For more than a century, Africa’s fate was more often than not decided by people beyond its shores. Today, Africa is a continent of free nations; self-determination, stronger leadership and more accountable governance have all paved the way for economies to grow and poverty to fall. To stay on this path, African governments and, crucially, their development partners too, must continue demonstrating equal commitment to the leadership and accountability that are making a difference.
The positive effect of good governance is starkly illustrated in the contrast between my country Liberia today and when civil war ravaged the land. For 14 years, our infrastructure was systematically destroyed, schools were demolished, hospitals were ransacked and plantations were ripped up. Since then, with the help of the international community, including aid agencies and private partners, a democratically elected government has begun the process of rebuilding a shattered nation.
The challenges are enormous, as they always are after conflict, but so is the will and determination to overcome them. We have rebuilt health centres, seen infant mortality rates almost halved between 1996 and 2006, and watched malaria prevalence fall by 50 per cent in the four years prior to 2009. We have reconnected communities with new roads, brought light back to a capital that was in darkness for 14 years and begun the process of bringing power back to the nation.
We have hope for a brighter, more prosperous future, with the International Monetary Fund forecasting the Liberian economy to grow strongly in the years to come.
Liberia’s recent transition to better government is very apparent, but not unique in Africa. Across the continent, there are more democratically elected administrations, increased human rights, greater press freedoms, increasing standards of accountability. Regional examples of best practices include Ghana and Botswana.
Of course, the situation is not perfect, and there is much more to do. Elections are necessary, but not sufficient for fully accountable government. We still must do more to support our institutions, to increase capacity and to strengthen the pillars of good government, such as our judicial systems.
However, with the support of the international community, advances in good governance have helped create the conditions for real and meaningful improvements in the lives of millions of people across the continent – with the World Bank reporting that poverty rates are falling, from 58 to 51 per cent across the continent in just six years.
As the systems of democracy, transparency and accountability are strengthened, as their capacity improves, African nations will increasingly acquire the technical skills to take ownership of their development policies, just as my government worked with the National Legislature and our citizens to draw up a poverty reduction strategy as a blueprint for a better nation.
This ownership and leadership from nations themselves, and their efforts to build technical skills and capabilities, are increasingly being supported and mirrored by donor organizations and international partners recognizing and respecting the priorities set by the countries where they work.
Governments and partners alike share the responsibility to ensure that aid budgets are targeted effectively and co-ordinated efficiently, so that money is not wasted and efforts are not squandered through duplication from lack of planning. We need to ensure that support is delivered in innovative partnerships that make the most of the abilities that different agencies can bring to the table, as far as possible using the institutions and systems of the countries themselves to further build local capacity.
There is a need to be transparent and accountable for the results of this support, not only by national governments, but also on the side of the donor agencies themselves, so that everyone can be clear on what works and what does not.
All of this is important as we recognize that we cannot continue to depend on aid indefinitely. International support has been crucial. In Liberia’s case, such support has made the difference between peace and war. But aid must ultimately be seen as a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. For that to happen, aid has to be targeted by the countries themselves, as they know best what they need to lay the foundations for increased private sector growth. We can then continue our economic development and, with the right policies and international support, eventually leave the need for aid behind entirely.