It all sounded so promising back in 2007. Speaking at the Africa Partnership Forum in Berlin shortly before the G-8 summit in Heiligendamm, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stressed how important it was to achieve the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals. "We know that our dependability and credibility are at stake," she told her audience. "Therefore, we will do everything we can to realize these goals."
That was back then, when the German economy was roaring along. But the subsequent recession and the current wave of belt-tightening appear to have changed Merkel's thinking somewhat.
On Tuesday, Merkel addressed the United Nations in New York on the second day of the Millennium Development Goals Summit, where leaders from 140 countries had gathered to discuss the progress that has been made toward helping poor countries combat poverty, hunger, heath and environmental issues (see sidebar). "The international community gave itself real goals 10 years ago," the German chancellor said. "Unfortunately today, we have to recognize that we are probably not able to reach these objectives."
The audience heard that Germany is third in the world in terms of giving development aid, and that it "continues to strive to achieve the target" that it had set for itself in 2000, namely to direct 0.7 percent of Germany's gross national income (GNI) to aid. But, at the moment, the government puts the figure at 0.4 percent, at best, and even German Development Minister Dirk Niebel admits that things are "not on schedule."
Instead of pointing the finger at Germany and other industrialized countries, however, Merkel put a portion of the blame on some of the countries that receive aid funds and called on them to take more responsibility for helping themselves. Money also had to be spent more effectively, Merkel argued. "Development aid cannot continue indefinitely," she said. "The task therefore is to use limited resources as effectively as possible. This can only work through good governance which taps that country's potential." She called on donor countries to tie aid more closely with outcomes through a new "results orientation" and "results-based financing."
In Germany's main newspapers on Wednesday, commentators take a look at Merkel's remarks.
The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"It is a pure sham when the federal government claims that Germany is sticking to the financial pledges it has made to poor countries. … Bank rescues, economic crises and state debt are welcome arguments for the politicians who argue that there must be reductions in the amount of aid for those in need. And then the excuse is made that the pledges Germany and other donor countries give aren't always to be taken seriously. Under the circumstances, you start to suspect that the issue isn't really one about being able to (give money) but, rather, not wanting to. The fate of those millions living in misery is not a priority for German politicians. But apparently no one has the guts to admit it."
"At the moment, Niebel is trying to direct attention away from this fact by talking about how, when it comes to aid, it's not just about the amount, but also about how efficiently it is used. Of course, no one is going to deny that it doesn't help when money disappears. But poor countries are in such a bad state that it does indeed depend on both quality and quantity. What's more, it would do a lot to boost efficiency if donors were to coordinate their projects better, so that the people receiving aid in developing countries didn't always have to continually fill out new applications and constantly host delegations."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The fact that Angela Merkel is now announcing that she wants to increase the ties between the amount of aid given and its successes in individual countries shows that something has gone wrong. It's true that people have been talking for decades about linking aid with the willingness and ability of particular governments, so as to act in the interests of the whole country. At the same time, though, nepotism, corruption and kleptocracy were not sufficiently punished by denying funds. And one important reason for this was misguided diplomatic considerations."
"Much would be gained if development work were no longer measured in terms of the amount of money devoted to it but, rather, in terms of its results. There's still reason to doubt that this kind of course correction can succeed. A country that has been trying to get a seat on the UN Security Council for a long time, as Germany has, is always dependent on making friends. And, for this reason, there's cause to fear that -- once again -- nothing will come from Merkel's tough statement."
Left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:
"How does Merkel justify her backpedaling? You have to put your support behind the effectiveness of projects, she argues, rather than just higher figures. What a specious argument! Of course development aid needs to have better results. Of course its lack of effectiveness is its greatest shortcoming. But you can't just pit effectiveness against financing. It will only be when financial pledges are kept and the quality of the aid improves that, over the long term, the problems of the poor part of the world can be solved."
"For developing countries, what's happened over the course of this summit has been a disaster. The Millennium Development Goals were the mega project of recent memory, and the credibility of the industrialized countries in the eyes of the rest of the world were premised on their success. But now these goals are going to be officially shelved. And these will be the results: HIV will continue to expand. Over a billion people around the world will continue to go hungry. Every minute, a woman will continue to die from the effects of childbirth. These consequences are real. To allow them to happen for the sake of political opportunism -- as has happened systematically under the current German government -- is cynicism, pure and simple."
The center-left Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel writes:
"In her almost 10-minute-long speech, Merkel laid the blame for the mixed results primarily on the countries receiving aid and demanded a greater focus on results and good governance. She spoke about a 'new partnership,' yet at the same time remained true to the old way of thinking that views aid as alms. African economist Dambisa Moyo says that Africans shouldn't be treated like children and calls for an end to the patronizing inflows of money."
"The fact is that, if African countries were looked upon as genuine partners, both sides would benefit. Europe's neighboring continent isn't just home to poverty, violence and disease. It also has booming economies, young populations and raw materials in immeasurable supply. It's no coincidence that China is putting untold billions into Africa -- and as an investor instead of a donor."
"Germany's politicians, executives and entrepreneurs should think about that for a minute. Africa is the future. At some point in the future, wages in Asia are going to reach Western levels. And, by then at the latest, corporations are going to zero in on Africa as a place to cheaply produce their goods. And, at some point in the future, aging affluent societies are going to start hiring young Africans in order to be able to maintain their own standard of living. The concept of helping countries to help themselves thereby gains new meaning: By helping Africa, we are essentially helping ourselves."
-- Josh Ward
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