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Andy Ratcliffe on Tony Blair's speech and the emerging debates in the UK development community





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Standing in the carriage of a London Overground train is not the best place to prepare for a radio interview but that's how I spent my commute home this Wednesday after a fascinating day spent debating the nature of aid, government capacity, and how to support African countries to move beyond aid dependency.

The day began with Tony Blair speaking at a joint event hosted by AGI and ODI at the Institute for Government in London. He was speaking on the topic of rethinking leadership for development as part of ODI's series on aid effectiveness in the run up to the Busan Forum at the end of November. His argument, is that aid continues to achieve great results -in health, education, tackling poverty and hunger -but that the long term goal of international support must be to help African countries move beyond dependence on aid. This means building functioning economies -reducing poverty, creating wealth, generating jobs -and functioning governments, which is where we at AGI focus our efforts. Tony's challenge to the international community is to end aid dependence in Africa within a generation.

The event itself was great (you can watch it and read a write-up here). Alison Evans, head of ODI, was excellent in the chair. And the audience was made up senior figures from the development world, including: Malcolm Bruce, Chair of the Development Select Committee; Hugh Bayley Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Africa; Owen Barder new head of the Centre for Global Development Europe; and David Booth from the Africa Power and Politics Programme at ODI. The Q&A session was lively and challenging -this isn't a topic with easy answers -but there was a definite feeling that the issues of political leadership and government capacity were high on everyone's agenda.

But what made the event particularly powerful for me was the sense that it was part of a vibrant wider debate on the future of support for development -including, but not limited to a discussion of aid effectiveness. So, I wanted to share some of the recent articles I've found particularly interesting:

  • Action Aid's latest Real Aid report has rightly received a lot of attention. It sets out a powerful case for ending aid dependence, describes the progress made so far, and highlights some of the best examples of 'real aid' from around the world.
  • Andy Sumner's global dashboard blog focuses on the same issue, looking in particular at what forms of aid are most effective ('catalytic') at reducing aid dependence, and also raising the possibility of ending aid dependence 'in a generation'.

Reaction to Wednesday's event also drew out some important challenges for this agenda.

  • Larry Elliot, Economics Editor of the Guardian, highlights the importance of showing the impact of aid to maintain public confidence in development.
  • Over at the Guardian Global Development pages, Liz Ford talks about the role of democracy in development and the interplay of expectations, implementation, and confidence in the state.
  • ODI's Marta Foresti blogged on the political challenges of reform, and fellow ODIer Claire Melamed talks about how the international community can best support African leaders.

Which bring me back to the railway carriage where, at around 6.30 on Wednesday, I got an email asking me to take part in a discussion on aid on part of Iain Dale's LBC radio show, starting at 7.15. It was a mad dash to get home in time but I'm very glad I did because the discussion (paywall) was well worth it. Iain asked me some tough but fair questions -on the link between democracy and development, on how much aid is wasted, and on Dambisa Moyo's dead aid thesis. He then spoke to Ivan Lewis (Shadow Developoment Minister) and Malcolm Bruce and summed up by saying:

"You've heard from Andy Ratcliffe from the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, Ivan Lewis and Malcolm Bruce and we seem to have broad agreement"

A positive note to end the day on -ending aid dependence looks like a hot topic for the UK development community as Busan approaches.