August 18, 2010 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
Editor's note: Robert Calderisi has 30 years of professional experience in international development, including senior positions at the World Bank. He is the author of "The Trouble with Africa: Why Foreign Aid Isn't Working." He writes for CNN as part of Africa 50, a special coverage looking at 17 African nations marking 50 years of independence this year.
Friday, Charles Abugre of the UN Millennium Campaign writes for CNN about why aid is important for Africa and how it can be made more effective. (CNN) -- I once asked a president of the Central African Republic, Ange-Félix Patassé, to give up a personal monopoly he held on the distribution of refined oil products in his country.
He was unapologetic. "Do you expect me to lose money in the service of my people?" he replied.
That, in a nutshell, has been the problem of Africa. Very few African governments have been on the same wavelength as Western providers of aid.
Aid, by itself, has never developed anything, but where it has been allied to good public policy, sound economic management, and a strong determination to battle poverty, it has made an enormous difference in countries like India, Indonesia, and even China.
Those examples illustrate another lesson of aid. Where it works, it represents only a very small share of the total resources devoted to improving roads, schools, heath services, and other things essential for raising incomes.
Aid must not overwhelm or displace local efforts; instead, it must settle with being the junior partner.
Opinion: Why foreign aid is important for Africa
Because of Africa's needs, and the stubborn nature of its poverty, the continent has attracted far too much aid and far too much interfering by outsiders.
From the start, Western governments tried hard to work with public agencies, but fairly soon ran up against the obvious limitations of capacity and seriousness of African states.
Early solutions were to pour in "technical assistance," i.e. foreign advisers who stayed on for years, or to try "enclave" or turn-key projects that would be independent of government action.
More recently, Western agencies have worked with non-government organizations or the private sector. Or, making a virtue of necessity, they have poured large amounts of their assistance directly into government budgets, citing the need for "simplicity" and respect for local "sovereignty."
Through all of this, the development challenge was always on somebody else's shoulders and governments have been eager receivers, rather than clear-headed managers of Western generosity.
In the last 20 years, some states -- like Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Mali -- have broken the mould, recognized the importance of taking charge, and tried to use aid more strategically and efficiently. Some commentators would add Benin, Zambia, and Rwanda to that list.
But most African governments remain stuck in a culture of dependence or indifference. There are still too many dictators in Africa (six have been in office for more than 25 years) and many elected leaders behave no differently.
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