Development and Peace comes to CIDA’s defence

  • April 25, 2007
TORONTO - The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has jumped into the debate on whether to abolish the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
{mosimage}This follows a recommendation last month by the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Trade that CIDA be abolished for failure to make any “effective difference” in Africa in 40 years.

According to the Senate committee, CIDA was allocated $12.4 billion for its work in more than 40 countries in Africa since 1969, but nothing was on the ground to show for it.

However, Development and Peace, which has spent more than $25 million in programs in Africa, said lack of development could not be blamed on CIDA, which has funded up to 60 per cent of the Catholic organization’s projects.

Development and Peace director Michael Casey said the benefits realized through work done by CIDA and other organizations in Africa are often reversed by wars, coup d’etats, droughts, HIV/AIDS and other calamities that have assailed the continent.

“For Canada to continue its efforts in the international arena in terms of aid, and to meet its international commitments, a defined centralized structure is needed to co-ordinate its efforts,” he said.

“In fact, CIDA has been very successful in spearheading efforts to ensure the involvement of civil society in international development and co-operation policy. The lack of involvement of civil society in international development policy is now being realized as an error.”

Casey added that often projects that cost the least and produce the best results were those accomplished by civil society organizations with the help and commitments of the local population.

However, African diplomats have argued that much as they want CIDA to remain in Africa, it was not necessary to bring along Canadian civil society organizations like Development and Peace to implement its projects.

“CIDA should stop allocating money to fellow Canadians to come to Africa and do the same work that Africans can do. This reduces the financial benefit and the participation by Africans, in their own development, becomes minimal,” said the Sudanese ambassador to Canada, Faiza Hassan Taha.

Taha said the practice by CIDA to implement its projects through Canadian contractors simply brought the money back to Canada and this was the reason critics said nothing was being done on the ground.

But Wanda Potrykus, a spokesperson for Development and Peace, said her organization poured most of its funding into local groups working on emergency, relief and reconstruction programs in the 12 countries in which it has been present for years.

Although she could not readily provide statistics, she said this was also true for most other Canadian organizations working with CIDA in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.

However, Nowetu Luti, a counsellor at the South African embassy in Ottawa, said what Africa needed from Canada was more private sector investment and transfer of technology.

“I agree that CIDA is still relevant in Africa but there is need for it to shift its focus more to capacity building as a lure for big Canadian business. We no longer need aid in the traditional form,” said Luti.

Taha and Luti were commenting after attending a public forum organized by the University of Ottawa’s Program in International Development and Globalization to discuss Canada’s aid to Africa and the future of CIDA.

The discussion was attended by academics, students, diplomats and NGO representatives who quickly agreed that CIDA was still useful in Africa but differed on what role it should play.

Apart from the African diplomats who argued that CIDA should be more of a finance tool for capacity building projects started by Africans, other participants wanted Canada to use CIDA as its security and governance monitoring tool.

A strong argument was made by a number of participants that Canada should reduce its involvement from more than 40 countries down to about a dozen carefully chosen countries that deserve CIDA aid.

“Canadian aid must be earned. Countries have to ensure that they are secure and respect human rights before they can get CIDA funds. That competition will ensure that CIDA money goes to deserving people and that there is accountability,” said Lucien Bradet, president of the Canadian Council on Africa.

The participants also criticized the Senate committee for making an uninformed conclusion on CIDA’s work in Africa.

Professors Amir Attaran and Pierre Beaudet, who organized the discussion, said it was wrong for the Senate committee to expect to see results at a macro level in Africa when CIDA projects were mostly at a micro level.

Other participants also wondered why no beneficiaries in Africa were approached out of the 400 witnesses that were interviewed for the committee report.

They questioned how the Senate committee could be sure that a child who was educated at a school built by CIDA or one who was given food donated by CIDA were not better off now because of the work of the agency.

(Madawo is a freelance writer in Toronto.)

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