The following op-ed from ONE’s Executive Director Jamie Drummond and Policy Board member John Githongo has just been published in Canada’s Globe and Mail and newspapers across Africa:
As host of this year’s G8 and G20 meetings, Canada is in a great position to lead the essential process of reinvigorating the global campaign against extreme poverty. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s call for greater accountability in G8 development promises and increased investments in child and maternal health are very welcome and we look forward to more details. European leaders and U.S. President Barack Obama, who has called for a new global plan to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, are already on board.
A new plan can avoid the pitfalls of past top-down approaches – if it supports a more bottom-up citizen-led strategy for sustainable development. Take Africa, where there have been real improvements over the past decade. Economic growth has been averaging about 5 per cent a year, 42 million more children are in school, malarial death rates have nearly been halved in a number of countries and more than three million people are on life-preserving AIDS medications. We suggest a new citizens compact to build on these results. It would ensure that development is devolved, that citizens are connected with new technologies, that executive powers are diffused, that political parties are strengthened and that the integrity of leaders and governance institutions firmly take centre stage.
There are three urgent considerations for such a strategy.
First, African accountability efforts by civil society and think tanks must be expanded dramatically. Efforts such as Twaweza, an East African citizen accountability movement, can be scaled up across the continent and deliver great returns on investment by empowering citizens to demand their rights. Canada’s International Development Research Centre has already partnered with the Gates Foundation and the Hewlett Foundation to invest more in African think tanks, and this can be expanded. These efforts are easier with today’s technology, especially mobile telephony. From the student who can text a hotline when her teacher does not turn up to the anti-corruption monitor who pores over statistics from national budgets online, new technology is the tool of the activist. Also, a new citizen strategy should not repeat past mistakes of lionizing specific political leaders – this makes it harder for Africans to hold them to account.
Second, experience shows that constant vigilance about transparency, especially with regard to national budgets, is critical. Thieves have more to hide. Regimes run by kleptocrats are more likely to fumble and fall, with wider security implications. But it is not just African budgets that must be more transparent. One of the great scandals in development is the lack of good statistics to measure progress – this area needs much more investment. Another scandal is the hypocrisy of most high-profile global promises, such as the vague billions alluded to at the Copenhagen climate-change summit. Donors must be clearer about what is really new money. Canada’s effort to chart all existing G8 development promises and improve accountability is especially important in this regard. Companies doing business in Africa must also be more transparent, as must the international banking system, so bribery can be exposed and stolen funds tracked down and recovered.
Third, private investment can also drive the citizens strategy. Proliferating mobile telephony is allowing Africans to leap digitally from the Third World into the First. Africa has tremendous renewable energy potential that is ripe for investment. African stocks have been doing well, although this has been barely noticed by investors abroad. This summer’s soccer World Cup in South Africa is an opportunity for a rising generation of African entrepreneurs to present this new image of their continent, a chance that must be seized. We propose a new “Africa Rising” fund to capture the moment – campaigners who once rightly called for disinvestment to help end the injustice of apartheid can now call for new investment to help fight the injustice of poverty.
These measures can increase the effects of much-needed new investments to boost education, agriculture and health and fight infectious diseases and climate change. Without them, reversals may occur. With China offering less democratic options for development, it is no longer politically incorrect to ask whether democracy really suits Africa. The situations in Kenya and Nigeria both show the challenges where growth takes place but most citizens are excluded.
This need not be Africa’s path, though. This year is the key moment to renew the right kind of Canadian, G8 and G20 support for citizen-led development.