Donors are keen to play their part in improving governance in developing countries and see the inclusion of governance on the aid effectiveness agenda as an important entry point in this regard. But the role that donors can play in directly shaping the landscape of politics and governance in developing countries is – and should be – limited, for reasons of leverage, understanding and legitimacy. The most helpful thing that donors can do is to nurture an environment of transparency and accountability within which locally-appropriate solutions can emerge.
The Donors’ report produced in response to allegations of aid in Ethiopia being allocated according to political affiliation rather than need was published in early August, peak holiday time for many. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that there has been very little reaction to it.
Today sees the first mention of the report on the internet. Bloomberg reports that Merera Gudina, the Chairman of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress, is “not enthusiastic” about the report and “fed up of complaining to donors when they are consciously refusing to know and/or knowing the truth but they are refusing to face the reality.”
I am not in a position to state authoritatively what the reality is. However, a casual observer of development and politics in Ethiopia would quickly conclude that the perspectives and priorities of donors and the Ethiopian opposition in relation to that reality are somewhat different.
The former US Ambassador to Ethiopia, David Shinn, called the report a “careful, thorough and rather bureaucratic response” to “highly charged allegations.”
In late 2009, the Development Assistance Group (DAG) – a group of 26 donors in Ethiopia – decided to conduct a review of the systems and safeguards that are in place in a number of donor-supported development programmes, and that are designed to ensure that aid is spent as intended. The review was in part a response to allegations that aid was being allocated according to political affiliation rather than need. I was heavily involved in this piece of work while in Addis. It was basically complete some time ago, but elections and protracted discussions with various stakeholders meant that its publication was delayed.
Today is a sad day for me. I am very much looking forward to getting back to Amanda and to Brighton, but leaving Ethiopia is hard. I’ve had a great time. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve got to know some wonderful people, including friends and colleagues at the Embassy. I’m pleased with the work that I’ve done on accountabilities and aid, on social accountability, on peace and development, on gender and politics, on public sector capacity building, and on public financial management. Some of it might make a difference. But leaving is hard.
In the aftermath of the election in Ethiopia – elections that resulted in a landslide victory for the ruling EPRDF party – outsiders such as the UK Government or Human Rights Watch are being told, on the one hand, by the EPRDF, to keep their uninformed opinions to themselves, and, on the other, by the opposition parties, and no doubt by citizens in the developed world, to say what they think about the elections/electoral process.
Election day in Ethiopia seems like a good day to break my self-imposed ban on blogging about aid and politics and begin to share my reflections about the relationship between the two in Ethiopia.
There are lots of problems with development assistance. One of them is that people like me don’t really know what we’re doing, but pretend that we do. Or more specifically, that we rarely make explicit why we think that what we are doing will lead to the results that are hoped for.
My thinking on this has been stimulated by David Roodman of the Center for Global Development. David is in the process of writing a book about micro-finance and posed a question about definitions of development.
I’m not going to comment on the recent stories about the possible diversion of aid to Ethiopia in the 1980s to buy arms, but readers might want to have a listen to three recent pieces about the country, and the UK’s aid relationship with the country, on the BBC’s World Tonight over the last couple of weeks.
People who work in development sometimes say things that are bleeding obvious and pass them off as profound without really exploring what they mean or what the implications are. I may not be immune to this practice. Saying that “context matters” is one that particularly gets my goat, perhaps in part because as a sometime-geographer my job used to be about trying to understand/explain which aspects of context matter in what ways.