Thursday, 4 December 2008

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala: Let's have a deeper discussion on aid

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Foreign Minister and Finance Minister for Nigeria, gave an insightful talk at last year's (2007) Ted Conference held in Arusha, Tanzania. She spoke about the need to have a more sophisticated debate on the role of aid, government, private organizations and African individuals to make progress on the continent. Watch the YouTube Video.

What I found to be of particular interest was her point that African's do not have a voice. After mentioning that she started the first opinion research organization in Africa to find out about the concerns of the people, which are jobs, she went on to criticize external organizations for not seeking out the counsel of Africans in drawing up their plans to donate aid.

This lack of voice has been a recurring theme in my discussions with others about the challenges facing the continent. When leadership is deaf to the needs of the people, or worse still seized by force and coercion, the people lose their representation and the good of the majority is not served.

Dr. Okonjo-Iweala also recounted a powerful story about when she was 15 and her 3 year old sister contracted malaria. She walked 10 kilometers to the nearest physician who was able to provide simple therapies that saved her life. This was made possible through the assistance of aid donors. She also gave for further examples of how Ireland and Spain have used aid from the European Union to develop their economies through infrastructure development.

I agree with the point that she is making. In shaping the future of the African people the discussion needs to be more sophisticated than taking up reactionary positions of pro-this or anti-that. It has to be an inclusive discussion that "leverages the good will" directed towards Africa to build a prosperous and sustainable future, that includes aid, government, private organizations and individuals.

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