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African leaders call for a new path on US foreign assistance

By Oxfam

WASHINGTON, DC — In the aftermath of President Obama's trip to Ghana, where he urged Africans to fight corruption and take control of their own destiny, leaders from the continent called on the Obama Administration to do its part by making U.S. foreign assistance more focused and effective.

In a panel co-hosted by Oxfam America and Foreign Policy, journalist Andrew Mwenda of Uganda, Reconstruction Minister O. Natty B. Davis, II of Liberia, and environmental activist Wore Gana Seck of Senegal urged U.S. leaders to make U.S. foreign assistance more supportive of effective states and active citizens. In particular, the panelists called for a U.S. aid approach that is more transparent, more consistent with the needs of citizens and local governments, and more focused on giving recipient states the power to manage their own development.

"Getting to better development assistance will require that donors such as the U.S. keep a close eye on the critical task of building government capacity and institutions directly," said O. Natty B. Davis, II, Reconstruction Minister of Liberia. "This will ensure the efficacy of aid and its ability to deliver results that can have a real impact on the lives of the people in these countries in as short a time as possible."

The panel reflected growing momentum in the foreign aid reform debate in the U.S. Before leaving for Ghana, President Obama was quoted in an AllAfrica.com interview saying, "Our aid policies have been splintered among a variety of agencies... Trying to create something steady [and] basing our policies on what works and not on some ideological previous position—is going to be very important."

Last Friday, Secretary of State Clinton announced that the State Department and USAID will be undertaking America's first-ever Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR), in order to streamline the aid bureaucracy and insert development more coherently into debates over national security and foreign policy. In Congress, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) has introduced the Initiating Foreign Assistance Reform Act of 2009 (H.R. 2139), which has more than 75 bipartisan co-sponsors.

"It is a good sign that the administration and congress are talking about development in a strategic way," said Paul O'Brien, Director of Aid Effectiveness at Oxfam America and one of today's panelists. "But if new strategies are going to deliver for the world's poor, they must be poverty focused. Effective development isn't about fixing short-term political or security problems—it is about putting people in charge of their own lives. The best signal the U.S. can send to show it is serious about development is to nominate a USAID Administrator who will help rebuild the agency and bring back its capacity to be a true partner in development."

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