In the build up to the July 2 2016 federal election in Australia, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), peak body for Australia’s international NGOs, published a series of articles in support of Australian aid. I contributed two articles from an African perspective. This is the first one, published 23 June 2016.
A highly successful African community development project that reached more than2.3 million marginalised people will come to an end this month.
The Government’s Australian Africa Community Engagement Scheme (AACES) began in 2011 with five years’ funding from the Australian Government. It reached more than 2.3 million people and established a unique partnership model for development assistance delivery that has come to be regarded as best practice and impact.
Australian aid to Africa has been a huge casualty of the Government’s damaging cuts aid cuts. Seventy percent of Australian aid and development assistance has been withdrawn from the world’s poorest continent.
As Philip Walker, ACFID’s Africa Community of Practice Coordinator recalls, for about 20 years the Australian Government has made a specific allocation for Australian NGOs to work in Africa. With AACES’s closure, that allocation will cease.
So concerned was Kenya’s High Commissioner to Australia Isaiya Kabira about the abrupt end to ACCES and other successful development projects, he raised his concerns directly with the Government, it’s been reported.
AACES works has worked as a partnership program involving ten Australian NGOs working and their African partners across 11 countries – Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. It’s contributed to poverty reduction across those countries by targeting assistance to marginalised communities, in particular women, children, people with disabilities and people vulnerable to disaster.
Plan International Uganda’s Barbra Babweteera is the outgoing AACES Project Steering Committee Chairperson. She explained to Philip Walker why AACES delivered such good value for Australia’s aid funding.
“AACES has been a partnership between the Australian Government, 10 Australian NGOs and their African counterparts covering 11 countries. It improved the lives of marginalised people especially women, young people, and people living with a disability. It functioned in three major areas, which are water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, and maternal child health. Included in all these areas were themes like gender equity, strengthening human rights and inclusiveness.
“The AACES program ensured there were sustainable services for people who have been marginalised. The program exceeded expectations as it has reached more than 2.3 million people, so it has been highly effective.
“AACES has been a unique partnership model, based upon principles of collaboration guiding all members. DFAT has been a key member, who took a flexible approach to support the way AACES ran.
“The program has had a number of unique features. First … learning and collaboration. Unlike other programs, we have worked to complement each other rather than compete. We have also been able to leverage on the expertise that existed within each organisation, instead of buying it in from the outside.
The Project Steering Committee functioned as a management structure of joint decision making with everyone on an equal footing. Even DFAT has only had one vote. All this is because there has been a lack of power dynamics. There is no ‘Big Brother’ syndrome.
“Across the life of the program, authority has been deliberately transferred to African partners. We have never seen this before with organisations or donors. Personally, I have gained immensely from the experience. For the first time I have been confident and have learnt to fill the role of Chairperson.
“AACES is coming to an end and the conclusion is a sad experience. The program delivered excellent services, and built a lot of capacity on the African continent.
“I must point out that it took resources and time to build this unique partnership. Coming to the end has an impact because this momentum we have built is now going to close down, instead of bringing others in.
“To make this investment and not to be able to build upon it means poor value for money. There is a negative effect on what we have been talking about. That is value the impact, momentum, and encouraging others to adopt this model will stop.
“The closing meeting was very sad, because we knew we had worked together closely and achieved so much. I hope in the future Australian aid will again support a program like AACES.”
Post script: Barbra’s sadness at the ACCES program’s is reflected across Africa. Aside from AACES and CSIRO’s Food Security Program, the Governments’ aid cuts also saw the Australian-Africa Development Program, the Australian-Africa Partnerships Facility and the Transparency, Responsiveness, Accountability and Citizen Engagement Program in Zimbabwe come to an end.
The cuts to those valuable programs are already having an impact on Australia’s international reputation and influence. African leaders have indicated the cessation of successful aid programs is a disincentive for African countries to back Australia’s second Security Council bid, unlike the last time around.
ACFID is calling on the next Government to restore Australian aid to Africa and reinvest in the aid program by setting a clear pathway to reach the goal to allocate 0.7% of gross national income to aid and development assistance.