japan or in Somalia. These are truly global issues that have a huge impact on development, and we need to build international systems that can handle them.

But, even if we take these steps, is the goal of aid independence in a generation really attainable? The signs are positive. Across Africa, aid dependence is already falling. Action Aid have found that the proportion of government spending coming from aid fell by a third in the last decade. And, crucially, this didn't come at the expense of service delivery -aid dependency fell while aid levels rose because that rise was outstripped by increases in government revenues from taxation. Why? Because African economies grew faster than the rest of the world. And because, although Africa still has its despots, African democracy is growing too; the number of democracies in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled in the past decade. Of course, progress isn't even and achieving aid independence is an ambitious goal. But we have to think big to change things.

A child born in Africa today will be eligible to vote by 2030. I hope, with the spread of stability and democracy, that they will be able to exercise that right. And I believe, with appropriate support externally, and enough political will internally, they will vote for a government which sets its own agenda, and delivers it from its own resources. We have that right. Africa deserves it too, and Africa is demanding it too.

Tony Blair is Patron of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative