Thought leadership: 2006/7

Peacebuilding and Countering Insurgency

The Foundation maintains a high-level engagement with experts and practitioners on international peace-building operations, in particular the economic and development aspects of post-conflict situations. Dr Greg Mills was seconded to Kabul, Afghanistan for three months in mid-2006 as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) IX, where he advised the overall commander General Sir David Richards and headed the Prism Group analysis section embedded within the headquarters. Dr Terence McNamee conducted research for the Prism Group in Afghanistan in June 2006. Dr Mills was seconded again to Afghanistan on two occasions in 2010.

We have written extensively on the Afghanistan situation, along with lesser known campaigns in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe and Rwanda.

Africa Beyond Aid

This programme considered a new strategic paradigm for aid in Africa. It comprised a series of commissioned papers and events in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung and Danida, the Danish Development Agency.

Instead of focusing on increasing aid as a key development strategy - once considered conventional wisdom - the programme examined both what it would take to end aid to Africa and what an Africa 'beyond aid' would look like in policy terms.

The first workshop, which took place in Potsdam, Germany, on 3-4 April, 2006 focused a spotlight on many of the issues surrounding Africa Beyond Aid.

A second event was held in Brussels in June 2007, from which a final compendium emerged.

While taking care to avoid the sweeping notion that aid is bad per se (because it is not), the project found that there are multiple contradictions in aid as a development tool.

  • Aid seeks the means to develop from outside to supplant the inherited colonial state yet fuels an externalist 'assistance' mind-set and all the antagonism and harmful stereotyping that this engenders.

  • It seeks to build internal capacity but can produce a set of negative incentives including rent-seeking, crowding-out the private sector, and the belief that there will always be an aid lifeline, which may lead to illegitimate expenditure. Also, aid can perversely be linked to failure rather than success, if money is primarily donated according to level of per capita income.

  • It seeks to ensure African development while it gives some donors an excuse not to make tough domestic reforms on trade. Similarly African leaders might not feel the urgent imperative to 'trade or perish' - the global and, more recently, Asian route to development - since they feel their path to survival and development is not trade but aid. We may not be setting the right incentives for leaders.

  • Aid regimes propose complex solutions to similarly complex problems, but big aid pushes a la Gleneagles encourage (if not entrench) a notion that silver bullet 'all-in' answers to Africa's problems can be engineered.

  • Aid can have a diversionary impact. Although it may seek to emphasise African responsibility, it can produce the opposite effect by distorting and even undermining the accountability link between domestic constituents and their government.

  • There is a desire to act on a co-ordinated African response (e.g., the EU-Africa partnerships) but such a strategy undermines the need for differentiation and risks African solidarity over effectiveness.

  • There is a clash between governance and democracy conditionalities and the upholding of donor interests, a contradiction heightened by both the war against terror and the advent of the China-Africa aid/investment phenomena. This tension may also be described as the distinction between aid as a tool of development and governance on the one hand and as a tool for foreign policy on the other.

  • Finally, there is the paradox between the media/pop-star/celebrity-academic emotional effect on the aid business and doing the right empirical thing.

So what? This leads to a number of things that Africa and the donors can do.

Ending Donor Dilemma: A Dozen Development Directions




  • Realise development is more than just about money, and advocate this view: It's about governance, capacity, planning, incentives, leadership, expertise, priorities, and local responsibility.

  • Develop a differentiated response to African countries and needs. Big pacts risk the negative effects of solidarity.

  • Contemplate signaling that aid is not forever: Business as usual has costs, just as external shock has development value. And the aim of aid should not be to simply set domestic donor consciences at ease.

  • Consider the effects of HIPC and revise as necessary, remembering that the purpose of debt relief is to increase the range of development options not the opposite.

  • Focus on driving better policy through targeted advice, preferably working directly with African decision-makers; and focus on the type of projects that limit bad incentives and rent-seeking - notably certain types of infrastructure, education, and land reform given its immense collateral political and economic value.

  • Drop the diplomatic language.

  • Align with development through growth mindset, and giving this effect through focus on macro-economic stability and including politically ring-fencing reform technocracy. In this, realize comparative advantages and constraints, globally, regionally and nationally, and realize the advantage of long-term investor time horizons. Say no to donors whenever donor priorities do not align with local priorities.

  • Establish local ownership through domestic policy clarity and the setting of clear priorities which match capacity.

  • Understand what success looks like and set development benchmarks: notably reducing aid as a share of GDP/government expenditure; benchmarking your competition; and target taxation collection along with banking levels. Be transparent and willing to be gauged against these.

  • Use aid - and debt relief - as a catalyst for growth, focusing on investor needs for which honest private sector dialogue is important.

  • Develop alternative financing models for infrastructure; and take care to use aid for those areas of infrastructure where private investment is unlikely - notably water and electricity generation.

  • Brand countries and sectors through excellence and differentiation.

In order to access the policy recommendations for both donors and African countries, the full report can be downloaded here.

US-China-Africa Trilateral Dialogue

A high-level panel hosted jointly by the Brenthurst Foundation, Chinese Academy for Social Sciences, Council on Foreign Relations and Sullivan Foundation met three times in 2006/7. The meetings were held in South Africa, Beijing and Washington to discuss the dynamics, impact and policy and commercial implications of the changing relationship between the US, China and Africa.

In particular, the panel considered the following:

  • The impact of China's increasing engagement with Africa, in both economic and political terms.

  • The implications for the oil producing nations in Africa of increasing demand by both the US and China.

  • The impact of the expiration of the Multi-fibre Agreement on African apparel exporters, especially those countries benefiting from the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

  • The identification and development of strategies of trilateral co-operation necessary to support Africa's economic growth, good governance and move towards greater democracy.

The sessions produced several papers identifying the trajectory and strategies for constructive policy dialogue for China-Africa-US relations.

These can be accessed here.

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