The time is right for donors to support the ambitions and visions of a new generation of development-focused African leaders, according to representatives from the Tony Blair Africa Governance Initiative, who took part in the recent Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan.
A number of sessions at the high level event reinforced the message that capacity development is crucial for achieving development outcomes in general and the Millennium Development Goals in particular. Organisations like the UK-based African Governance Initiative are committed to supporting African leaders to this end.
“When we’ve talked to presidents across Africa, one of the things they tell us is [that] they know what they want to achieve, they’re really clear about where they want to take their country [and] they’ve got the leadership ability to do it,” said AGI’s Director of Strategy and Development Andrew Ratcliffe. “But they find that often when they put their foot on the gas, nothing happens.”
“So we help them build the kind of machinery of government to deliver [and] get things done,” Mr Ratcliffe said in an interview on the sidelines of the Busan event.
This view reinforced by a vocal contingent of leaders from Africa who made a compelling case to place capacity development at the centre of discussions on development effectiveness, see related article.
Set up by former UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the AGI currently operates in Guinea, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone where they support African leadership by focusing on three delivery processes, explained Mr Ratcliffe:
- Prioritisation – it is crucial to help leaders to identify the three or four critical development challenges that can be addressed in a purposeful way and then to help them build the implementation capacity that can translate policy into action.
- Working with country systems – this provides a way to promote practical ownership for results by ensuring that responsibility for bringing about change, delivering results and being held to account rests with partner country leaders.
- Politics – accepting that all decisions are political and that working for development means working within the context of political realities.
“Capacity building is political,” said Mr Ratcliffe, “For me that means not using ‘lack of political will’ as an excuse for things not happening but accepting that all these decisions are political and that’s fine and any advice that does not engage with the politics is flawed.”
The AGI focuses on strengthening implementation capacity, helping partner governments deliver on their pledges. For example, in Sierra Leone, the AGI is currently working with the government to put in place its free health care initiative while in Rwanda it has been working with Public Sector Capacity Development Secretariat to put in place their strategic capacity building initiative.
“If you’re helping leaders with a clear agenda to build the capacity to achieve specific things, you’re already moving in the right direction. I think capacity building in a vacuum – detached from the political will, detached from implementation – is really difficult,” said Mr Ratcliffe.
Looking back on the three-day event in Busan, Mr Ratcliffe urged fellow development specialists to start thinking of capacity development as being about more than just individuals and training.
“If you just focus on skills and maybe sending people on training courses, you don’t necessarily build a system that can get things done for sustainability in the long-term,” he said. “Thinking about… capacity in a holistic way, so you think about whole institutions - skills, systems and structures – I think that’s another message I’d like to get out there.”