Tony Blair is the patron of the Africa Governance Initiative (AGI), a charity which is pioneering a new way of working with African countries. Find out more at: www.africagovernance.org.
Lately, it seems harder to ignore those increasingly vocal critics who argue the world should quickly abandon, or severely cut back, development aid.
With the Eurozone crisis dominating headlines, it is all too easy to overlook the tremendous gains achieved by aid in recent decades – and how critical it is to maintain the momentum. That’s why at Impatient Optimists, we like to showcase a wide variety of perspectives on today’s development issues, highlighting the latest thinking and approaches, and hopefully giving interested readers a forum to engage. (You can follow the conversation on Twitter at #smartaid).
Last week I was given the opportunity to sit down with former Prime Minister Tony Blair to discuss what he means by “giving aid to end aid”, a concept he has been speaking about lately (you can watch here at ODI). Excerpts of our conversation appear below.
If you have additional questions about development, governance or aid for Mr. Blair, please let us know!
Q: Tell me more about your vision for the world to end aid within a generation.
Tony Blair: The single most important thing that African leaders want is to get on their own two feet and run their own countries. The help and partnership from the rest of the world has been incredibly important to their development, and for these countries to be sustainable they need to build the capacity to govern properly. They also need to attract the right private sector development to create an economic base.
I think it’s also really important that we learn the lessons from the last two to three decades of aid to understand what has worked and what hasn’t. The big challenge for these governments is getting things done. It’s prioritizing. It’s delivering. It’s implementing. It’s making the structural changes their countries need.
Q: Some people say that in times of economic crisis like these, richer countries cannot afford to give aid the way they used to. What would you say to that?
Tony Blair: I look upon aid as a sensible investment in our collective future. I think this is the right moment to have a debate about how we improve the effectiveness of aid, but I totally disagree with the notion that aid does not work. It has had enormous benefits, particularly in health where hundreds of thousands of lives are saved every year as a result of active aid policy.
Q: Bill Gates delivered a report to the G20 earlier this month calling for a new era in development that focuses on innovation as a means to increase the pool of development ideas and resources. What was your reaction to the concepts raised?
Tony Blair: I think it’s brilliant. There is a lot of opportunity for rich countries, emerging market countries, and the poorest countries to collaborate and cooperate together in these “triangular” partnerships. In terms of natural resources and food production, the opportunity in Africa is incredible. But we also need to think of innovation in terms of getting the right methods, the right partnerships in place to help develop countries in a way that is transparent, non-corrupt, and brings genuine benefits to the people.
Q: So what role do you think that innovations in agricultural development and health services - such as access to affordable vaccines – should play in development?
Tony Blair: Here’s what I think the challenge is. For a lot of governments, it’s easy to know what should be done. It’s how they do it that’s really hard. The question is one of practical delivery. You’ve really got to focus on how these innovations are implemented in a way that will incur lasting benefits for the country rather than short-term resources.
Q: How can countries mobilize their own domestic resources to take steps towards graduating aid?
Tony Blair: I think the hardest thing in the developing country context is to focus on achieving a limited group of priorities. This gives people a sense of confidence that politics can deliver. You need to get the prioritization right, and then the capacity to do it effectively.
Q: How should the private sector get involved in a way that’s sustainable and furthers development in Africa? Are there some ground rules?
Tony Blair: Yes. There are some very obvious ground rules of which the most important is transparency. The problem with corruption is not just that it’s wrong, but it is also a very inefficient way to make decisions.
You have to create the right partnerships with the government and sometimes with other investors in order to facilitate development. For example, when companies invest in Africa, the right infrastructure needs to be in place, and finding a way to make sure the infrastructure benefits the whole community is really important. Energy and electricity are also critical.
Q: You are attending the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea later this month. What do you hope will come out of the forum?
Tony Blair: I think the forum should showcase the way that aid is changing, because it is ripe for innovation and creativity. Africa has a whole new generation of business, civic, and political leaders who want to take the best of their country into their own hands. The question for the development community is: how do we become the most effective partners?
Q: What keeps you motivated to do this work?
Tony Blair: It’s such an extraordinary tragedy that you have a rich continent with so many poor people. But it’s also such an amazing opportunity. The one thing that is clear is that doing the right thing works, and the benefits can be immediate and visible. So that’s why it is exciting to be involved.