General News of Tuesday, 29 September 2009
The former Ghanaian president, John Kufuor, was in The Hague last weekend to plead in favour of development aid to Africa. People like Dambisa Moyo, who advocates pulling the plug on development aid, do not speak for Africa, Kufuor said.
Aid is necessary. Aid works. People like Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian economist who in her controversial book Dead Aid proposed to phase out development aid to Africa in five years, "don't know what the reality in Africa looks like".
That was the message John Kufuor, president of Ghana from January 2001 until January 2009, came to deliver to a congress held in The Hague on Saturday on the occasion of '60 years of development aid'. Also present was the Dutch development aid minister, Bert Koenders (Labour).
Less money around
Koenders needs people like Kufuor more than ever. Faced with dwindling political support, Koenders has had to announce some serious cuts in the development budget this year. Less money, fewer recipients, seems to be the new slogan. And because Koenders' budget is also linked to the gross national product, it is set to decrease even more under the impact of the economic crisis.
John Kufuor has a reputation for integrity. Under his presidency Ghana became an example for the rest of Africa. The economy grew considerably, and the political situation stabilised. Moreover, Kufuor did not try to extend his rule but left quietly when his second term as president was up. When US president Barack Obama visited Africa last July he chose Ghana to spread his message of good governance in Africa.
"I worry that development aid is decreasing," Kufuor told NRC Handelsblad. "Of course the donor countries have to monitor case by case to see that the money is well spent. Donor countries have to get their money's worth."
One example of a successful project, according to Kufuor, is a school meals programme in his own Ghana. For the past four years Ghana has been aspiring to provide each pupil under 15-years old with one hot meal a day. More than 600,000 children are now part of the programme, which is supported by the Netherlands.
Critics have reproached Kufuor for being too docile towards institutions like the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF). During Kufuor's first term Ghana joined the HIPC programme for Heavily Indebted Poor Countries. It provides debt relief and low-interest loans in return for which countries have to bring inflation under control and get their state finances in order. An often heard criticism of the HIPC programme is that the budget cuts that go with it often come at the expense of the poorest citizens of those countries.
"Ghana has become less dependent [on aid] since I came into office," Kufuor defended himself. "It was thanks to the debt relief that we were able to get a market economy off the ground. Consequently, credit rating agencies like Standard&Poors and Fitch raised our rating. We were able to raise 750 million dollars in government bonds on the international market, which allowed us to invest in health care and the infrastructure."
Kufuor had to admit that the government bonds have recently taken a hit because of the worldwide economic crisis. Ghana even had to go back to the World Bank for help. But Kufuor is not discouraged. "Compare it to a baby that is learning to walk. It's trial and error. In 2001 Ghana was bankrupt. Last year, when the world's strongest economies were suffering from the crisis, Ghana still managed 7.3 percent growth."
Kufuor said he agrees with Rwandan president Paul Kagame, who believes the ultimate goal of development aid should be to make itself redundant. But he strongly disagrees with Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo, who also happens to have Kagame's ear.
Moyo says aid to Africa should be cut entirely because it only leads to inertia and corruption. A graduate from Harvard and Oxford, who has worked at the World Bank and Goldman Sachs, Moyo has become the darling of the critics of development aid since the publication of her book, Dead Aid, earlier this year.
"Mrs. Moyo is not the voice of Africa," Kufuor said. "She lives in an ivory tower, far away from the reality of Africa. Perhaps she should go back to Zambia to see how much that country still needs help. Maybe then I will pay better attention to her."