Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Eastern Europe starts repaying Africa

The fall of the Iron Curtain cost Africa much in terms of reduced investments and development aid, which in the 1990s was redirected to Eastern Europe. But now, following EU demands and increased wealth, country after country in the region is setting up development cooperation agencies focusing on Africa, with booming budgets.

Slovenia, an ex-Yugoslavian republic bordering Austria and Italy, was the richest of the eight formerly Communist countries that entered the European Union (EU) in 2004, priding itself with a GDP per capita at US$ 17,700. But as a moderately rich nation, not even Slovenia came close to EU goals of spending 0.39 percent of GDP in development aid - let alone the UN recommendation of 0.70 percent of GDP.

As most other formerly Communist nations in East and Central Europe, Slovenia had benefited from generous EU programmes during the 1990s to reshape its economy, boost economic growth and make it fit for entering the common market. At the same time, analysts were complaining about the reduced efforts by rich, Western countries to assist African development.

Both investments and development aid for Africa were cut dramatically in real term during the 1990s, something analysts blamed both on an "aid fatigue" following the poor performance of African economies in the 1980s, but also on the new, large investments in Eastern Europe.

But in the longer run, Eastern Europe's growth and EU membership is set to pay off for African countries. Indeed, among the demands made by the EU to applying countries were their definition of an international development aid policy, plans to set up development aid agencies and adopting the long-term goal of spending at least 0.39 percent of GDP in development aid.

This is what is happening in country after country right now, as in Slovenia. After independence from Yugoslavia, foreign aid was unsystematic, amounted to a microscopic percentage of GDP and was mainly given as ad hoc humanitarian aid to nearby countries, mainly war-ravaged ex-Yugoslavian republics. With the start of EU membership negotiations, however, aid turned more systematically.

By 2004, Slovenia's foreign aid had reached 0.10 percent of GDP and by 2007 it is estimated at 0.14 percent of GDP. This comes at the same time as a rapid growth in Slovenian GDP.

While the development aid budget is steadily growing, so is also the governmental development cooperation agency, which still is an integrated department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Like most other new EU members, Slovenia receives capacity building assistance from the EU and other countries with longer development aid traditions to make sure well functioning development aid agencies and programmes are established.

Also, as new funds emerge and the new agencies have received training, the geographical focus of these Eastern European aid agencies start shifting. Still, the poorer parts of South-eastern Europe "remains the priority of Slovenia's bilateral development cooperation," according to a whitepaper by the Ljubljana Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

But, "development policy which aims at poverty reduction must also be effective in Africa," the same document emphasises. "Slovenia's development cooperation will therefore also focus on Africa to a certain extent, in accordance with the EU development policy." There are already plans to co-finance projects carried out by Slovenian NGOs in Madagascar, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Malawi.

The Czech Republic, also among the richest new EU members, has already come a bit further. In 2006, according to preliminary data by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Prague government spent 0.11 percent of its considerable GDP on foreign aid. The government has promised to increase this percentage to 0.17 by 2010 and to 0.33 by 2015. Much of this will go to Africa.

Among the Czech development agency's eight - mostly European and Asian - priority countries, there are already two African ones; Angola and Zambia. According to Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, "in 2006, we implemented 18 bilateral development projects and 11 small local projects in eight countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. In 2007, we expect to launch six new bilateral projects."

In 2006, the total value of the bilateral assistance projects in Sub-Saharan Africa by the Czech R
Medical aid provided by Polish medics from PolishAid to Angolans:
«Development aid is to more than triple by 2015.»

© afrol News / PolishAid
epublic nevertheless was only at about US$ 3 million. But according to Mr Schwarzenberg, this was only the beginning. "Encouraged by the good results of the pilot programmes, we have decided to allocate more funds and increase the number of what is known as micro-projects, projects bringing immediate and tangible results," he told African ambassadors in Prague in late May 2007.

Neighbouring Slovakia has even had time to set up a full-fledged development aid agency, Slovak Aid, on 1 January 2007 with the aim "to support implementation of the Slovak Republic's international commitments in the field of official development assistance." But the poorer half of former Czechoslovakia so far only has implemented one project i Africa (Kenya) and it lags behind in development aid spending (0.07 percent of GDP in 2006).

The eastern country that so far has come furthest in developing its aid policies is the region's most populous country, Poland, which also has the largest total GDP among the newer EU members. In Warsaw, the agency PolishAid has been set up as part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Angola has been Poland's only African "partner country" for several years, but since 2004, PolishAid has also given assistance through its Small Grants Fund for the African continent. Still, in 2005 only 2 percent - or US$ 1 million - of PolishAid's bilateral aid went to Africa. More than half went to Europe's poorest countries. But the Warsaw government plans to change this as development aid is to more than triple by 2015, as percentage of GDP. Tanzania is already set to become Poland's next African "partner country".

Also Hungary, the second most populous of the countries joining the EU in 2004, is slowly discovering Africa. "We intend to pay greater attention to Africa," promised Hungarian Foreign Minister Kinga Göncz during the first celebration of Africa Day on 25 May 2007 in Budapest, meeting African ambassadors.

While Hungary reached a 0.1 percent of GDP spending in development aid in 2006, national humanitarian agencies complain that growth in spending is now all too slow. Given the country's current economic crisis, the development aid budget for 2007 was cut considerably. "Our goal is not only to keep the cooperation at the present level, but also to develop further the relationship that we established in the past decades," Minister Göncz nevertheless promised African ambassadors. His Ministry currently receives training from the Canadian development aid agency CIDA to empower it to launch projects in Africa.

Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovenia are among the fore-riders in setting up national development aid agencies and reaching EU spending targets among the new member states. But also poorer countries, like the Baltic ex-Soviet republics, are making steady advances.

Estonia, for example, only spent 0.01 percent of GDP on foreign aid in 1998, which steadily increased to 0,05 percent in 2004 and aims at reaching 0.10 percent in 2010 and 0.35 percent in 2015. Equally, Estonia still has no African development projects, but foresees this for the coming years.

In 2007, two new big eastern countries joined the EU, Bulgaria and Romania, both the poorest current member states. But the year before joining the EU, Romania had already started to adhere to EU demands and spent 0.04 percent of GDP on development assistance. Like other EU newcomers, Romania and Bulgaria have pledged to increase this percentage to 0.17 by 2010 and to 0.33 by 2015 - meaning an almost tenfold increase in just one decade.

At the moment, development aid for African countries is still very modest from the EU's new members. But the tide is just about to turn as most countries will have to double their aid by 2010, and then again triple it by 2015. In this process, the most advanced eastern donors have already shown, new relations with Africa have to be made. And African governments could start finding key partners in Eastern Europe right now, as the window is wide open.

By staff writers

© afrol News

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