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The Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation will be holding its second High-Level Meeting in Nairobi from 28 November to 1 December 2016. Why will this meeting matter, and how can it drive development players to scale up the effectiveness and quality of their actions in view of delivering the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals?

The Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA) and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development demonstrated unprecedented ambition to end extreme poverty, tackle inequality and leave no one behind. Bold objectives have been agreed, and financial commitments have been made. However, another step must now be made if we want to stand a chance of achieving our shared development goals: it is high time that development actors – governments, donors, civil society organisations and the private sector – demonstrate greater effectiveness, quality and impact of their development strategies and partnerships to change people’s lives. This is precisely what the Global Partnership intends to discuss at its second High-Level Meeting in Nairobi later this year.

How can the way we “do” development be improved? Over the past decade, debates at the national, regional and global levels have defined four fundamental ingredients for effective development: developing country ownership; focus on results that have lasting impacts on eradicating poverty, reducing inequality, promoting sustainable development and enhancing developing countries’ capacities; inclusive development partnerships; and transparency and mutual accountability. These principles build on over a decade of high level discussions – Rome (2003), Paris (2005), Accra (2008), Busan (2011), Mexico (2014) – and translate into what is commonly referred to as the “Busan commitments”. In practice, implementing these principles has proven challenging, and globally agreed standards have yet to translate into effective behaviour change of all development actors at the country level.

In 2012, the Global Partnership was created and mandated to support the implementation of these commitments, to monitor progress over time and to provide a space for multi-stakeholder dialogue and learning. Its High-Level Meeting in Nairobi is an important opportunity to give impetus and spark political momentum around a renewed vision for development effectiveness in the post 2015 era, while ensuring that standards agreed over the past decade are preserved. This renewed vision will be encapsulated in a negotiated Outcome Document. Both African governments and African civil society will play an instrumental role in making sure the voices of the continent are reflected in the common vision outlined in this document. African governments have actively engaged in shaping and implementing the effectiveness agenda, in particular under the leadership of Nigeria and Malawi (successive Co-Chairs), Kenya (host of the forth-coming Global Partnership High-Level Meeting) and NEPAD (a member of the Global Partnership’s steering committee). African civil society – which channels its voice through the Civil Society Partnership for Effective Development (CPDE) – has also played a significant role in ensuring that this agenda takes into account the interest of African citizens, particularly the poor and marginalised.

In addition to crafting this renewed vision, the Nairobi meeting will provide a unique opportunity to hold all development players accountable against commitments for more effective development. In order to inform this accountability exercise, solid evidence will be crucial. This is why the results from the Global Partnership’s monitoring exercise – in which over thirty African countries are participating – is so important.

The meeting is a chance for African governments and civil society to confront traditional donors with the lack of progress in implementing aid effectiveness commitments. Donors have failed to uphold their commitments, enshrined over 10 years ago in the Paris Declaration, and repeatedly reaffirmed over time. This so-called “unfinished business” particularly matters in Africa, where more effective aid can make a significant difference in the lives of the poorest. Indeed, while African countries should ideally be able to finance development for all their citizens without aid, for the poorest countries in Africa, aid from rich nations is and will remain an absolutely fundamental source of financing for many years to come.

While there has been steady improvement in aid transparency, donors are failing to live up to pledges to strengthen country ownership. In particular, donors are still lagging behind in using and strengthening developing country systems for delivering development assistance. Indeed, the way donors deliver aid too often bypasses country institutions, rather than strengthening them. There are numerous ways in which donors undermine country systems. For instance, donors are moving away from providing budget support and sector budget support, which are essential to help governments manage their fiscal position and to assist them with recurrent costs such as the salaries of teachers and nurses. Donors are also “tying” their aid by stipulating it is used to buy goods or services from the donor country. Tied aid can limit the value provided by aid by excluding vendors who might be able to offer greater value. Tied aid also limits the impact of each aid dollar by requiring some of the value of aid to accrue to the donor country. Donors made substantial progress untying aid from 2001 to 2008, cutting the amount of tied aid almost in half, from 46% to 82%. Since then progress has stalled; as of 2014, 79% of aid from bilateral donors is tied aid. 

Recent trends in donor practices are further undermining developing country ownership: donors are increasingly raiding aid budgets in their own interest, in particular using aid to cover the costs of receiving refugees in donor countries – USD 12 billion of ODA was spent on refugee reception in rich countries in 2015 – and to serve donors’ own security agenda. More and more donors are linking aid policies with trade and commercial policies. Some are increasingly choosing to tie their aid to private finance, which is risky and unproven, instead of supporting quality free public services such as education and health. This is happening at the expense of development in Africa. African countries should use the Nairobi meeting as a moment to call on donors to put an end to these trends. The meeting should also be a moment for donors to make progress in ensuring that aid used to leverage private finance complies with development effectiveness principles and is subject to robust environmental and social safeguards reflecting international best practice.

Nairobi will also be a key moment to hold African governments to account against their own commitments – enshrined in the Busan Partnership agreement – to build effective government institutions, which are accountable to their citizens, and to ensure democratic ownership of development agendas. This will include strengthening the role of parliaments, local governments and civil society organisations in the oversight of development processes. As the meeting will discuss how governments can effectively mobilise domestic resources to finance their own development, it will be crucial that a strong call for progressive taxation be made and that action is taken to ensure wealthy individuals and corporations pay their fair share of taxes. 

Unfortunately in recent years, the trend in many countries has been a clamping down on freedom of speech and expression and of democratic space, and on the ability of civil society to operate. In this context of shrinking civil society space, the meeting should also ensure civil society organisations can exercise their role as independent development actors which enable people to claim their rights and promote rights-based approaches. In Nairobi, governments will also take stock of commitments to accelerate efforts in achieving gender equality and women’s rights.

African stakeholders should also seize this opportunity to hold “new” development players accountable against progress in applying effectiveness principles to their own interventions in Africa. In particular, emerging economies, who are increasingly investing in Africa and contributing to the continent’s development, should demonstrate efforts in establishing commonly agreed effectiveness standards for “south-south cooperation”. The private sector, which has been acknowledged as a significant contributor to achieving the SDGs, should also strengthen its commitments to align with effectiveness principles.

Finally, the High-Level Meeting will be a chance for civil society from Africa and across the world to collectively reflect on ways to improve their own effectiveness at the services to the poorest. Civil society organisations gathered in Nairobi will take stock of progress made in implementing the Istanbul Principles, which are meant to guide civil society actors in reaching standards of quality, transparency and efficiency.

It is clear that “business as usual” in the way we do development is no longer an option if we are to deliver the SDGs and leave no one behind. Effectiveness principles and standards exist and should guide our path towards lasting development impacts and reduced poverty and inequality. It is now high time for these standards to be effectively implemented in Africa, and it will be crucial that the interest of people who matter most—the men, women, boys and girls who live in poverty— be taken into account at the negotiation table in Nairobi.

* Julie Seghers is a policy advisor at Oxfam, working on aid development finance and coordinating Oxfam’s advocacy work with the OECD.



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