In the events which follow one another in the Sahel, France is singled out or self-flagellates, “she saw nothing coming”. To bring a voice to the debate, after thirty-five years in the development professions, I would like to express some surprise and resituate the responsibilities.
Everyone will judge the context: international aid to the Sahel, 130 million inhabitants, was less than €70 per inhabitant in 2021, in a region where only a third of the population is literate and has access to electricity, where the majority live in poorly accessible and under-administered areas, or in neighborhoods without essential urban services.
What development dynamic can the international community reasonably hope for in these conditions? How can we be surprised that unemployed and hopeless youth seek other paths through exile or violence? We are alarmed that our cities are plagued by drugs and violence when the infrastructure is there, but without the jobs, and in regions where jobs and infrastructure are lacking, are we surprised? Do we still have the illusion, on a “globalized” planet, where information (and disinformation) is omnipresent, that these African youth belong to another culture that could be content with this situation? Do we realize how out of step this astonishment is?
The premise of the new global financial pact, launched in Paris before the summer, was that “the responses provided by the international community are today fragmented, partial and insufficient”.
Need for a stable project
The fragmentation and partiality of responses is another considerable problem which has never been addressed other than through discourse on the harmonization of aid. In a country, one agency will finance water in one region, another electricity in a different region, a third education or health elsewhere, depending on its desires: beautiful separate projects which do not not development. Low absorption capacity has often been put forward to explain that we could not lend or give more, but the international “community” has never managed to agree to combine on the same territory a systemic approach combining strengthening of capacity, infrastructure and productive apparatus, with a view to generating a real positive dynamic, allowing significant private investment.
The international Sahel Alliance coalition is a step in this direction, but if we took a closer look with a real theory of change, we would realize that there is still progress to be made towards systemic approaches with critical mass. The need for efficiency (to disburse quickly) also often leads to the import of expertise and solutions.
Understanding the challenges of emerging from the crisis
The point is not to denounce, but to become aware of the real difficulties, which are also in our common way of helping, on a complex subject, development. I am not avoiding the shared responsibility of certain local elites, but it is up to everyone to clean their own door. The Paris summit did not meet expectations but at least opened a project which can continue with two fundamental questions.
Do we, members of the international community, want to move away from a level of aid that is of the order of charity, especially if we consider the two recent crises, subprime in 2009 and coronavirus in 2020, where trillions of – several hundred times more than the annual aid – were spent each time, in a logic of “whatever it costs”? Let’s start by assessing how much should be put together on the table, in a long-term pact with these countries, to achieve a critical mass of development dynamics rather than pursuing a logic of aid along private lines. ‘ambition.
Do we agree to question our scattered way of spending aid? You have to have experienced “harmonization” meetings to realize that it is very difficult to move away from the logic of short-term agendas (we do not have time to wait to carry out joint projects) and a preference for aid that favors its national champions. Faced with this pessimistic overall image, there are sometimes contrary examples to show that effective and disinterested coordination is possible.
What level of crisis must be reached to bring about real political change in public aid?