Printer-friendly versionSend by emailPDF version

Sustainable, effective and successful partnerships need to be built on mutual trust, on an explicit programme, clearly defined responsibilities, champion figures and financial resources. In this article, Dr. Kakonge outlines positive and negative factors that influence development assistance partnerships in Africa.

The concept of partnership, despite being useful in today’s global chain environment, is not yet clearly understood. For example, Tisch (2004) noted that because of poor experiences, 'the concept of partnership' has not been put into practice effectively, especially in Africa. Tisch goes further to clarify that partnership is an approach that refers to the fact that whenever managers, employers, shareholders, owners and even competitors join forces in pursuit of shared goals, everybody wins. However, Tisch cites a number of challenges related to making partnership real and sustainable, namely, that you cannot fake partnership, partnership demands creativity, partnership requires compromise, partnership demands commitment and consistency, partnership requires flexibility and partnership requires fairness. Other scholars argue that another cause of partnerships not working is poor coordination when it relates to external assistance. By and large, the goal is to unify partner efforts in order to make sure that the assistance works as intended; however, this rarely happens. This brief paper examines some of the factors that are critical in making development assistance partnerships successful in Africa.

1. Mistrust

One of the challenges to partnerships is lack of trust. This is a problem that cuts across Africa, starting with the family. The partnership works when the head of the family is alive. As soon as he dies, his siblings start fighting because they do not trust one another. Various studies have noted that sibling partnerships have a long and often unsuccessful history. In fact, this is the case with the Kellogg brothers in the United States, a partnership between siblings that ended in a lifelong feud. Experience shows that partners should have a say in what is happening in not just the day-to-day activities but also in the scope and long-term planning of their partnership. Other studies highlight the importance of trust, one such being the report by the Sandra Rotman Centre of 2012 (Eurek Alert! 2012) on eight African case studies that concluded that trust between partners in agricultural biotech projects is a prerequisite. That study identified six key determinants of trust within such projects: honesty, transparency, capability, accountability, solidarity and generosity. Moreover, one of the scientists from an African research institute noted that in a trusting relationship, there are “no secret motives, no hidden agendas and everything is on the table”. In short, the Sandra Rotman study concluded that 'public-private partnerships are the engine of innovation, and trust is the oil that keeps the parts working smoothly together' (EurekAlert! 2012).

2. Clearly defined road map

Some partnerships start with a clear plan: according to IEG\WB (2013), a partnership typically starts with handshakes between leaders of government, industry, civil society and development organizations.  Most of them have then failed to actually roll out the partnership because of various complications. For example, for seven years after it started, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership made very little progress. Winsten and Woods (2011) noted that this was due to endless squabbles over the best ways to proceed, including the World Bank holding back promised funding. Moreover, IEG/WB (2013) argue that formal partnership programmes are complex to set up and that in most cases it takes several years before they begin their activities and longer until they achieve their impact. Interestingly, before the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP) against river blindness in West Africa started in 1974, the programme secretariat came up with a clear programme that was rolled out annually with very clear objectives. A road map showing where things are and the direction to follow clearly instils a sense of trust among partners, particularly as it relates to development cooperation. In any event, Tisch (2004) concludes that partnerships should not be taken for granted and in this case, OCP is very instructive.

3. Clearly defined responsibilities

One of the challenges that partnerships have faced, especially in Africa, relates, in many cases, to responsibilities. The partners should have clearly defined responsibilities in order to avoid duplication of work, which can result in friction and squabbles. Moreover, an evaluation carried out by IEG&WB (2013) on partnerships in general concluded that the objectives and strategies of these activities were often ill defined and that programmes and systems failed to pay attention to outcomes or related activities. According to Winsten and Woods (2005), that was initially the case with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) in Africa. It was not until 2005 that the RBM started showing positive results and the partners involved joined the fight with very clear responsibilities and mandates. On the other hand, in the case of the river blindness project, responsibilities of the 32 partnership members were very clear, supported by strong programme management. As Tirch (2004) warns, partnership demands commitment, consistency and fairness. In other words, when responsibilities are clear, partners find it easy to give their views and comments in their areas of expertise, should improvement be needed.  In this connection, the organization and management of the Onchocerciasis partnership deserve to be mentioned (Akande 2003).

4. Role of champions

The history of development cooperation in Africa since independence on the continent has been mixed. For example, the fight to combat river blindness had been on going during the French colonial days in affected West African countries until independence in the 1960s but without much success. It was not until the visit of former World Bank President Robert McNamara to Burkina Faso in the early 1970s that the problem was brought to the world’s attention. When McNamara saw people who were blind, young and old, he was very sympathetic. He took it upon himself to do something about it, and upon his return to Washington, he convinced the World Bank Board for the first time to earmark a grant of money towards the control of river blindness. In addition, McNamara organized a meeting and invited the key donors, the heads of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO), and representatives of the authorities of the 11 affected West African countries. According to WHO (1974), the programme was launched in 1974 under the leadership of WHO, the World Bank, FAO and UNDP. McNamara ensured that financial contributions, especially from a wide range of donor countries, multilateral institutions and private foundations, were channelled through the World Bank. There is no doubt that if McNamara had not spearheaded the international efforts to control river blindness in West Africa, the OCP programme would not have succeeded. The free donation of the necessary drugs by the president of Merck was a blessing, since it reduced the overall costs of the river blindness campaign. Similarly, the credit for revamping the Roll Back Malaria Partnership in 2005 goes to President George W. Bush, who in turn challenged other leaders to participate, such as Gordon Brown (United Kingdom), Kevin Rudd (Australia), Kofi Annan, the United Nations Secretary-General, the World Bank President (Paul Wolfowitz) and others.

In my culture, monto monene ndiogo – in English, 'the old person is medicine' – would mean 'the elder has the solution to a problem'. In development business, we need champions to deepen the partnerships: the roles played by President Bush (RBM) and Robert McNamara (OCP) are instructive. Everything considered, the time is long overdue for super-rich African men and women to team up and become partnership champions in development challenges that cut across the region.

5. Lack of financial resources

Experience shows that most partnerships that have not worked have failed because of a lack of financial resources, especially if the available funds are not pooled in a central fund. In the case of RBM, the funds are coordinated by either the secretariat or a fund with a board of trustees or steering committee. With regards to the river blindness, each partner participated with particular expertise, which no one else had, to avoid duplication or conflicts of interest, and each activity had its own particular budget. According to Akande (2003) quoting Dr. Malik Samba, who was the first coordinator and the winner of 1992 Africa Prize for his contribution to the control of Onchocerciasis (river blindness), 'long-term financial commitments were a major contributing factor to the control programme’s success'. The re-orientation of the RBM Partnership after seven years of activity was because of success in raising funds from the Global Fund, the World Bank, the Governments of the United States and the United Kingdom, Bill and Melinda Gates and others. Most of the funds raised were channelled through the Global Fund. The RBM Partnership released a joint global malaria action plan to guide the use of the funds. Initially, a number of African countries had problems accessing funds because of a lack of capacity to prepare acceptable proposals. However, this has been improving gradually.

Given that many African countries will continue to depend on development assistance, there is a need for lower- and middle-income African countries to create a sustainable enabling environment for local public-private financial partnerships to support key sectors.


Partnership seems to work better for the health sector than for others. Examples include the Roll Back Malaria Partnership and the Onchocerciasis Control Programme (OCP). The OCP (1974–2012) galvanized 32 partners and 11 West African countries to eradicate river blindness. It took 28 years, with sustained financial support. The 11 participating African countries were fully committed partners contributing both in cash and in kind. Those countries seconded their staff to the project secretariat in Burkina Faso, they provided airstrips, and their scientists shared relevant information. Moreover, despite the fact that more than half of that period was a time of coups in West Africa, the participating Governments collaborated at the highest level. The international community, bilateral aid organizations, multilateral agencies, the World Bank, private foundations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the media (Kakonge 2012) collaborated as full partners.

RBM changed the landscape concerning malaria with the involvement of several world leaders, intergovernmental agencies and NGOs. With this high-level support, the RBM Partnership started moving in the right direction. George W. Bush focused on what he called a 'campaign of compassion' to eradicate malaria during his visit to the United Republic of Tanzania, as part of his foreign policy concerning Africa that included cooperating in battling disease and poverty (Agence France Presse 2008). The participation of world political and industrial leaders in both programmes was motivated by compassion and driven by commitment.

In short, the few successful and strong partnerships in Africa have been in the health sector, mainly in communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, and river blindness. Other sectors such as civil aviation (Air Afrique and others) have been disastrous. Moreover, the partnerships in the health sector programmes have enjoyed very strong political will and support from external sources. Sadly, no amount of money and goodwill globally will sustain partnership in Africa unless African governments themselves, as in the case of OCP, are committed to being full partners and prepared to inject hard work, transparency and accountability into the partnership.

* Ambassador Dr. John O. Kakonge is a Sustainable Development Consultant and Adviser.


Agence France Presse (2008) 'George Bush unveils new anti-malaria campaign in Tanzania',

Akande, L. (2003) 'Victory over River Blindness', Africa Recovery, Vol. 17 (1): 6.

EurekAlert! (2012) 'Study details essential role of trust in agricultural biotech partnerships', American Association for the Advancement of Science,, accessed 8 April 2016

Independent Evaluation Group (IEG/WB) (2013) 'Opportunities and Challenges from working in Partnership: Findings from IEG’s Work on Partnership Programs and TrustFunds',

Kakonge, J.O (2012), 'How mass media helped to defeat River blindness in West Africa',

Tisch, J (2004) 'From “ME” Leadership to “WE” Leadership', 26 October, Wall Street Journal

Winten, J. and W. Woods (2011) 'Resetting the Roll Back Malaria Campaign', 21 April 2011, Financial Times,, accessed 10 April 2016

World Health Organization(WHO) (1974) 'Onchocerciasis Control Programme (River blindness)',



* Please do not take Pambazuka for granted! Become a Friend of Pambazuka and make a donation NOW to help keep Pambazuka FREE and INDEPENDENT!

* Please send comments to [email=[email protected]]editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org[/email] or comment online at Pambazuka News