African Ownership and Chinese Aid
   2013-06-26 17:36:29      Web Editor: Sun Wanming

By Stuart Wiggin

The continent of Africa is the biggest recipient of Chinese aid intended for development purposes. As a result of China's growing world status and due to its contrasting and almost secretive approach to providing such aid, debate regarding Chinese motives in Africa has centered upon the country's apparent desire and need for raw materials, or its attempt to increase its diplomatic sway throughout the continent. However, the issue of "ownership", namely the formation of development strategies by the parliaments and electorates of the aid recipients themselves, alongside the benefits of using China as a case study in development, often get overlooked as a result of so much debate upon Chinese motives.

At an event held recently in conjunction with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, Erik Solheim, the Development Assistance Committee Chair at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) highlighted four areas from China's own development experience from which Africa can learn a lot in practical terms; namely, the areas of Leadership, Agriculture, Manufacturing and Education. With these four areas being so prominent when it comes to lifting a country out of poverty, it is only natural that African development strategies look to China's own experiences in order to emulate its success within certain fields.

The 2005 Paris Declaration was the result of a consensus on the importance of the ownership of development strategies for the success of such efforts. International donors therefore are obliged to support the emergence of such ownership, though many within academia believe that ownership should be a desirable outcome rather than an assumption when pressing forward with providing aid. Yet, as Modibo Traore, the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization's representative to the African Union pointed out during the Carnegie-Tsinghua event, since 2002 African states have openly pronounced that they want to take control of their development.

As Traore stated, "For a partnership to be effective, it is important to ensure that African countries are really in the driving seat. The leadership should be African." And on the issue of ownership, Traore added that African states have decided that the approach in partnership between donors and recipient states should be participatory. "Development is about a holistic approach, and everybody should play [their] role; everybody has got a specific role in the development process. So, it is important to ensure in an inclusive way that all stakeholders be around the table to discuss the priorities; about how best these priorities can be dealt with, and so on and so forth."

The desire for greater ownership of development strategies has obviously impacted how donors provide aid. Andre Ng'asi, international economist responsible for overseeing the US Agency for International Development's (USAID) relationship with multilateral development banks and emerging donors, touched upon this when talking about how the agency is trying to make US government assistance more effective and more targeted. "Developing countries are proposing to the US government how they would like certain kinds of programs to be run and delivered in their countries," and USAID is mindful of such proposals when implementing development programs funded by the US government.

In contrast to aid from western donors, China's lack of conditionality in the form of concessional loans has led some to view Chinese official development assistance as being suspicious in nature. No-conditionality aid does have the ability to foster self-driven development, which could possibly increase the effectiveness of strategic aid. However, it also leads to criticism when China is seen to be providing aid to resource rich African states where corruption rates are high or where the human rights situation has been questioned. And yet, a database of development projects compiled by AidData, at the College of William and Mary, revealed that only a small proportion of the projects being undertaken thanks to Chinese cash are related to mining. As the data suggests, transport, storage and energy initiatives account for some of the largest sums, while health, and education have also received millions of dollars' worth of investment.

Respected Sino-African expert Deborah Brautigam has previously stated that China's emphasis on local ownership is genuine, despite the fact that such ownership can sometimes lead to projects like new government office buildings or sports stadiums; because constructing buildings and dignity is as much a part of the development of new states as ending poverty is. Brautigam also states that the fact that Chinese aid is almost always dispersed to Chinese companies, who then carry out the development projects, helps avoid corruption and local embezzlement.กก

As Modibo Traore, FAO representative to the AU notes, "The main principle [of development] should be that the priorities should be set by African governments. NGOs have a role to play in the implementation; civil society has a role to play in communication. Donors have a very important role to play because they are bringing part of the money. [But] donors cannot substitute governments to say what [the] priorities are at what time. African governments should outline priorities." The issue of ownership is certainly desirable but cannot always be realistic as it requires a long-term approach in terms of development leadership. However, as David Booth of the Overseas Development Institute points out, political machines within ethnically divided countries often tend towards short term strategies to gain electoral votes or political legitimacy.

When it comes to looking at the experiences of China's unprecedented rise and how they could inform African development, Erik Solheim of the OECD notes that as China continues to move up the value chain, there is a big opportunity for Africa in the field of manufacturing; adding, "At the moment, there is very little manufacturing in Africa. Manufacturing can employ a huge number of people and bring skills to many people." Furthermore, he was keen to point out that many lessons from Asia's agricultural revolution could help to increase the productivity of farmers in Africa. "We cannot continue to neglect the small-scale farmers; we must increase the productivity of small scale farmers because at the end of the day, food security and food is at the core of development."

Solheim is also keen to highlight China's advancements in education, putting forward the example of a poor area of Gansu province where the average yearly income stands at 500 dollars, though everyone within the province receives 9 years of education. Comparing China's situation to Africa, Solheim stated, "You will find no place in Africa where there is poverty in the countryside, but students are 9 years in education and they're learning something in education. That focus on education is a key to solving the inequality in society." For these reasons and others, Solheim suggests a middle way between conditionality from western aid and the no strings attach approach of China so that African states can reap the benefits and achieve balanced and integrated development.


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