Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Why EU plan to boost aid to Gambia not a bad idea

Please, before you start hurling rocks, allow me to explain why I think boosting aid for The Gambia during the Article 8 dialogues between the European Union and The Gambia is not a bad idea, despite the serious human rights issues and serious corruption posed by the current regime.

According to reports, the EU is posed to double aid to The Gambia to € 150 million over the next seven years from the last EDF Article 8 dialogues figure of € 75 million.  At the concessionary windows of the World Bank and African Development Bank Group, there are similar talks that take place which they refer to as Replenishment negotiations with eligible Member States, with one significant difference - the EDF is replenished every seven years while the other institutions are for a shorter duration i.e. three years for both IDA and ADF.  Moving resources or reallocation them can be very difficult once the negotiations have been concluded, and the Agreement takes effect.  In the case of the EDF, you may have to wait for another seven years before you can receive any budget enhancement of significance.

The second point of note is that Article 8 is a significant departure from the old Cotonou Agreement that tended to provide relatively narrow set of issues bordering on political conditionalities.  The meetings where highly formal then, involving only Finance Ministers and high level officials - a setting that left little scope for frank and open discussion.  The Article 8 of today is different which seeks to broaden the level of participation to include civil society groups, and the scope of issues to discuss.  Of equal importance is that its is a process that lends itself to periodic assessment and evaluation, leading to further consultations on human rights, democratic principles and the rule of law which is commonly referred to as the 'essential elements' of the partnership between the EU and the ACP countries.

Lost in all of this, i.e. the planned increase in aid for The Gambia, is the assurance given by the EU Development Commissioner that "(F)or the next two years, the EU intends to allocate a limited envelop of up to € 25 million to support the Article 8 negotiations."  The threat to block funding for The Gambia has raised what has been described as "considerable tension" within the EU membership.

A community as diverse as the EU, such tensions and disagreements are frequent given that national priorities and interests may, and do, differ.  It is reported that Spain and Italy are reluctant to cut aid because they are two - one might want to add Portugal to the list - of the countries more affected by economic immigrants from Africa. The thinking in Spain and Italy is that if aid is denied, it will increase poverty, thus driving more of the immigrants to their countries.  This fear - founded or unfounded - has driven Spain, and perhaps other countries, to enter into bilateral agreement that will allow the repatriation of illegal immigrants from The Gambia back to Banjul.

This, of course, raises the question of whether it is appropriate to use aid as instrument to punish governments like the one in Banjul.  The fear is, of course, when you deny aid, the intended beneficiaries (women, children, rural population and the like) may end up the victims.  Targeting them for assistance, including the channeling of funds through NGOs and local civil groups are frequent methods of getting around direct support to the government.  Some of these methods are being used currently by the EU in The Gambia, and there's are no indications that these will stop.

On the whole, increasing the aid envelop for The Gambia, subject to the current periodic review to ensure that the concerns of civic society groups, human rights advocates and ordinary Gambians are met, is not a bad way to go.  I think what the EU is saying, in so many words, to Gambians is that in the event there's a change in government, and the manner of the change is endorsed by the international community, the funds will be there for the new government.   OK, the missiles can now fly.