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What Aid Can’t Buy

 Africa needs functioning governments to fulfill its promise, not just Western donors

 By Tony Blair

There is a fashion that is half right in saying that aid is not the answer to Africa’s plight. Where it is wrong is that aid—especially focused on the killer diseases, like HIV/AIDS or malaria—saves lives and has a real impact. Where it is right, is that aid alone won’t relieve Africa’s poverty and underdevelopment. But good governance, the rule of law and a climate that welcomes solid private-sector investment can and will.

That’s why I was excited recently to announce that the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative will be working with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the government of Liberia to improve the way government works and help build the capacity to secure the country’s recovery. Already the Africa Governance Initiative, which I set up two years ago, works alongside President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and President Ernest Bai Koroma in Sierra Leone. They are examples of a new generation of probusiness, pro-reform African leaders, serious about rooting out corruption, protecting investors and leading more stable, better governed countries, convinced that a thriving private sector is a force for good.

They are not alone. Although there are exceptions, the good news is African countries are increasingly well governed, as the Mo Ibrahim index, measuring good governance in Africa, shows. Dramatic change is possible. Witness the strides made in Rwanda over the past 15 years: strong economic growth and positive social change, including bringing deaths from malaria under control.

I am immensely proud of the step change in aid and debt relief we began at the G-8 summit in Gleneagles in 2005. Every day since, the donor aid given to developing countries has been saving thousands of lives. But such measures are not the whole answer to Africa’s challenges. In the future, African countries should aim not to need development assistance. Good governance and sustained economic growth are key to eradicating poverty. That’s the basis of the Africa Governance Initiative.

The Initiative is underpinned by two key principles central to achieving the vision of a stable, prosperous Africa taking its rightful place in the world: effective leadership and increased investment. First, good governance and effective political leadership are essential for development. One way we can help do this is by building capacity around the leader. Our teams work with their counterparts in government to help put in place systems to ensure that decisions made at a presidential level actually make their way through the system of government and effect change. Too often, leaders of developing countries find that no matter how good their ideas, they don’t make much of a difference if the systems aren’t in place to move decisions to delivery.

Second, growing Africa’s private sector is the only long-term way to escape from poverty. Increased investment is vital to this, and Africa needs it and warrants it. Those African governments that are able to create the right environment and form effective partnerships with local and international investors will be those that create jobs and end poverty for their people.

Despite the strides in aid, there is still insufficient focus on these two issues in the development debate—and in particular recognition of the importance of political leadership. Even with outside support, governments still need capacity at their center capable of taking and implementing big strategic decisions. Without it, even the greatest visionaries find it hard to turn aspirations into actions.

This is why I am so delighted that the Africa Governance Initiative will be working with one of Africa’s most inspiring and visionary leaders in President Johnson-Sirleaf. The President and her people have laid out the vision for the future of Liberia and have shown the will and leadership to see it through. The progress being achieved in Liberia is a testament to the resolve of the Liberian people: stability is restored, political and civil freedoms have been established for all, roads are under construction and major investment is on the way. This is all incredibly heartening.

My hope is the Africa Governance Initiative can help other leaders to turn the vision they have for their country into reality. I also hope the lessons learned from this model of development assistance, focused on capacity and capability at the very center of government, can be shared.

I am confident I will see a prosperous and exciting Africa in my lifetime. By supporting the new generation of pro-reform, pro-business leaders and harnessing the investment potential of the private sector, Africa will go from aid to trade, from ambition to action, and by doing so will bring millions of people out of poverty in the process.

Blair is patron of the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, a charity that works with the leaders of Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia (www.africagovernance.org)

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