African nations risk missing opportunity to build on progress

For 15 years, a global partnership for development finance has delivered remarkable results in Africa – but right now that partnership is in peril. With G7 and African leaders meeting in Schloss Elmau and Johannesburg we must seize this rare chance to implement an urgent remedy.

By Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Since 2000, African nations have received $100bn in debt cancellation, while aid to the region has more than doubled. Over the same time, African domestic financing for development has more than quadrupled. This financing, coupled with strong local action, has had profound impacts. In Liberia, we have cut child mortality by two thirds, and it’s a similar story in many other countries. In Africa as a whole, a million fewer children die each year from preventable diseases, millions more girls are in school, nine million Africans now have access to life-saving antiretroviral drugs, economic growth has accelerated, millions more people have jobs and extreme poverty is beginning to fall.

In a few weeks, the nations of the world will gather in Addis Ababa to consider how best to renew this financing partnership. But too few are taking the issue seriously enough, and we are in danger of missing a historic opportunity to build on this progress.

To consider the stakes, take Liberia: while we have made huge progress, we are still one of the poorest countries in the world and we have very limited financial resources. We deliver the best results we can for our people with the resources we have. But it’s not enough. While donors have increased funding in recent years, total aid contributions today amount to just 0.3 per cent of donor income. It’s crucial that donors continue to move much closer to the long-standing international goal of 0.7 per cent. At the same time, a larger share of financing should go to the world’s poorest countries – the least developed countries (LDCs). Currently, contrary to what I suspect are the beliefs of taxpayers in the developed world, only about a third of aid goes to LDCs. This share should increase to half. Nations like Liberia need this support and will put the funds to great use.

Of course, aid is only one element of this partnership. Developing nations must commit to continuing to increase the revenues we raise at home to our full potential – about 20 per cent of GDP for LDCs (the target will vary by country). We should aim to move halfway to this target by 2020. As our economies continue to grow, domestic financing will grow in tandem. To achieve this goal we need to invest in modern tax collecting systems, stem corruption, work with global partners to curb illicit capital flight and crack down on tax evasion.

If donors continue to increase aid and allocate half of it to LDCs, and if LDCs increase domestic resources, we could increase funding for essential services to at least $300 per person per year for the poorest countries (in purchasing power parity prices), the minimum to provide basic needs. These funds must be carefully targeted where we know they’ll have the most impact. Much evidence suggests the best investments are in girls and women. When you deliver for them, they deliver for development.

The partnership must also work to leverage more private and public investment in Africa, especially in rural infrastructure, agriculture and energy, to create new economic opportunities where most of the world’s poorest people live on hundreds of millions of small family farms.

Finally, as the philanthropist and entrepreneur Mo Ibrahim and others have argued, we must ensure this new partnership is underpinned by greater transparency and more open data about what works and what doesn’t. We need a data revolution to underpin “last mile” delivery of services to those who need them most.

As The ONE Campaign has argued in a recently published report, all these steps can and should be at the core of the partnership required to deliver the new development goals that will be adopted in New York later this year. The stakes could not be higher. Africa will soon be home to 40 per cent of the world’s young people, an eager generation that can either be a rocket fuel for the regional and global economy – or a powder keg if all it knows are plundered resources, joblessness, and weak governments.

Those young people want to build Africa’s future and hold their leaders accountable to achieve progress. We must listen to them, and put them at the heart of this renewed global partnership for smart development finance. Time is running out. We need action now.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is President of Liberia. This article was first published in the Financial Times

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