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Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived document may not work.

Africa: Canadian Aid Issues

Africa: Canadian Aid Issues
Date distributed (ymd): 990111
Document reposted by APIC

+++++++++++++++++++++Document Profile+++++++++++++++++++++

Region: Continent-Wide
Issue Areas: +economy/development+
Summary Contents:
This posting contains excerpts from a document on Canadian aid to Africa, originally distributed by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC). The full text is available on the PAC web site ( The document calls both for reversing the decline in volume of aid, for directing aid more effectively towards poverty elimination, and for debt cancellation. For additional information, or to be included in Partnership Africa Canada's e-mail service, see the contact information immediately below.

+++++++++++++++++end profile++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

PACNET is an e-mail list service managed by Partnership Africa Canada (PAC). Its aim is to provide a forum for sharing ideas and information related to African development. The documents published come from a variety of African, Canadian and international sources. NGOs in particular are encouraged to offer material for publication.

PACNET is free to subscribers. To subscribe to PACNET, send an e-mail message to: Leave the Subject blank and write in the Message: subscribe pacnet-l. To leave the distribution list, write in the Message: unsubscribe pacnet-l.

PACNET documents already distributed can be found at the Partnership Africa Canada web site:

Partnership Africa Canada gratefully acknowledges the support of its members and of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).

For more information, contact: Partnership Africa Canada, 323 Chapel Street, 3rd Floor, Ottawa, Ontario, K1N 7Z2, Canada. Tel: (613) 2376768. Fax: (613)2376530. E-mail:

An Orientation to Canadian Development Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa

January 8, 1999

Canadian ODA [Official Development Assistance] has fallen by 36% in real terms since 1992. Canadian aid to sub-Saharan Africa, however, has declined at a far greater rate during this period. These sobering facts were brought home to participants at a public meeting organized by Partnership Africa Canada and Alternatives in Ottawa on November 5, 1998. The meeting addressed issues surrounding Canadian responses to crises in African countries.

Canadian aid remains much valued and respected. However, most people would argue that its decline must be significantly reversed if Canada is going to continue to play a leading role in helping to meet the new challenges faced by African countries.

In this document, Brian Tomlinson of the Canadian Council for International Cooperation (CCIC), makes the case for Canada's aid programme to be reformed. He calls in particular for increased overall resources (especially for sub-Saharan Africa) and for an agenda where ending poverty is a central theme.

Further information can be found at the following web sites:

CCIC In Common campaign for global action against poverty:

Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) policy documents:

An Orientation to Canadian Development Cooperation with Sub-Saharan Africa

Achieving progress in ending poverty will only result from bringing the cumulative impact of all our policies to bear on creating opportunity for those who have been marginalized by globalization and domestic economic and social structures. Hence we cannot speak about aid alone. In our view, the results of aid in development cooperation should be measured as much by the standards and values it brings to the ensemble of foreign policies, as by the efficacy of its programs on the ground. Aid is clearly important as the primary external resource flow for many Sub-Saharan African countries. It is an essential complement to domestic resources for poverty eradication, and this makes it all the more imperative for those involved in the aid regime to influence this broader policy agenda, where the interests of Sub-Saharan Africa seem to be increasingly marginalized.

I want to briefly address three aspects of development cooperation that affect the choices and options for development in Sub-Saharan Africa. Together they speak to the question of policy coherence. They are:

1) Focusing Aid on Ending Poverty; 2) Putting Emergency Aid in a Broader Policy Context; and 3) Realizing Substantial Debt Cancellation.

1. Focusing Aid on Ending Poverty

CIDA now has in place a number of policies "on poverty reduction, on women in development and gender equality and on meeting basic human needs" that reflect the latest in development thinking. But it is our view that taken together these policies offer little in the way of an overall strategic framework for CIDA's interventions, and individually, they set out only the vaguest plans for implementation.

Too often short-term commercial and political interests have defined Canada's relations with developing countries. In the aid program, domestic political pressures to use aid for commercial advantage and to spread resources too thinly among many individual Canadian stakeholders, NGOs included, compromises the fundamental mission to end poverty. With very limited resources, aid cannot serve multiple political and commercial masters and be expected to demonstrate coherent results for ending poverty, for empowering women and encouraging gender equality, for improving governance and participation, for addressing peacebuilding in countries emerging from conflict or for promoting private sector development, among many other worthy goals. In doing so, the results we expect from aid are unrealistic if aid is not part of a broader foreign policy agenda.

We believe that Canadian ODA requires one unambiguous purpose rooted in the ethical imperative to end poverty. Canadian ODA, with appropriate domestic partners and other donors, can play a catalytic role in working with the poor to create a more just world. CIDA as the lead agency of government for development has a special role and responsibility to work with other government departments to promote a "pro-poor" coherence in Canada's contributions to development change. The starting point is not so much the clarification of the stated purpose of ODA, but rather, of more importance, is the operational imperatives of poverty eradication for CIDA and other government policies affecting developing countries.

While aid is one of the few global resources that is capable of targeting poverty, there are few overall indicators that donor programs are actually targeting poverty. Recent studies by the Overseas Development Institute in the UK on poverty targeting by European donors, including those of the Nordic countries, reached some very pessimistic conclusions. There is no comparable study for Canada. But there are some proxy indicators.

The 1998/99 edition of The Reality of Aid points to alarming statistics for the decline of all donor assistance by 20% between 1992 and 1996, a trend that has accelerated in the two years since 1996. Bilateral aid to the 48 Least Developed Countries (LLDCs), 31 of which are African countries, was less than 20% of bilateral commitments in 1996.

Global aid statistics for Sub-Saharan Africa are even more disturbing. In 1994 aid to Sub Saharan Africa stood at $18.9 billion. In 1996 this assistance had fallen to $16.7 billion - a real terms decline of 18% or $3.7 billion. The region's share of total aid declined from 31% in 1994 to 28.6% in 1996. Aid fell in 31 African countries in 1996, in 26 of them for the second year running. These statistics are not consistent with a political commitment to work to end poverty.

We know that Canadian aid since 1992 has followed these trends, indeed some would say we have been at the forefront. Canadian ODA has fallen by 36% in real terms since 1992, and 21% in nominal terms. But an analysis of the allocation of these cuts looking at trends in CIDA expenditures seems to demonstrate that the goal of poverty reduction has been peripheral to the choices made in cutting the aid program. Here are just two examples:

Aid to Sub-Saharan Africa, with a growing proportion of people living in absolute poverty (36% in 1996), received no special protection as cuts were made to ODA. Between 1992/93 and 1996/97, aid to this sub-region declined in nominal dollars by 30.4%, a rate far greater than the nominal decline of ODA as a whole (21.2%) or bilateral aid (16.8%). More worrying, preliminary estimates of bilateral commitments to Sub-Saharan Africa for the next five years show aid to this region may be declining by a further 5% when compared to the five years prior to 1996/97.

Despite the fact that more than 70% of the world's poor live in rural areas and are dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods, no more so than in Sub-Saharan Africa, between 1990/91 and 1995/96 CIDA disbursements for agriculture, food and nutrition fell by 49%, in Africa by an astounding 80%, and for the poorest food deficit countries, those that import to meet their basic food needs, by 87%! While it is true that other programs were directed to the rural economy (for basic education and health), the declining priority to the agricultural sector itself raises concerns about overall strategic contributions to the important goal of food security for all. ...

2. Putting Emergency Assistance for Sub-Saharan Africa in a Broader Policy Context

Even a cursory analysis of CIDA's financial reports reveals that emergency assistance has become a permanent feature of Canada's aid program in Sub-Saharan Africa. As Kerry Max points out in his paper on "Africa-Canada Relations: 1986 and beyond"(North South Institute, Ottawa, 1998), humanitarian assistance has been an important aspects of our aid program for Africa since 1984/85 and the response to African famine at the time. The strong correlation between poverty, conflict and emergency assistance is borne out in DAC statistics for 1995 where 23% of total aid to the LLDCs was for emergency assistance or food aid (against 11% for developing countries as a whole). This highlights the significance for CIDA of International Humanitarian Assistance and food aid relative to country to country assistance in the 1990s. Since 1989/90 Sub-Saharan Africa has received more than 50% of all IHA allocations each year (reaching a high of 60.7% in 1992/93).

In the 1990s there has been considerable reflection and policy learning within the international community on the issues of so-called "failed states", on endemic violence and conflict, on social disintegration, and the displacement and marginalization of large populations in more and more African countries. These are the conditions that have drawn billions of dollars in short term high profile emergency aid into the continent in the 1990s.

But the African continent has also witnessed the most dramatic failure in "political will" to act on the part of the international community perhaps since the 1930s. While individual situations are complex, growing numbers of countries in crisis, and populations falling deeper into poverty, are in no small measure the result of significant donor policy failures. Though NGOs welcome the current questioning within the World Bank of the "Washington consensus" on neo-liberalism and its application to development, it seems a little late in the day for those millions whose livelihoods have been irrevocably affected by the past 15 years of inappropriate structural adjustment policies. And despite this questioning, the policy prescriptions continue to be written in Washington.

It is relatively easy now to talk about how one might support the difficult and complex work of building political trust, or promoting democratic behaviour, or empowering civil societies in countries in crisis. Indeed CIDA is working with a range of partners to support some very important innovative work. But, at the same time, a case is being made, and strongly made by some NGOs, that reliance on NGOs or official donor interventions in complex crises is a mere surrogate for the failure of the most powerful nations on the Security Council and in other fora to take all measures possible both to prevent and bring to an end violent conflict. Without strong complementary policies, for example to control small arms production and trade, or coordinated diplomatic efforts, backed by real sanctions, NGOs and other donors are in an untenable position.

We therefore return to the important theme of "political will" and the pressures civil society acting together can bring to bear on world leaders. While aid more generally is an important strategic resource for ending poverty and we need to use it for this end, there is much more the donor community and NGOs can bring to the table. I want to end by referring briefly to one of these areas and therefore the critical ingredient of policy coherence --- the urgent need for debt cancellation for the poorest African nations, and particularly those that have experienced years of conflict.

3. Realizing Substantial Debt Cancellation

Any credible international strategy on poverty reduction must incorporate much more substantial debt relief. The Interfaith Coalition for the Jubilee and CCIC's In Common campaign are calling for cancellation of all outstanding debt for the Least Developed Countries. It is now clear that the results of the World Bank/IMF HIPC initiative have been too little relief, received much too late, and with continued onerous structural adjustment conditionality attached with adverse affects on the poor.

"The Reality of Aid" this year drew on research by OXFAM International that points to the example of Tanzania where credible national plans for universal education are unachievable when that country must continue to pay out one third of its entire budget on debt servicing. Under HIPC rules, Tanzania has little prospect of achieving debt relief until 2002 and beyond, and may never qualify for substantial reductions.

When Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, international banks handed him and his government a bill for $19.2 billion. The poor of Southern Africa are saddled with $47.6 billion in apartheid-caused debt. This is $350 for every man, woman and child in the region.

Under international law, if a loan is "used against the interests of the local populace" then it is odious and need not be repaid. Loans by the international community to apartheid South Africa are clearly odious under international law and should be written off. Where the international community can find hundreds of billions to rescue the international financial system when northern interests are under threat, there has been little political leadership to act to relieve debt. Canada has taken action on its official aid debt; more remains to be done on debt owed to the Wheat Board and the EDC by the least developed countries. And recently we have show leadership on the international stage on this issue.

As Archbishop Ndungane of Cape Town pointed out at the recent Lambeth Conference, South Africa did not wait for donor consensus before writing off all the debt owed to her by Namibia. In his words:

"In doing so, the new South African government did not ask whether we could afford to offer such relief; we did not wait to reconstruct our own economy before offering debt relief; we did not ask whether the debt was payable or unpayable. Nor did we impose any conditions on our neighbour. We merely declared those debts as immoral, odious debt incurred while Namibia was occupied by the apartheid regime."

Surely we can ask no less of the governments of northern creditor countries and institutions.

In concluding, I want to suggest that a reform agenda for Canadian ODA would link increased overall resources for ODA to rebuild our reputation as a credible donor to a strategic plan that places ending poverty firmly at its centre and sets out new tools, methods of work and partnerships to make this a reality. This strategy must reverse the declining share for Sub-Saharan Africa in the allocation of these aid resources and should give priority to those sectors and organizations capable of delivering effective programs for poverty reduction. Clearly the debt agenda is an African agenda to which all institutions of government, working with civil society organizations, must give urgent priority. Finally, Canada must take advantage of its new seat on the Security Council to push aggressively for effective timely action by the international community to resolve long standing humanitarian crises in the Sudan and elsewhere and for meaningful policies to reduce and control the trade in conventional small arms. The In Common campaign believes that Canadians expect no less from our foreign policy.

Brian Tomlinson,
Development Policy Analyst, CCIC, November 1998

This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC's primary objective is to widen the policy debate in the United States around African issues and the U.S. role in Africa, by concentrating on providing accessible policy-relevant information and analysis usable by a wide range of groups and individuals.

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