Lessons for Aid Effectiveness from Poverty Hearings

Wednesday, 10 September, 2008 - 08:00

Over the past two months over 1 900 people have participated in the Poverty Hearings.

Over the past two months, the African Monitor, working with Black Sash, CIVICUS, Hope Africa, South African Human Rights Commission, COSATU, Southern African Trust, South African Council of Churches, SANGOCO, Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute and IDASA,  has held Poverty Hearings in across South Africa. These gatherings have provided people from all walks of life the opportunity to talk about their experiences of poverty.

This process builds on a similar exercise conducted 10 years ago when the founder and president of the African Monitor, Archbishop Njongo Ndungane was a Commissioner on the Poverty Hearings Commission.

So far 1 900 people have participated in four of the nine provinces by giving testimony of their experiences of poverty. What we have found is shocking.

It confirms what many people know but which most donors and African governments refuse to acknowledge:

  • Not much aid and development resources reach poor communities
  • Poor people do not have access to basic services
  • Youth unemployment is damaging communities, including increasing the crime rate
  • Unemployment among men is leading to social erosion and community tensions such as the recent xenophobic outbursts in parts of the country
  • Many households depend on the income of women pensioners. The same women also being targeted by criminals when they withdraw their meagre pensions
  • Overcrowding in shacks is widespread as is lack of access to such services including treatment for HIV and TB
  • Increases in food and fuel prices have increased vulnerability .
  • There is increasing frustration with the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness among the poor 

African Monitor is gathering more testimonies in South Africa and through partners across Africa. This will culminate in an international Poverty Hearing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York later in September 2008.

Discussions about aid have generally been framed around the inadequacy of resources or of aid ‘under-dose’ where too little often comes too late. However, sometimes it is not about lack of money but the way it is channelled to those who deserve it. For example, some governments like South Africa have set aside a well-resourced youth fund; Umsobomvu but for the youth who testified at the Poverty Hearings in the Free State, these funds have not been accessible. 

Therefore the South African Minister of Finance at the recent Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana could have felt quite pleased that he has provided for his country’s youth, despite the reality on the ground being very different. 

Various other initiatives and funds are available for Africa’s development – the Infrastructure Development Fund, the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), amongst others. The real challenge is that little of these resources actually reach grassroots communities. As one of the poverty Hearings Commissioners aptly put it: 

“A country works well when people talk and work together. On poverty there is no effective dialogue. Everyone does their own thing. The relationship of those in positions of power, such as lawyers, civil servants, elected representatives, with the poor must be changed and made more equal”. 

It is in this context that African Monitor called on delegates at the Third High Level Forum to take the opportunity of holding the Forum in Ghana to:

  • Work together towards understanding of the deprivation as well as the contribution of the poor to building a just Africa
  • Mandate regular monitoring of aid and its impact on grassroots communities
  • Adopt continental hearings on aid and development effectiveness
  • Prioritise the needs of the poor in aid and development delivery 

Africa can ill afford ending at just acknowledging the presence of poverty and making glorious declarations which at best have subtle substance.

For questions, comments or interviews contact Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, Warren Nyamugasira or Buhle Makamanzi. African Monitor, Tokai on Main Office Complex, Main Rod, Tokai 7945, Cape Town, South Africa. Tel: +27 21 713 2801, Fax: +27 21 712 1082 

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