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Deals at high levels that don’t deliver for the people

By Donné Cameron

This is turning out to be a big week of big deals; first Greece, now Iran and very soon Addis. I am writing from within a bubble, albeit a loud bubble, of bureaucracy in the middle of downtown Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the UN has chosen to host people to talk about financing the fight on global poverty.

Familiar faces from civil society in Africa and beyond mingle with the equally familiar faces of our ministers for finance at the Financing for Development FFD3 conference. Negotiations about what to concede and what to fight for in a deal happen in specially constructed bi-lateral booths and lengthy speeches are made in plenary halls that distance the decision makers from their audience. But already I can see that the Addis deal is looking likely to disappoint.

The issues on the table here are Africa’s, Asia’s, Latin America’s, ones you will know. Who will fund new schools and pay for decent education and healthcare for people living in poor countries? Who and how will the financing be secured to make sure women have the same rights as men? How and when will we make sure all girls who want to study can go to school, the farmers who want to get their cocoa to market can do it unimpeded and women can deliver their babies safely?

As a South African working in the development sector, I want to see the most ambitious deal possible from Addis. These people don’t often get together, so what they decide now will absolutely shape the way we work for years to come.

I am constantly hearing calls for Africa to become less dependent on foreign aid and to raise more of the funds they need for development domestically. We want to be less aid dependent, but let us not forget that the rich countries agreed to support us with 0.7% of their GNI way back in the seventies and still only six of them have ever reached the goal. They agreed it because it was right and fair at the time and it is still right and fair. Aid cannot become an either/or point for finance ministers; we still need it to support essential programmes that help people live dignified lives. In fact, we need aid to just survive in many places, so this cannot become an opportunity to let rich countries off the hook. Changing global dynamics doesn’t make this less necessary — it makes it more necessary.

Yesterday I spoke to the minister for education in Malawi. She tells me that many of her people will go hungry this year because of the impact of the heavy flooding on this year’s harvest. There is no chance their government will be in a position to raise domestically what they need to tackle this latest crisis and meet their huge education and health needs without some external help.

There’s also lots of talk here about how important the private sector is to financing development. I agree, we need and value private sector investment in Africa. I work with lots of people running their own business and know many volunteers who share their skills in entrepreneurship and marketing, all of which makes a huge impact on growing our economies and, ultimately, in ending poverty. But private deals are not a panacea for our challenges and, if left unmonitored, will perpetuate growing inequalities.

Next week, President Barack Obama will visit Ethiopia; it would be nice if he was able to say that a deal was struck here this week that the poorest citizens of the world will benefit from — a deal that secures the best possible financing for people and planet for the next 15 years.

I am not sure the people negotiating beside me are looking in their hearts and digging deeply enough, but I hope I am proved wrong.

Donné Cameron is director of global programmes at VSO (based in Pretoria)

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