Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - Page 9 News List

Development aid for Africa finally proves the skeptics wrong

The Observer’s John Mulholland spoke to world-famous economist Jeffrey Sachs and pop star and activist Bono about the politics and economics of aid

By John Mulholland  /  The Observer, GHANA

John Mulholland: Bono, compared with 10 years ago, what has changed? If you were taking a group of aid skeptics around this country now, what would you point to and say: “That’s the benefit of aid”?

Bono: The thing that I’ve always found really difficult to cope with was medical professionals diagnosing a problem and not being able to treat it. We used to see this all across Africa with HIV/AIDS. Even after we had anti-retroviral drugs in the West, only a tiny percentage of people in Africa who were sick could get the drugs. And if you didn’t get them, you died ... So having the drugs now for over 6 million people is a big deal for me. Having malarial drugs is a big deal for me. Visiting the hospital in Accra, which is aided by the Global Fund ... the mood in that hospital was one of real optimism.

I’m particularly proud because a third of the Global Fund’s resources in Ghana are paid for by Red [founded in 2006 to raise money for the Global Fund by selling branded products via Nike, Apple, Starbucks and others] ... and One and other campaign groups helped raise much of the rest from other donors. So I was very overpowered yesterday as I saw the hospital, and I am buoyed by that. And you’ve near universal education. For instance the Millennium Challenge is building 240 new schools. That’s pretty great.

The hard data tells us that Ghana’s had over 14 percent growth in the last year. We think that malaria is down by over 50 percent, maybe over 60 percent, which is astonishing.

But to answer your question a little more specifically: I am an aid skeptic, OK? I don’t know anyone who wishes to see aid as a natural solution to these problems. Aid is what we do in emergency situations to get you through to a place of self-reliance. Ireland needed aid from Europe, Germany needed aid from the United States after the Second World War. All of us need aid. It’s investment — and if it’s investment, what is your return on investment?

In Ghana it is clear that this country will in five years need a lot less aid than it needs now, and in 10 years may not need aid at all. To answer your question, the reason I’m excited about aid is that it looks like we can see the end of it here. As a result of the smart aid, the aid industry is putting itself out of business here, hopefully in 10 years. One way this transformation can accelerate is if countries like Ghana use their natural resources for their people, and key to that is greater transparency in the extractives sector — something One is pushing hard for at the EU level right now. I’ve personally met with eight G20 leaders and five G20 finance ministers on this issue.

JM: Jeff, the climate in which discussions are taking place about aid across the West is difficult, with more and more voices rising in opposition to aid spending. What do you say to them?

Jeffrey Sachs: There are good ways to do things and bad ways to do things with aid. Aid works when it’s practical, when it’s focused, when it’s targeted, when it’s an investment, when it is part of a strategy; and aid does not work when it’s money handed over in an envelope to a friendly ally, especially in a war zone or when it’s a payoff for some other diplomatic support. It needs to be seriously managed, professionalized, results-based — and I’m very happy that the [UK government’s] Department for International Development is really exemplifying that approach right now. What’s the bottom line? What are the results? What are we getting out of it? And it’s being made into a very practical contract, in essence, between donor and recipient.

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