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        Wednesday, April 12, 2006
        Cautious drumrolls for Gordon Brown’s education initiative
        Finally, somebody pledges money earmarked for education. Just education. The UK Finance Minister, Gordon Brown, has pledged $15 billion for education in developing countries, mostly in Africa. This is, according to NPR, “the biggest global education initiative” ever.

        It is a significant step because it breaks away from the traditional blanket development aid where resources are stretched so thin to a point where their impact is a drop in the ocean of Africa’s poverty. I think it is important to earmark development aid for specific areas for effectiveness. There is a valid reason why countries have different ministries – finance, agriculture, information, education, etc. I don’t understand what the logic of NGOs is trying to be everything everywhere. There is no Ministry of All in some weird country, is there?

        Politically, it is good for the UK to pioneer such an initiative and shame the other G8 members into being serious about what they might have been bragging regarding “ending poverty” in the last G8 meeting last July. After all more people were aware of this summit thanks to rock star poverty and development buddies.

        It also puts a spotlight on one of the neglected basic human rights – the right for education. If you think about it, development theories were screaming for investment in education since the early 1960s. Human Development, social capital, sustainable development, empowerment all have education at their core. This is of course if education is broadly defined to include ‘informal education’.

        Enter caution zone

        The main reasons for my cautious cheering are because I am afraid that
        a) the definition of education is going to be limited to formal education
        b) therefore the major beneficiaries are going to be city/town dwellers
        c) and transparency and accountability issues are going to once again be overlooked.

        Education re-defined

        I will not at all be surprised if only formal education is considered worthy of some of this new cash at Africa’s disposal. For example, would a project trying to raise awareness on HIV transmission be considered as possible guarantee of this fund? This is not some fantasy project I cooked up. In Uganda school kids are helping in redesigning the curriculum to incorporate AIDS awareness in the formal education. Given the fact that there is a huge need for AIDS awareness in Africa where even a Minister (I am assuming that he is educated) says that he has taken a shower to protect himself from HIV infection. Would ‘education’ include teaching people how to participate in political and policy decision making processes? This obviously crosses into political domain (although I believe that even food distribution is political) Therefore, are NGOs who would probably funnel this new money prepared to cross this line or still trade carefully not to be too political and offend their host governments? Poverty Action Network Ethiopia, for example is at that cross road already.

        Ethiopia’s political environment remains difficult, particularly since the disputed elections in May 2005, so that engaging in advocacy is a challenge. Both the membership and the government are clear about PANE’s remit, so that it has not been affected by political arguments. The network is now focusing on strengthening the regional chapters, and on encouraging members to ensure their capacity to engage in the policy process continues to grow.

        The core of my musing goes to the development vs. westernization debate.
        Western development thinking has been insisting adamantly that poor nations have to catch up with the West. Such thinking has been the basis for development aid practices. This is the context in which the $15billion dollar is pledged, and I will not be surprised if ‘education’ is confined to its traditional definition and more chalkboards and simplified hymn books start pouring to ‘teach’, for example, children of pastoralist in South East Ethiopia.

        Rural illiteracy remains?

        If education is limited to formal teaching (in schools and with already established curriculum) then towns are going to be the main beneficiaries. More attractive education in towns would encourage more urbanization which would amount to more neglect of rural areas. I would be surprised to see more schools built in rural areas because that does not yield instant gratification (as if development is about instant gratification.)

        Billions of dollars have been pumped in Africa through development aid and loans from World Bank and IMF. Unfortunately, there is much to show for it. Where is the money going is I think a legitimate question at this point. Even if money is not actually missing, there is also the question of efficient use of resources. Tim Harford has an excellent piece on ‘shocking waste’ from his first hand account in Cameroon where an impressive new library building is just that – an impressive building – which cannot even house books because the open book shaped roof was damaged by rain before even the books were transferred into the building. With such horror stories with aid development money abound, it is hard to be gleeful of more money. I do not mean to be an ungrateful bitch here, but just stating a fact.

        Still nagging voices

        Regarding transparency, my previous rants about corruption withstanding, I can only hope that there is going to be some sort of mechanism in place to ensure that every penny is spent on education – not Land Cruisers for the Minister of Education, not more allowance for the supervisor or any other non-sense. If there is no such mechanism, then the people of Africa are going to get $0 at best or go into a deficit of $5billion. I reached at this conclusion through this complex mathematical problem.

        Estimated input for Africa $10billion (just an arbitrary number)
        Amount stolen from Africa every year by its rulers $15 billion
        Therefore, $10billion - $15billion = -$5billion

        Trust me, if I figure this out so could Gordon Brown.

        It is such level of corruption that has kept Africa poor, and it is way past the time to address this problem. Adrew Dowden of Royal African Society has this excellent article entitled Only Africans can help Africa. It talks about money that flows out of Africa and into personal accounts in Europe. Corruption is not some sort of conspiracy theory or some improvable problem. The UN has already passed a convention against corruption and survey results
        are available for all to see. Based on this convention's Asset Recovery section,Transparency Institute has already started the effort to reclaim stolen African money by calling upon Western governments to help.

        Invest in Africa, end conflicts and promote democracy seem to be the easy that most people are advocating. We are also told that African development should not take decades. Along with revisiting the development thinking in the West that dictates development aid, putting African poverty in context is also necessary. By the way, the two are linked. Tunde Obadina of African Business Information Services goes in detail why measuring development in terms of GDP and GNP is dodgy because it ignores informal sectors all together. It is also dodgy while measuring developed nations economic performance because such system does not take into account the damage done by ndustrialization. He argues that this dodgy economics goes beyond disguising the real situation.

        Getting a more accurate picture of the size of African economies will give us a better perspective on the challenge facing African governments and development agencies. The exaggeration of the wealth gap between Africa and the West has the effect of making the prospect of Africans achieving a standard of living comparable to what exist in the West seem almost impossible. When faced with GDP data that suggest that their nations are a century behind developed countries, Africans understandably feel overwhelmed or defeated by the enormity of the task of catching up, and some opt for personal short-cuts to the higher living standards.

        More links related to development issues

        Ranting for development

        African perspectives: Africa past, present and future

        Putting African poverty in perspective

        Commission for Africa
        New Partnership for African Development
        posted by Fikirte @ 5:48 PM   Digg!
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