Financing for Development: How to Ask for Money

July 14, 2015

As you prepare for the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in mid-July, please remember that as an African Minister of Finance or Foreign Affairs and Development your country expects you and your advisers to get as much money as you can from the donors.

Africa has large financing gaps in areas crucial for sustainable development, so we need the cash and wish you luck.

Going into the meetings, please remember the Swahili saying ‘nguo ya kuazima huwezi kuiringa’ — “you cannot swagger in borrowed clothing”. Africa has great needs and it is right to ask for help. But too often this devolves into outright begging. Here is a strategy on how you can ask without looking desperate and keep your own and your country’s dignity intact. You may even walk out with a check.

First of all, come with a thick skin, prepared for tough questions from donors. Don’t be shocked if you are asked why some previous funding has not been put to the best possible use. In the aftermath of the global recession many donors have become increasingly sceptical and inclined to impose tough conditions on any grants or loans they dole out. Don’t be cowed, and politely stick up for reasonable terms and conditions that allow you to be responsive to rapidly shifting challenges. The fact is, you know your people best and our countries are unpredictable. Donors need to understand that.

Secondly, make the word ‘efficiency’ your new best friend. Donors will have pored over recent IMF and World Bank reports that have characterized your country as an emerging economy with substantial human capital and, possibly, vast natural resources. They may not tell you this to your face, but they will also have looked up the latest Transparency International reports on the endemic corruption that holds many of our countries back. That’s why they may seem reluctant to release funding. To grease the wheels, suggest you would like funding to improve the efficiency of your systems unlock your country’s potential and improve health and social outcomes. In today’s development financing discussion, Efficiency = Open Sesame.

You get bonus points if you walk the talk. When I was working as a medical doctor in South Sudan, the voluntary counselling and testing services for HIV and sexually transmitted diseases were separate from the family planning units. Thankfully, with a greater push towards integration to improve services, these inefficiencies were reduced. Of course the latest round of civil unrest has set everything back, but that’s another African discussion.

Efficiency can be hard to achieve, but we need it. A study on how efficiently national HIV/AIDS programmes in low and middle income countries were in using resources found that of 68 low and middle-income countries, only 18 were as efficient as they should be. The high performers included countries like Thailand, Brazil, and Rwanda that have been recognized for their successful HIV/AIDS programs. If other developing countries tried to be as efficient as their peers, they could double their outputs in HIV/AIDS programmes with current levels of funding. That way, we won’t have to threaten to force HIV/AIDS patients to pay for their treatment as some countries like Uganda have done.

You may be tempted to skip the Addis conference. Perhaps, like some other eye-rolling observers, you think that the current ‘innovative financing for development’ options are not new at all and range from the half-baked at best to the economically illiterate at worst. Also, what’s the point of going to Addis when there is no guarantee that donors will deliver on the financial commitments they will make? History has shown that after the meetings and the banquets, most conferences beget promises that are rarely fulfilled. While official development assistance increased in real terms in 2013 to reach the highest level ever recorded, only 5 donor countries met their UN commitment to spend 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) on aid every year.

Lastly, while China’s role in Africa’s trade and development spheres has increased rapidly in the last few years and many African countries have adopted a ‘facing East’ policy, it is not clear what role the Chinese will play, if any, at the Financing for Development conference. If China stays on the sidelines, the whole event may lose its lustre for many African ministers.

But it will still be worth your while to attend. Come on, this is a money party, and you’ve been invited! If you would like to feel like you’ve made your own contribution, why not set out to ensure that the outcome document of the Addis conference not only builds on the 2002 Monterrey and 2006 Doha finance meetings but that it provides the financing framework for the post-2015 development agenda? The UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network estimates low-income countries alone need an additional $200 million in funding per year to measure against the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One specific thing you can do is ensure there is a new or enhanced financing stream that aligns incentives for better-coordinated and systematic support to country governments and their partners on data systems to track the SDG progress.

Above all, remember that asking for assistance is only part of your job. This should not be a government-funded junket but an opportunity for you to shape the current dialogue in international development circles and, for the sake of your people, build momentum for the post-2015 development agenda. We’re rooting for you. Now go and bring home the money.

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Originally published in Huffington Post

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