Politics of Poverty

What will make the US-Africa Leaders Summit worth it?

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Photo: http://bit.ly/1pvyuqu

African leaders having ownership of aid programs could be a start.

Annick Febrey is a Policy and Advocacy Advisor on Oxfam America’s Aid Effectiveness team.

While Washingtonians scurry around the DC streets blocked off* next week for the nearly 50 African leaders here for the inaugural US-Africa Leaders Summit, one question looms on everyone’s mind: Is it all going to be worth it?

The White House is expected to announce nearly a billion dollars of new trade investments, some progress on the Administration’s Power Africa initiative, and likely some new foreign assistance programs across the continent.

The cynic amongst us will wonder what’s going to be different about this summit from all the other multilateral gatherings, where a few impressive speeches are made and nice pictures are posted in the newspaper. Then life returns to business-as-usual the following week.

If the summit’s aim is to announce a new way of doing business with Africa, and if we want to see lasting impact from these new aid programs, then the US has to put its money where its mouth is and fund locally-initiated and -led aid projects.

USAID agreed to fund 30% of their programs directly through local institutions by 2015. As any statistician knows, we can easily play around with the numbers to make sure we’re successful on that goal. But how do we ensure that this 30% of programs are actually transforming communities and having lasting impact long after the last USAID implementer has left?

While the summit meetings** may be a start, we have to do more than just consult with national leaders and local actors in Africa. Local institutions—government, civil society and private sector actors—need to have ownership over program design and implementation. We’ve made some progress in including local stakeholders to make sure US aid investments are better aligned with local priorities, but we still have a ways to go.

As an American who grew up in the suburbs of Washington, DC (and luckily someone who can figure out alternative routes next week), it’s hard for me to imagine that I know more about what a Ghanaian village chief, a Malawian health advocate, or a Tanzania farmer needs most. But they can tell me how I can help.

I just hope the US is listening next week. That will help make the Summit worth it.


* For my fellow Washingtonians, you can see all the US-Africa Leaders Summit street closures here via the Washington Post.

** See the official White House Program of Events, InterAction list of side events, and other events surrounding the summit. I’m excited to attend ONE Campaign’s late night concert with music stars from the continent hosted by ONE’s Do Agric Campaign, which Oxfam has also supported.

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