2.1 The Development Programme
The Ireland Bilateral Aid Programme for the Sidama province known as the Sidama Development Programme (SDP) was established in May 1994 after a feasibility study conducted by the team of development experts from the Embassy of Ireland in Addis Ababa, led by Mr. Joseph Feeney identified three areas for development assistance in the country. These were (a) Sidama and Gurage provinces in Southern Ethiopia and the Tigray province in Northern Ethiopia. During this period the Ireland aid followed a non-conventional development assistance approach that was based on equal partnership with the local people with funding support provided to projects directly identified as development priorities by the people on the ground.
The Ireland Aid –Sidama Development Programme was an integrated rural development program with interventions in wide range of areas including:
a) Education – building and renovating primary and secondary schools, building libraries and provisions of books, primary school teacher training, etc..
b) Health - building health posts, and clinics, and supply of pure drinking water through spring protection in the highlands and sustainable rain water harvesting in low land districts,
c) Rural roads: construction of labour intensive all weather rural roads with the objective of both creation of employment to hundreds of thousands of redundant rural labour force and expanding access to remote poor rural villages in the province,
d) Provision of electricity to emerging rural towns including the district capital towns,
e) Supply of grinding mills to small rural towns to reduce the burden of women who travel tens of kilometers looking for grinding mill services,
f) Microfinance services: access to rural credit was a critical development challenge in the Sidama province. The programme's second core project was ensuring sustained access by poor rural households primary women to saving and credit facilities.
Ireland Aid's philosophy of the early 1990s was radically different from an age old conventional western aid philosophy. Their development philosophy was guided by the following core principles:
1) Poverty focus: strictly assisting development projects in poorer areas of the region first,
2) Gender sensitivity: strictly ensuring that women have been involved from consultation up to implementation and management of any development project in the area,
3) Community participation: strictly ensuring that the community members have been involved from the initial stage of development problem identification, up to implementation and management of the project. Rapid Rural Appraisals and Participatory Rural Appraisals were part of all major project implementation phases. At the same time, community members had to voluntarily contribute at least 20% of the project cost either through voluntary labour or material supplies to ensure sense of ownership.
4) Sustainability: to ensure sustainability of the development initiatives supported by Ireland Aid, the programme encouraged establishment of rural village development committees known as KDCs as a well as a coordinating development institution at regional level.
2.2 The Development Programme Funding and Implementation Mechanism
On top of the above radical development policy measures, the Ireland Aid made sure that funding to all development projects are managed directly by the stakeholders without any interference from the central government. Funds were directly transferred to the Development Programme account from Ireland Aid and were managed jointly by the staff of Ireland Embassy and officials of the Sidama Development Programme who were accountable both to the donor and the local Sidama government structures. The funds were then transferred directly to the local government structures responsible for the implementation of a given project. This made sure that there were no delays in acquiring inputs required for the implementation of the projects. Financial utilization reports were prepared on monthly basis by the staff of the development programme at the local level and monitored by the staff of the Embassy and by the staff of Department of Foreign Affairs in the donor country.
The programme initially started in two remote and poor districts of Sidama- Bansa and Arbegona on a pilot basis. The pilot programme operated in these districts for one year and was expanded to the rest of the province after the successful completion of the pilot phase.
The projects were implemented in partnership with the local government departments. Health projects were implemented by the Sidama Provincial Health Department while education projects were implemented by the Provincial Education Department and so on.
This ensured the efficient use of the available human resources which would otherwise sit idle due to limited resources and saved massive administrative cost on the Ireland Aid –Sidama Development Programme. This not only created a strong foundation for the sustainability of the future development efforts in the region but also enhanced the local capacity for development.
On top of this, Ireland Aid was 100 percent development grant with no future debt implications for the Sidama region or the country at large and no other strings were attached.
In addition to funding development projects identified as priorities by the poor rural community members, the Ireland Aid provided continued training in upgrading local skills in all government institutions in the area. It also provided awareness education to thousands of local government officials as well as politicians on the importance of participatory approaches in rural development. Hundreds of local government officials and politicians have travelled to other developing countries such as Bangladesh, Philippines and South Africa to share their experiences on rural development. These created a complete sense of ownership of the development activities by the Sidama people and have increased local staff commitment, quality of service delivery, and speed of development project implementation.
During this period, the Ireland Aid followed an innovative approach to tackling the development problem in Africa. First and foremost, Ireland Aid was accountable to the local people for delivery of the services it promised and any future collaboration with the community members were dependent up on the fulfillment of the previous commitments. Second, the Aid programme improved the local government capacity thorough continued training and exposure programmes. Third, direct funding of projects made sure that aid fungibility and corruption at the central government level were eliminated. Corruption at local was checked by the active participation of the community members, continued training and awareness creation that created full sense of programme ownership. Project implementation by the government departments in charge was regularly monitored by the local development programme office and representatives of the donor based in the country.
The Ireland Aid area based development programme in Sidama was therefore a resounding success.
2.3 The Achievements of the Ireland Aid in Sidama – People Centered Aid Can Work In Africa
The Ireland Aid-Sidama development programme between 1994-2002 was a typical case of development Aid success in Africa and a living proof that properly funded, managed and monitored, development aid can work in Africa.
Within less than 8 years of the implementation the development programme achieved the following in Sidama:
A) Primary school participation rate: after about 8 years of Ireland Aid intensive education sector development in Sidama, primary school participation rate increased from about 47% in early 1990s to about 67% in 2002. The programme built over 250 low cost primary schools, built and upgraded over 8 high schools and provided teacher training for over 2000 primary school teachers,
B) Ensured access to savings and credit scheme by over 30, 000 rural households, primarily women to savings and credit scheme and established a sustainable Sidama Microfinance Institution which continued to operate until today, 8 years after the end of Ireland Aid support for the Sidama region,
C) Created jobs for over 500,000 rural unskilled labourers through labour intensive rural road construction connecting several rural districts, the total length of new all weather rural roads built by Ireland Aid was over 700 kms.
D) About 200 low cost rural health posts and 4 large Health Centers were built and supported by the programme while over 4000 high land springs were protected ensuring access to pure water by almost 800,000 rural dwellers.
E) Rural electrification including building a micro hydro electric power for one of the rural district capital town and generator electrification for over 5 rural towns. Rural small businesses expanded rapidly after the electrification of these rural towns.
F) Built an institute of development studies and education, one of the first of its kind in participatory development studies in the country. The center is upgraded to a college level and continues to operate with own sources of income 8 years after suspension of support by Ireland Aid.
G) In addition, the programme established a network village or Kebelle Development Committee (KDCs) which acted as a voice of the rural communities for issues relating to the development of their areas.
All in all, over 2 million Sidama people have benefited from the Ireland Aid Integrated Rural Development Programme in Sidama between 1994-2002 with two key projects continuing to operate 8 years after the discontinuation of the aid funds.
Why was the Ireland Aid in Sidama unique in Africa? There are some key lessons to be learnt here. Ireland Aid followed a radically different aid philosophy in the early 1990s in Ethiopia. First, the bilateral aid funds were channeled directly to the project areas instead of the central government through establishment of local integrated development programmes which were genuine partnership arrangements with the local administration and the community. Second, the locals were not only treated as equal partners but were allowed to take the lead. The Irish did not impose "development" on the Sidama people. Third, the aid funds were purely development grants and no strings were attached to them. And finally a radically different aid philosophy generated radically different local responses: the local government and community members felt complete sense of ownership which ensured commitment to the development programme. The combination of these factors created a unique case of bilateral development aid that made an enormous difference to poverty alleviation in the province.
2.4 The Withdrawal of the Ireland Aid from the Sidama Region
Continued dependence on aid is not desirable. However, an abrupt discontinuation of an aid programme without a clear exit strategy is also a disaster. This was what happened to the Sidama progamme. After about 8 years of funding, the Ireland Aid made a U-turn in its development aid philosophy and decided to unilaterally withdraw the direct funding to the Sidama area based programme.
Pressures from two sources have been mentioned as the forces behind the sudden shift in Ireland's genuine aid philosophy. First, they were seen as anti status quo and anti-conventional aid model among their EU member states which threatend to alienate them diplomatically from their EU partners. And second and equally important, the Ethiopian government did not like the idea of direct funding to the programme areas and openly asked the Ireland government to channel the bilateral funds to the central government treasury as other donors do.
It seemed therefore that being under pressure from the two formidable forces which care less about the development on the ground, the Ireland Aid had no choice but ignore its commitment to the local people and run away from the region. At present, Ireland Aid is one of the key donors to the Ethiopia central government but all development projects commenced by them have been suspended in the Sidama province. Ireland Aid has now become one of Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid in Africa.
3. Concluding remarks
Development aid channeled to the central government treasuries of the poor African countries has made little difference to poverty alleviation and economic growth during the past 50 years. According to Moyo, it has in fact worsened the economic performance of the recipient African countries as the poverty rates in these countries continue to escalate and growth rates have steadily declined. She underscores that aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world - and Africa in particular.
The main reasons for the failure of the development aid are limited or no role by the local people, corruption, aid fungibility, lack of institutional capabilities, and non altruistic motives by the donors.
However, not all foreign assistances are doomed to fail. A people centered bilateral development aid that involves the local people from project identification through its implementation, operation and management in Africa can make a real difference on the ground. A typical example of bilateral aid that was people centered and that worked in Africa is an Ireland Aid -Sidama Development Programme in Ethiopia. In less than 8 years, this programme led to improvements in primary school participation rates , access to clean water, health facilities, electricity, and credit facilities by millions of the rural poor in the province.
However, this success story was cut short before it could serve as a fully fledged development aid model in Africa due to hostilities from conventional donor model and the central government.
Now that the failure of development aid is widely acknowledged by the international community and there is little or no will to change the conventional aid model to make aid work, the only alternative to the development problems in Africa are to attract more foreign direct investment, regional economic integration with more inter regional trade, removal of agricultural subsidies by the donor countries, improved governance and the rule of law and respect for property rights. Africa must forget about development aid and begin to think!