UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA - AFRICAN STUDIES CENTER
South Africa: APIC on USAID
Date Distributed (ymd): 960613
The Africa Policy Information Center announces its latest publication, USAID in South Africa: Learning Lessons, Continuing Debates. This 112 page book, written by Douglas Tilton and edited by Jim Cason, is a timely assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of USAID s South Africa program over the past decade.
The following excerpts--an Executive Summary and the concluding policy recommendations--provide an introduction to the central themes of the study. Those who wish to order copies of the entire text may print, complete, and return the order form at the end of this document.
In a decade when foreign aid is increasingly under attack as inefficient, unsuccessful, and irrelevant to the US national interest, the South Africa aid program has been held up as a model for a new type of aid -- foreign aid that works. Over the last decade the US has spent nearly $1 billion on programs to assist non-governmental organizations and lawyers defending victims of apartheid, to strengthen community organizations, and to help South Africans develop adult education programs to meet the needs of their new society.
Just as the US aid program in South Africa made a contribution in the period leading up to the establishment of a democratic system in that country, so this study suggests that foreign aid to Africa can play an important role in assisting African development initiatives. At the same time, it argues that foreign aid programs, both in South Africa and elsewhere on the continent, need to be fundamentally refocused to support more directly long-term, sustainable, and equitable development.
Evaluations of the US Agency for International Development (USAID) program in South Africa have praised its innovative character and emphasized its impact. The US was, for example, the largest single donor to voter education efforts during South Africa's first non-racial national election. Since then, American assistance has helped the new government and non- governmental organizations to build houses, to restructure government ministries, to improve the educational system, and to address other legacies of apartheid.
The case study in this book highlights these successes and in particular the program's strength in responding to a changing environment. During the past decade, USAID provided valuable assistance to South Africans working to end apartheid.
At the same time, there is room for improvement. USAID has articulated a commitment to making disadvantaged South Africans the main beneficiaries of its work. But USAID s recent initiatives have not been as successful in addressing the fundamental inequalities in South African society. Generations of segregation and apartheid policies have left most black South Africans with little access to housing, education, health care, and many of the other benefits of modern society. Addressing these legacies is the primary task of Nelson Mandela's government. Yet there is a danger that in the post-apartheid period the small, relatively affluent sector of the urban black population that has found regular employment will enjoy the bulk of the benefits from development planning while a large portion of the black population is left behind.
The report suggests that the USAID mission subordinated the goal of enhancing low-income households' access to housing to a more overtly political objective: maximizing the market-orientation of the post-apartheid South African economy. The US assistance program for housing construction was designed to frame the public debate over housing and to point the new government towards specific policy choices by promoting a relatively narrow range of market-based initiatives.
One historic strength of the US program has been its emphasis on supporting non-governmental and community-based organizations. The reports endorses continued US support for civil society. At the same time, both as a practical matter and as a matter of principle, US foreign aid to South Africa must be structured to support and sustain development strategies designed by South Africans both within the government and in local communities. One key test for foreign assistance should be how well it helps South Africans to create their own independent institutions that can continue to promote long term, sustainable, and equitable development after the last US aid worker has left.
The study concludes that the weaknesses of the South African aid program can be traced largely to policy decisions made in Washington. Consequently, USAID personnel have to deal with a complex and shifting set of priorities that make consistent long-term support based on the needs of the beneficiaries nearly impossible. This contradiction can only be addressed through a reevaluation of Washington s foreign aid priorities. The author has therefore identified several policy recommendations for US aid programs in South Africa.
1) Strengthen local control of the development process: The US must work to strengthen the participation of both the South African government and local community-based organizations in designing the structure, content, and priorities of US assistance programs in South Africa.
2) Reduce economic inequality: The US should structure its programs so that the poorest 50 percent of the population are the primary beneficiaries and so as to strengthen the ability of this segment of the population to organize and to articulate its needs.
3) Strengthen local level, community-based and non-governmental organizations: The US should continue to work in partnership with South African-controlled community and non-governmental organizations, but must strive to channel its aid more effectively in order to strengthen these organizations' capacity to deliver services, to engage in policy advocacy, and to realize their own, internally-defined, development agendas.
There are compelling reasons to continue to provide
assistance to the new government in South Africa, both
to support that government through this critical transition
period and to enable South Africa to become an engine
for development and growth in the entire region. But
to achieve these objectives the US assistance program
in South Africa must be fundamentally refocused in
order to support long-term, sustainable, and equitable
US Foreign Assistance to South Africa: Policy Recommendations for Future Programs
Two messages emerge from the preceding discussion of USAID programs in South Africa, both of which have clear implications for the continuing debate over US foreign assistance policy:
1) US aid to South Africa should be continued. The history of USAID's involvement in South Africa, particularly its support for South African organizations working to end apartheid and to establish a more just political and economic order, has demonstrated that US assistance can help to improve conditions for poor communities. Such programs have had the greatest beneficial impact when they have enhanced the capacity of South Africans to act on the basis of their own assessments of the problems confronting them and their own priorities for change.
South Africa's transition to democracy has not resolved the enormous array of social, political, and economic problems generated by apartheid and by the centuries of oppression on which apartheid was founded. Democratic institutions simply give South Africans a mechanism by which they can begin to rebuild their society, but the extent to which they are able to do this will be determined by the resources at their disposal. At a time when many foreign governments are curtailing aid to South Africa, US assistance assumes increasing importance.
2) The US assistance program in South Africa needs to be refocused. South Africans are working to identify a development path which is simultaneously sustainable and equitable. USAID's growing emphasis on market-oriented approaches is often inconsistent with the commitment to fair and balanced growth articulated by many South African community leaders. This divergence has become more marked in recent years as USAID has devoted increasing attention and resources to its private-sector projects. It is time for a reexamination of the program's direction and a reorientation of its activities.
Both as a practical matter and as a matter of principle, US aid to South Africa must be structured to support and sustain development strategies designed by South Africans, including government officials and community representatives. US assistance should help South Africans to create independent institutions that can sustain equitable development even after the last foreign aid worker has left.
Specifically, US assistance programs in South Africa should be refocused in order to:
* Enhance local control of the development process. US assistance programs must allow South Africans to determine their own development strategies, priorities, and objectives and must respect this emerging agenda. In practice, this means soliciting greater participation by both the South African government and local community-based organizations in designing the structure, content, and goals of US assistance programs.
The new, democratically elected government in South Africa has established several structures to improve the coordination of foreign assistance. These aim to ensure that foreign aid is allocated within the overall priorities of the government's Reconstruction and Development Program and to prevent project duplication or unfunded budgetary obligations. South Africa also has a network of strong and vibrant community organizations, church groups, unions, and non-governmental organizations involved in development projects. Although the US has worked with non-governmental organizations in the past, the responsiveness of the US assistance program to grassroots South African priorities needs to be improved.
* Reduce economic inequality. The US should structure its programs so that the poorest 50 percent of the population are the primary beneficiaries and so as to strengthen the ability of this segment of the population to organize and to articulate its needs. Evaluations of US assistance programs should assess how well they are serving the poorest of the poor, particularly in rural communities. Explicit attention should be devoted to analyzing the extent to which each initiative redresses the economic legacies of apartheid by promoting a more equitable distribution of wealth within the society.
Many of the existing aid projects in South Africa are of most immediate benefit to permanently employed black South Africans working in the formal urban economy. These projects, which are often linked to private-sector business development efforts, can have a tremendous impact on long-term development, but they do not directly address the needs of the poorest sectors of the black majority. Moreover, they can exacerbate existing inequalities within the society. US assistance should be focused on programs which provide sustainable new opportunities to that portion of the black population that was most completely excluded from the apartheid economy.
* Build robust and dynamic organs of civil society. The historic strength of the US program in South Africa has been its work with non-governmental organizations, some of which have strong links to grassroots communities. The US should continue to work with South African-controlled community and non-governmental organizations, but must strive to channel its aid more effectively in order to increase the capacity of these organizations to deliver services, to engage in policy advocacy, and to realize their own, internally-defined, development agendas.
The tensions inherent in this strategy are obvious. The broadly defined "civil society" in South Africa, which includes non-governmental and community-based organizations, unions, religious institutions, and civic groups, is undergoing a period of tremendous turmoil as individuals and institutions seek to redefine their roles in the new society. Many of these organizations were developed primarily to support campaigns against apartheid. A large number will not have useful roles in the post-apartheid era and will be unable to sustain themselves. US aid should not be used to prolong the lives of organizations which have failed to retain popular support.
At the same time, efforts to promote the development of civil society should be complemented by programs which help South Africa's new, democratic government to realize its objectives. Elected officials will ultimately be responsible for defining the broad outlines of social and economic policy and for ensuring the coordinated delivery of services. US assistance programs should facilitate the articulation and implementation of public policies capable of improving the lives of all South Africans.
Community-based organizations in particular can play
a pivotal role in ensuring the local level, democratic
participation in development projects that is essential
if such initiatives are to become truly sustainable.
At the same time, they can help to create a government
which is both effective and responsive by holding the
actions of elected officials up to public scrutiny.
In identifying partners in South Africa, the US should
assess the degree to which these organizations are
accountable to and controlled by the communities which
they seek to serve, the effectiveness with which these
groups implement their programs, and the degree to
which they can ultimately be sustained by funding from
within South Africa.
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From: email@example.com Message-Id: <199606140230.TAA27329@igc3.igc.apc.org> Date: Thu, 13 Jun 1996 22:15:10 -0500 Subject: South Africa: APIC on USAID
Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar
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