Making Government Work Can Transform Africa

The international development community needs to find new ways to support leaders in Africa to do the right thing. No leader deserves a blank check, but it is not enough for us to just say that Africa needs more Mandelas and fewer Mobutus.
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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As British Prime Minister I trebled aid to Africa. At the 2005 G8 summit we took far-reaching steps in debt cancellation worth more than $100 billion to the poorest African nations. I am immensely proud of what we achieved at Gleneagles: Every day since, the aid given to developing countries has been saving thousands of lives. But I came to recognize that aid alone is not the answer.

The truth is that ultimately Africa's future prosperity lies with the decisions of Africa's leaders. We need leadership that is democratic, accountable and transparent. But in addition, we need leadership that is effective, that can shape plans and deliver policies that will make a difference on the ground.

The problem for many African countries is not the absence of the right vision or the right intentions. It is the simple lack of capacity to achieve them. Government today, even in the West, has often far less to do with ideology, but to do with delivery. The techniques for this are not that different from the private sector -- the right mix of focus; prioritization; capable people and machinery to deliver; performance management and innovative ideas.

This is hard enough for developed nations. It is a vast challenge for African leaders, whose governments very often lack the most basic levers of delivery, the expertise and the know-how.

In the last three years, the charity I set up, the Africa Governance Initiative, has focused on these issues. We bring in dedicated teams of international staff who have worked in government or for leading private sector organizations. They work alongside the leader's office and key government ministries, building capacity to prioritize and get things done. Because the only long-term route out of poverty is economic growth, we make a big thing of helping the governments we work with to attract quality private-sector investment to create jobs and livelihoods. Our staff -- with expertise gained working in the international financial sector -- sit alongside the government and coach them to bargain on equal terms with big multinationals.

Over the past three years, we have been working in three countries -- Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Liberia. In each case, of course, the prime movers are the leaders and their teams. And in each country the results are both deeply impressive and offer real hope for the future. Rwanda was the fastest riser in the World Bank place to do business rankings last year. Sierra Leone has seen Freetown with the lights on, and a 90 percent cut in deaths of children from malaria. Liberia has seen astonishing progress, not least in attracting major private investment, with $16 billion committed in the past four years.

This is all part of the change now happening in Africa. There is still a long way to go. But the feeling of optimism is palpable.

For its part, the international development community needs to find new ways to support, not just exhort, leaders in Africa to do the right thing. The democracy and accountability revolution that has swept across Africa over the last 20 years has done immeasurable good. No leader deserves a blank check. But it is not enough for us to just say that Africa needs more Mandelas and fewer Mobutus.

Instead, the goal must be to create a dynamic where current African leaders can deliver real improvements in the lives of their citizens and where the next generation of leaders -- in some countries the first to grow up under stable, democratic rule -- have models of true public service they can aspire to follow.

What these leaders need is practical support in articulating and delivering on their priorities, so that the donors can align their assistance behind them. That is how we give real substance, not just symbolism, to the idea of "country ownership." Here, the World Bank, USAID and others have been breaking new ground in making the new partnership with Africa, which Barack Obama articulated on his visit to Ghana, a reality.

The development community already invests a great deal in keeping Africa's leaders honest. The question is whether it invests enough in supporting them to succeed. Good leadership is about capacity, not just character.

LIVE WEBCAST: Watch Tony Blair's keynote speech to the Center for Global Development at 10:00 a.m. EST.

Tony Blair was UK Prime Minister from 1997 to 2007, and is Patron of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI). 'Not Just Aid: How Making Government Work Can Transform Africa' is published by the Center for Global Development.

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