Ownership and the donor-recipient relationship

Ownership and the donor-recipient relationship

How can African governments regain control of the aid process?

In the last three decades, changes in the global economy have led to debt and balance of payments crises in many African countries. They desperately needed foreign exchange which they could only get from the World Bank and the IMF. These institutions used this opportunity to expand their influence over the recipients' national policies. This paper discusses country ownership which is a central issue of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness. It looks at the contradictory and competing usages of the term - ownership as commitment and ownership as control. NGOs prefer a concept of democratic ownership including the domestic process through which policies are decided with the aim being to minimize foreign influence over country policy making.

The paper is based on qualitative research assessing the degree of ownership in Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania and Zambia. It found that Botswana exhibits the strongest degree of ownership followed by Ethiopia in the strong half. Rwanda is in the mid ranks and the remaining five countries are at the weak end. It discusses the ways in which African governments have lost ownership and how they are engaged in continuous and permanent negotiations with donors. It highlights the emergence of fragmented aid management structures where the division of labour between ministries is vague leading to institutional entanglement. It also discusses the political dimensions of aid dependence.

The paper suggests the following to enable African governments to regain ownership:

  • Donors should desist from changing African economies and governance wholesale through aid. They need to listen to the priorities of African governments and be willing to support them as a way of supporting domestic ownership
  • Donors should make internal changes in their organisations and to their aid practices. Donor agencies need to be flexible, innovative and risk taking in their aid disbursements
  • African governments should strengthen their positions regardless of what donors do. They should strengthen their public administration, produce coherent development visions, centralize aid management and negotiations and take the risk that donors will stop supporting them
  • Donors cutting aid could be a good thing because it is the engine through which they undermine government ownership. With fewer countries and portfolios, coordination problems will be reduced. African governments will then look for other ways of financing their budgets doing away with foreign dependence and control.