The European Union is the world’s largest provider of development assistance and the main trading partner of developing countries. In 2005, the EU committed itself to double its current level of Official Development Assistance by 2010. The 25 EU Member States’ ODA totalled €43 billion in 2005.
In addition, in December 2005 the European Council adopted a new EU Strategy for Africa. It is the first European political framework to address Africa as a single entity and provides a platform to improve the coordination and consistency of the EU's policies supporting Africa with those of its Member States.
Given the historical ties between Europe and Africa, and the significance of the current aid and trade relationship between the two continents, the European Commission hosted the first ‘European Development Days’ event from 15-19 November 2006 in Brussels, Belgium. The event, which is intended to become an annual event, brought together more than 2000 representatives from Europe and Africa to increase public awareness about development cooperation issues as well as contribute to strengthening the effectiveness of EU development assistance against the backdrop of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Governance was the key issue that dominated presentations and debates during the event, highlighting fundamental differences between many European and African representatives about its meaning and significance in shaping the relationship between the two groups.
From a European perspective, speakers highlighted the importance of governance, linked to political and economic reforms, as a defining principle in structuring the future relationship between the two continents. This perspective is informed by concerns about the effectiveness and impact of EU aid policies in recent decades. The EU has long criticized African countries over widespread corruption and poor management of the aid that they receive every year. One speaker referred to the EU’s historical track record as “Donorland was Disneyland - one big fantasy”. EU donors were not results oriented, rather responding to disbursement pressures as opposed to ensuring quality impact and outputs. The lack of qualitative data about the impact of aid was also raised as a major concern.
African leaders participating in the event, recognized the importance of good governance as an important condition for the future development and prosperity of their countries. However, they raised serious concerns about governance becoming a new “conditionality” for aid and trade, criticizing the EU for lacking accountability and transparency in its own conduct.
The EU Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, Louis Michel, stressed that "we don’t wish to impose, we wish to inspire.’’ President Festus Mogae of Botswana responded by saying “…do encourage and inspire us to practice good governance, but, for goodness sake, do not use your wealth and power and our poverty to try to make us in your image.’’
In terms of moving the governance debate forward in the best interest of Africa, Mark Brown, United Nations Deputy General Secretary, said that “…it is for them to lead and for us to support, not for any outsiders to impose."
From a civil society perspective, it is clear that the EU and many African countries are giving very little attention to civil society inputs in defining their governance framework and criteria. Strengthening civil society organisations as key roleplayers in the national development debate in Africa continues to receive insufficient support.
The recent closure of various South African NGOs, which focussed on civil society strengthening and organisational development, presents a clear example in this regard. Furthermore, the conditions attached to NGO conduct and performance, compared to the disappointing performance of aid channelled through government structures, also raises serious questions about donors’ real commitment to promoting good governance in developing countries.
This article is authored by David Barnard, the Executive Director of SANGONeT who attended the “European Development Days” Conference in Belgium.