The Independent View: Centre Forum is wrong about aid – UK aid makes a difference

At a time of economic difficulties, it is welcome that the Coalition Government is retaining its commitment to the UK overseas aid budget. Indeed, UK aid is demonstrating great value for money, and making a real difference in the lives of the poorest. Which is why CentreForum’s recent paper by Pauline Dixon and Paul Marshall ‘International aid and educating the poorest’ is so puzzling. The report paints an alarming – but highly partial – picture of aid doing little to help reduce poverty, promote growth or achieve progress in education, and everything to line the pockets of corrupt elites.

In particular aid between governments is castigated as ‘encouraging a dependency culture that is more damaging than providing no aid at all’.

Centre Forum’s paper flies in the face of ActionAid’s findings. Our new report Real Aid 3: Ending Aid Dependency [PDF], finds that the UK leads the world as the second best of all donors in terms of aid effectiveness, and that the UK’s aid is at the same time helping to reduce global aid dependency.

Our report finds that over the last ten years, aid dependency in the poorest countries has actually gone down by one-third. Some countries have seen a dramatic decrease in aid dependency: Ghana’s aid dropped from 46% to 27%, Mozambique’s from 74% to 58% and Rwanda’s from 86% to 45%. This is something to be welcomed, because developing countries can take the driving seat for their own development when they rely more on their own resources, and less on donors like the UK.

Real aid puts countries in charge of their own development plans and promotes accountability between citizens and governments – and actually supports an end to dependency. Kenya – singled out by centre forum as a negative case – has seen its aid dependency fall from 22% to 17%. This has happened because countries themselves have put substantially more of their own resources behind development alongside aid.

And in fact, these countries have also seen some of the most impressive gains in primary education over the last 10 years. Ghana and Rwanda are now on track to achieve the Millennium Development Goal guaranteeing universal primary education by 2015, and Mozambique and Kenya have each enrolled over a million extra children in school over the last 5 years. And they have all increased domestic spending on education to around 20% of the national budget. Hardly evidence of wasted effort or lack of government commitment.

Dixon and Marshall’s claim that aid is bound to weaken accountability between governments and citizens is also dubious. Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) and School Management Committees (SMC) are now a feature of many African governments’ education policies and are – with admittedly varying degrees of effectiveness – helping to manage and improve schools. For example in Ghana, ActionAid is supporting the village community of Mampehia to engage with the PTA. In 2005, after finding evidence of fraud with school funds, the PTA helped to get the head sacked.

The authors are rightly concerned that education quality keeps pace with increased access. It is a genuinely big issue. But they ignore the existing evidence that government to government aid has played a key role in making education a relative MDG success story and in reducing aid dependency. ActionAid’s new research should give them further pause for thought.

Lucia Fry is ActionAid’s Aid Policy Adviser. Find her on twitter @lucefry

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This entry was posted in The Independent View.


  • Chris Nicholson 15th Sep '11 - 11:17am

    Just to be clear, in response to the article and Geoff’s comment, the Dixon and Marshall paper clearly states that they support the Government’s position of 0.7% of GNI going to development aid. In order to ensure that critics of aid do not win the political argument it is very important that aid is as effective as possible. That is what the paper’s proposals are designed to ensure.

  • Adam Corlett 15th Sep '11 - 6:31pm

    I’m intrigued by the (possibly evil) idea that we could use aid-receiving countries as policy experiments, not just in terms of where aid is best spent (that’s essential), but broader questions such as whether all taxpayer-funded education could be effectively provided by the private sector. Having said that, I worry the Tories are using the UK in the same way…

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