UK coalition government stays strong on international development
One of the remarkable side-effects of the focus on Africa and international development in the lead up to the Gleneagles Summit in 2005 was the commitment of all the major UK political parties to reach 0.7% of GNI in official development assistance (oda) by 2015. The UK’s efforts to ensure a positive Communique at the G8 meeting were largely achieved.
Fast forward to 2010. Of the three major pillars at Gleneagles and the Make Poverty History Campaign, debt forgiveness had been a huge success. Trade had got nowhere at all. The commitments to increase aid to Africa were mixed; the G8 had moved about halfway towards its target of increasing aid to Africa from around $25 billion per annum to $50 billion. The record of one or two other G8 countries is truly appalling. The UK had made very good progress under the Labour Government, but it seemed wishful thinking that this could be sustained under a new coalition Government with an agenda of cutting public spending.
Life is full of surprises, but few of them as pleasant as what transpired. The new Government not only confimed its intention to meet its commitment, but to do so by 2013, with oda one of the few – very few – progammes to be ring-fenced, along with health. And they have been as good as their word.
Why? The cynics will say that this is about the Tory party trying to detoxify its brand and woo some LibDem (and perhaps Labour) voters. Or perhaps about using the aid budget to do things which it could no longer do to achieve security and other objectives.
There may be just a smidge of this – though there must be more efficient and less expensive ways to re-brand, and what can and can’t be done with aid money is very carefully monitored and regulated by the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.
There is a better explanation – good, old-fashioned political leadership. The Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have been clear that promises are made to be kept; the Labour Party has given the greatest possible support consistent with its responsibilities as the main party of opposition. Increasing resources at a time of budgetary constraint is both the right thing to do and has drawn widespread admiration in both the developed and developing worlds. Of course those ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ distinctions are becoming increasingly blurred, and no doubt will lead to new models of development, particularly after 2015 and the review of success against the Millennium Development Goals.
Of course no-one now believes, if they ever did, that aid is the answer to development. But it can be part of the answer. We should perhaps see it as a non-renewable natural resource. It is finite. We should prepare for the post-aid world. It should be used wisely and well. That is the main responsibility of our development partners. Our main responsibility is to do what we have said we will do. That is what our leading politicians, across the political spectrum, have done and are doing. Well done, them!
Myles A Wickstead is Head of Secretariat, Commission for Africa and Visitng Professor (International Relations) Open University.