COVER STORY: Africans Best Suited to Drive African Development

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By Jerome Mwanda

A new global research project has come up with an upbeat message that sounds like a truism: "Progress in African development happens best when it is led by African states and citizens". But the message emerges from industrious research by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI).

ODI's report 'Mapping Progress' identifies the crucial role of effective leadership, smart policies, proper institutional foundations and international partnerships in driving development and calls for a new outlook on development.

The report highlights star performers, surprise performers and potential performers across the continent for their progress in various areas including growth, agriculture, healthcare, education and sanitation.

The researchers' starting point was: "The past two decades have delivered unprecedented progress and improvements in quality of life across the developing world. Poverty has fallen in most developing countries, and the number of low-income countries fell from 60 in 2003 to just 39 in 2009.

"Countries such as India and (particularly) China have managed to lift very large numbers of people out of extreme poverty. Progress has not been restricted to increases in income; many developing countries have also dramatically improved their access to vital services, such as education and health."

This report grew out of a conviction that it is important to highlight progress made, in particular at a time where global issues such as the economic crisis, the food crisis and the threat of climate change present challenges to what has been accomplished.

The stories included in the report defy the narrative of pessimism that often shapes popular perceptions of development, and provide a basis for cross-country learning and benchmarking.

To develop the stories, ODI research teams spent several months on qualitative and quantitative research, assessing more than 250 examples of countries across the eight sectors. Stories were selected based on an extensive analysis of development indicators, and more than 100 experts, drawn from academia, donor agencies and civil society organisations in both the North and the South, were consulted.

ODI Director Alison Evans said: "Looking across all of these tremendous examples we can see that the most transformative and sustainable developments have occurred when the commitment to change has come from African countries and communities."

This, she said, has happened in a number of ways – from the quality of political and technical leadership, to the quality and quantity of financing to specific innovations in delivery.

"The world’s perception of Africa needs to change and we hope that this report will show a continent making great strides towards a brighter future," Evans added.

The report highlights the drivers of development: Smart leadership – Transformation in Ghana, Rwanda and Brazil would not have happened without Presidents Rawlings, Kagame and Lula.

Smart policies – Progress has involved a changing role for government away from controlling (markets and prices) to facilitating and enabling (investment and production), and, in the best cases empowering citizens. Policies have been built on clear vision or national strategy and have been evidence based.

Smart institutions – In many countries, progress has been achieved through governance reforms that have decentralised and strengthened local institutions. Reforms have not only led to improved service delivery but also enabled more effective revenue collection and management of public finances.

Smart friends – Effective international partnerships can be important catalysts for progress. These partnerships can take various forms beyond aid, including the transfer of knowledge and technology, international trading relations and diplomatic interventions.

Development progress stories include the 'star performer' Ghana, surprise performer Ethiopia, and potential performer Malawi.

In Ghana, says the report, government-led reforms of the domestic cocoa market have driven a tremendous record of agricultural growth – averaging over 5 percent for the last 25 years. Ghana is on track to meet Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 1 – halving rates of poverty and malnutrition by 2015. Having raised food production per capita by more than 80 percent since the early 1980s, Ghana is largely self-sufficient in staple foods.

The report points out that star performers such as Ghana have shown sustained progress for more than two decades. By diversifying products and services they have added considerable value to national performance.

"Star countries display a more mature level of development and are now beginning to face challenges more common to developed countries such as environmental degradation, aging populations and non-communicable diseases," the report points out.

Other star perfomers include Bhutan, Thailand, Brazil and Uganda.

The report says that since emerging from civil war in 1991, Ethiopia has significantly improved access to education for its population. Primary school enrolment rates have risen by more than 13 million since 2005. A sustained government commitment matched by increased spending, allowing the removal of school fees, has triggered this astonishing rise.

Other surprise performers are Rwanda, Cambodia, Laos and Somaliland.

The ODI research project, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, says: "Surprise performers such as Ethiopia have delivered progress against the odds, often recovering from crisis and war or dealing with ongoing conflict, challenging political situations and highly inaccessible topography. The surprise elements of progress in these countries often lie in the speed of recovery, sometimes allowing them to eclipse previous levels of development."

Malawi has the potential to deliver significant progress towards its development over the next decade according the global research project. The country's recent progress in providing economic stability has begun to have a positive effect on development indicators, placing Malawi in the top 20 performers on several of the MDGs. Growth of over 7 percent per year for most of the last decade and a steady fall in rates of inflation suggest a bright future for the country.

The research project found out that potential performers such as Malawi have shown recent examples of progress, often achieved over a short period of time. "Progress may be limited to individual sectors or regions. Whilst these countries have already produced impressive results they now need to sustain them into the future," says the ODI project report.

ODI is the UK's leading independent think-tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Its mission is to inspire and inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.

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