Number 6: Sustainable Development Part 2
THE POOR PARTNERS' ATTITUDES TO TECHNICAL COOPERATION IN AFRICA
by Jean-Martin Tchaptchet
Over the past few years the aims, methodologies and resources for grant-financed technical cooperation (TC) activities in Africa have undergone substantial changes in an effort to make sure they yielded long-term results.
Among the major changes which have been introduced are the integration of TC resources and activities into the national plan of the receiving country; the ownership of TC programmes and their execution by the beneficiary partner; the development among technical cooperation actors of partnerships based on solidarity and full participation of beneficiary partner; and the promotion in the recipient country of an environment of good governance which includes sound management of national resources and foreign aid and the respect of the rule of law.
Efforts are being made by all parties and partners involved (providers of funds, beneficiaries from governments and non-governmental organizations, resource agencies of know-how and skills) to successfully translate these reforms into reality.
Implementing Reforms: Donor Determination
New principles, policies and procedures of technical cooperation have been defined and formulated by the major donors of the OECD countries and adopted at different international fora such as the Development Assistance Committee (DAC)1, the European Union (EU)2 and the United Nations3.
Within the donor community, there appears to be a consensus on strong support for those African governments and NGOs which abide by the provisions and principles of new orientations in TC. There appears to be a similar commitment to firmness toward those who only pay lip service to reforms but do not apply them in practice.
A recent case relates to Tanzania which risks losing the favourable treatment bestowed on it by the donor community in general and the Nordic administrations and the Netherlands in particular. It has been reported that Norway, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, which used to pour aid into Tanzania, are now reducing their funding drastically. One of the reasons for this is the failure of the Tanzanian government to make good its promise to investigate nation-wide tax evasion and prosecute the guilty parties.4
The government's attitude is an example of what is happening today in several African countries. Old attitudes towards TC, developed during the Cold War period, persist. As a result, policy makers appear to be resisting new TC orientations although this might not always be deliberate. These attitudes are called "poor partners attitudes" because of the state of poverty of African countries today.
Poor Partners' Attitudes
The actions have two characteristics in common: paying lip service to new TC orientations and rules to gain donors' confidence and thus qualify for assistance; and implementing outdated TC and procedures which served the interests of the ruling elite and the bureaucracy.
This was made easier by the fact that in the early days of TC reform, the UN organizations which were instrumental in initiating the reforms were themselves not in control of the game. As a result, they failed to persuade their partners and counterparts in the receiving countries of the need to change. During the early post Cold War era, some donors hesitated to tie TC support to such requirements (as abiding by the rule of law, commitment to market economy, sound management, and similar conditions). Consequently some African partners continued to hold "poor partner attitudes."
The first attitude takes place when government or NGO officials appeal spontaneously to the "generosity" of the Western public and/or private donors whenever they find it difficult to fund their development activities. They behave as though their states had renounced their responsibility to generate public resources for development through taxation.
The second attitude concerns receiving governments who demand technical assistance from donors. At the negotiating table, they defend their requests as though they had already secured support for their programmes. Moreover, during the life of the externally-funded projects, these beneficiaries do not follow the mutually agreed rules. In short, they behave as though they have a right to benefit from technical cooperation on their own terms.
Thirdly, certain non-governmental organizations claim that financial resources flowing from Western donors to Africa should be considered not as aid but as compensation to African peoples for past wrongs, such as the slave trade and colonial exploitation.
Fourthly, the receiving partners do not maintain a transparent and solid dialogue with donors on issues of mutual interest. The recipient fears losing the funds promised by the donor and so avoids taking any decision, adopting any policy or expressing any opinion which, it supposes, would not be palatable to the foreign experts.
The manifestations of these attitudes spread or reinforce a number of social ills within society as a whole: laziness, lack of professional integrity, parasitism, dependency and corruption, all of which are antagonistic to genuine development. In the field of technical cooperation, they create unhealthy environments which are not conducive to effective and sustainable results.
Technical Cooperation at Independence
When most African countries achieved independence in the late 1950s-60s, their governments were confronted with a wide range of political, economic, social and cultural problems. They all had vital implications for the development of the new nations. Though these nations were endowed with a variety of natural resources, all lacked human and financial resources to conceptualize, plan, organize and carry out their development activities. Countries would acquire these human and financial resources only by cooperating with other nations, more particularly those of the West. Hence the development of international technical cooperation.
During those early years, African leaders had very limited experience in international affairs. Their acceptance or refusal of TC projects would be influenced by United Nations so-called neutral experts, philanthropists and former colonial administrators serving as advisers. African governments welcomed all technical cooperation projects in good faith, considering them practical expressions of the UN Charter or of solidarity among peoples. There is no doubt that the majority of experts set out to do their work with devotion and a great sense of mission. Their achievements contributed to laying the foundations of a new era in post-colonial Africa.
By the end of the first and during the second decades of independence, new factors influenced thinking on the nature and motivations of TC. Among those factors were the assumption of administrative and official positions by large numbers of African scholars educated in local or foreign universities and institutes; the politics of peaceful coexistence; the Sino-Soviet ideological conflict; negotiations for a new international economic order; the anti-Apartheid struggle; the oil crisis; and the debt crisis. The feeling there were severe inequalities among the nations of the world emerged and expanded through the debates which took place in developing countries and abroad. The humanitarian solidarity expressed by other nations for African peoples during the droughts of the seventies and the ensuing famine was impressive. But at the same time, it became clear to many people that TC in its current form would not help bridge the gap between Africa and the industrialized countries.
Nature of TC and its Management
In a recent report on technical cooperation in Africa commissioned by the Regional Bureau of UNDP for Africa, TC is presented in the following terms:
"Technical cooperation is mostly grant-funded. And even if it is not, the users (operating agencies) don't pay. The market for technical cooperation is therefore largely a market without prices. On the demand side, the money costs of this form of aid to recipient agencies are minimal. With opportunity costs close to zero, user agencies have little reason to decline cooperation projects, to choose wisely among alternative projects, or to economize during project implementation. On the supply side, donors have many reasons for urging recipients to accept projects and often find themselves in competition with one another for access to the client. The incentive structure in the technical cooperation market is thus out of joint. It encourages proliferation and redundancy of projects and dilutes local commitment to their effective implementation."5
This means that for a long time, resources for technical assistance in Africa seemed inexhaustible. Multilateral and bilateral donors always seemed prepared to fund development projects, be they well formulated or not, had they been soundly managed or not, had previous projects with the same objectives and even the same managers been successful or not,6 had the final evaluations recommended their extension or not, or had they had impacts judged sustainable or not.
In this context, the word "donor" became one of the most frequently used among government officials, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. Donors' meetings of all kinds including roundtables, pledging conferences and high-level meetings, were convened to find foreign aid. Representatives of donor agencies became very popular, courted by everyone from top officials to private merchants in need of cash to support public or very private projects. Those asking for aid hoped to be granted a part of the funds that were available from locally managed sources or in the coffers at the European or North American headquarters of donor agencies.
Accustomed to an environment characterised by abundant funds that were readily allocated and could be managed in a lax manner, recipients gradually came to believe that their international partners (the donors, the experts and the executing agencies) were not always concerned with the success or failure of meeting the objectives of projects, the sustainability of their results, or the way in which the project funds were managed. Consequently they could always demand more.
Technical Cooperation in Africa: The Motivations
Clearly, the search by African leaders for TC resources was not necessarily dictated by aspirations for collective self-reliance.
Debates on the motivations of donors suggest that there is need to make a distinction between the humanitarian motivations of those individuals or organizations with faith in the common destiny of humanity compared with those with mainly political objectives. The former believe that all people should live in harmony, enjoy equality and work together to achieve a world of peace and stability. Hence their support for TC is usually free of nationalistic considerations.
On the public donors' side and more particularly the governments, there were major political considerations.
"Rich countries provide aid because doing so improves the donors' positions in the world economy."7
Analyzing donor motivations during the Cold War era, John White8 wrote in 1974:
"Each donor saw his aid not only as contributing to the development of the recipient, but also as a means of persuading the recipient to adopt an ideology of development which was assumed to be favourable to the donor's own interests...For the United States, aid as an instrument of development and aid as an instrument of the Cold War are one and the same. Germany and Japan saw the provisions of development assistance as an avenue of return of international respectability and a way of reconstructing commercial and other relationships that had been severed by their defeat in war; and Germany also had the limited and specific Cold War aim of preventing international recognition of East Germany. Britain and France saw aid as a transformation of their former colonial relationships."
Institutions of higher learning, both African and foreign (in Europe and North America), played an important role in the spread of these analyses of donors' motivations. The rise to policy and decision making positions in their countries by Africans who graduated from these institutions has contributed to the understanding of TC policies and strategies of donors. This has also influenced African governments in adopting tactics aiming at drawing more resources. The most significant tactic consisted of blackmailing both major parties to the Cold War. This gave some African governments the wrong impression that donors were an inexhaustible source of funds which could be used in any manner at all times.
Changing Attitudes in the New Era of Technical Cooperation
With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the communist system, a new era has emerged which is reshaping all international relations, including those relating to technical cooperation. In this era, characterised by scarcity of financial resources and severe international trade competition, African governments and non-governmental organizations should welcome TC as a supplement, not as a substitute to national efforts to create resources to achieve national prosperity. Consequently, the "poor partner attitudes' described above will not help them forge genuine partnership with other nations, especially those of the West. These attitudes should be discarded and the earlier the better.
In this new era, elected representatives in industrialized countries are demanding that governments account for taxpayers' money allocated for technical cooperation programmes. These demands are strongly supported by public opinion, according to which technical cooperation funds should no longer be considered as "cheap money." On the contrary, these funds should be managed to produce visible or durable dividends for all partners involved.
The circumstances surrounding the application of the Marshall Plan9 to war-devastated European countries, the financial magnitude of the plan, the stages of industrialization of these countries and their level of control of science and technology are by no means comparable to those of post-colonial Africa.
However, there are some lessons which African countries may wish to learn from the ways in which the Marshall Plan was successfully implemented in less than a decade. These include political commitment of the leaders to achieve collective self-reliance, hard work, professional integrity, organization, discipline, supporting local initiatives, and the rule of the law.
Governments of South-East Asian countries have learned these lessons. Moreover, they are participating in the competition for technology control. Today they are harvesting the fruits of their choice.
1. Principles for New Orientations in Technical Cooperation Extracts from DAC, (OECD/GD(91)207).
2. Title XVII of the Treaty of Maastricht.
3. United Nations General Assembly Resolution 44/211, February 1990.
4. "Sweden and Norway implement drastic reductions in aid to Tanzania;Norway cuts ten percent annually," Development Today, Nordic Outlook on Development Assistance, Business and the Environment 6-7/95 and 14/95.
5. E.J. Berg, Rethinking Technical Cooperation, Reforms for Capacity Building in Africa, 1994.
6. Several publications have commented about the low quality of evaluating TC projects.
"...neither donor nor recipient has a strong interest in assessment of performance. Since technical assistance costs relatively small amounts, donors can afford to be less discriminating in responding to requests for technical assistance, or even in pressing upon the recipients, on the basis of a loose and questionable assumption that all technical assistance has at the very least a publicity value favourable to the donor." &endash;John White, The Politics of Foreign Aid, London, 1974.
7. Sarah J. Tisch and Michael B. Wallace, "Dilemmas of Development Assistance," The What, Why and Who of Foreign Aid, Oxford, 1994.
8. John White, The Politics of Foreign Aid, London, 1974.
9. "Total US aid commitments to the participant countries over the four-year period amounted to an average of approximately US$3000 million a year, of which more than 90% was in the form of grants. The combined population of the recipient countries was approximately 250m. Annual average per capita, therefore, was approximately US$12, mostly in grants, which would be the equivalent of perhaps US$20 at the 1970 price. For comparison, annual average per capita aid receipts of developing countries in the period 1968-1970, from DAC member countries and multilateral agencies, were US$4.38 (net of amortisation, but not of interest)." &endash;John White, The Politics of Foreign Aid, London, 1974.