The Obama administration, through the Presidential Policy Directive on Global Development of 2010, has made local ownership a core piece of its development agenda. In 2010, only 9.7 percent of USAID funding directed in missions was awarded to local institutions. Today, that number is 14.3 percent and the goal is to increase local awards to 30 percent of outlays by 2015.
Local ownership is critical, but host countries must also contribute greater resources from their own budgets. A recent report by Oxfam and Development Finance International found that developing countries are on track to miss every domestic spending target of the Millennium Development Goals. The global economic crisis is partly to blame as it led to revenue losses of $140 billion in poor countries. However, in 2012, developing countries will only be spending 0.5 percent of gross domestic product more than in 2008 and much of it is because of expensive borrowing. There are some bright spots, including Ethiopia’s decision earlier this week to allocate $38 million from its treasury to support nutrition programs. Last week, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that in 13 countries more people are newly receiving treatment than are newly infected from HIV and AIDS. However, he also cautioned that in order for progress on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to continue, host countries will have to assume more responsibility, as the model shifts “from merely providing aid to co-investing in host countries’ capacity.”
The true opportunity at hand is for Obama to provide concrete evidence to Africans and citizens of other developing countries that the U.S. is invested in their well-being as a partner, not a patron, as he has said in the past. At the same time, he can send a strong signal to multilateral partners and the American public that accountability and results from both donor and recipient countries are at the core of the U.S. development enterprise.
The president should rightly highlight during his trip to Africa a decade’s worth of global progress on development, with millions more being lifted out of the depths of extreme poverty, so much so that the World Bank has set a target of ending extreme poverty by 2030. But he should also focus his remarks on reform, transparency and local ownership, where on the home front, he can make good on those commitments by working with Congress to pass sensible reform legislation, including the bill to-be-introduced by Poe and Rubio.
The Rev. David Beckmann, a 2010 World Food Prize laureate, is the president of Bread for the World. George Ingram is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Jim Kolbe, a former Republican congressman from Arizona, is a senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States and a senior adviser at McLarty Associates. They are co-chairmen of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network.