Life | The Donor Circus

In the past, donors decided what the money was spent on and demanded a say in how the country’s economy was run. Now the Zambian government hopes that way of working may soon be a thing of the past.

For years, Zambia was a one party state, led by Kenneth Kaunda, one of Africa’s more colourful leaders. His particular blend of Christianity and socialism did little to promote Zambia’s image as a modern nation. In the early 1990s Zambia introduced a multi party system, but corruption remained rampant. But, in 2001 a new government was elected committed to openness and good government. Zambia is now being portrayed as a model for other poor African countries. And, the government is arguing it should be in control of dispersing all international development aid. The days of individual donors funding individual projects should be a thing of the past.

Dr Stella Goings of Unicef In the 1990s aid funding for Zambia was badly co-ordinated. Donors failed to work together, there was no systematic approach and the government had to deal with at least a dozen country donors separately. Plus, each individual donor had strict accountability requirements which clogged up Zambia’s civil service even more. In recent years, the system has become much more streamlined. For example, in April 2004 nine major donors – eight European countries and the World Bank – signed an agreement to work as one group with the Zambian government. Dr Stella Goings of Unicef explains the importance of this development: ‘We do much better if we all work together and if we work together in a concerted effort, so here in Zambia we’re very pleased to be a model country for something that we refer to as simplification, harmonisation and alignment, which simply means that all of the partners – government, UN, donor partners – get together, decide what are the priorities.’

But there are still many individual NGOs in Zambia, involved in local projects, independent from government and funded directly by international donors. The Bwafwano Project, near the capital, Lusaka, is a good example. It’s run by a local, Zambian NGO. Its main focus mainly with helping some of the thousands of children orphaned by the AIDS pandemic. Zambia has over a million orphans, that’s one in every four children.

This project provides care for over a thousand orphans and vulnerable children. Here the children get a basic education in a community school – something now common across Zambia. They’re funded by the community themselves with help from international donors. These children can’t go to government schools, they don’t have the money for uniforms or equipment. None of the money goes through the government. The Director, Beatrice Chola, says: ‘It should be the donors with the community. Yes. Let the money come direct to the community. Because we are the people who are with these people, with the community. We know their problems.’

While the EU prefers to channel most of its aid through the government, the US and the Japanese still fund individual projects, such as the building of a new school which is being completed by a Japanese contractor. The Headteacher, Mathews Kababula, says: ‘One of the advantages of the donor money going straight to the project is that this money is foolproof because there won’t be any loopholes of some people developing ideas of trying to divert because the owners are on the ground monitoring each and every cent.’

The Japanese Ambassador adds: ‘Here in Africa, ownership is still not good enough to sustain economic development. They have to think about supporting themselves, that’s the first thing. Then with that in mind they can utilise outside assistance.’

Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the UN Millennium Project, says: ‘In general I think it’s wrong when donors say you get your house in order, we’ll wait, and when you do that, we’ll come in and help you. That’s almost always an impossible bit of advice because impoverished governments need help along the way even to get their house in order – if we just say no, we’ll wait, then that’s really basically an invitation to a downward spiral.’

 Zambian Minister of Finance, Peter Ng'andu MagandeAnd the Zambian Minister of Finance, Peter Ng’andu Magande, agrees: ‘Really let’s not talk about waiting. If anybody wants to wait for a country and a government, countries never die, so you are going to wait in perpetuity and whom are you going to help? You have to help the government of the day. If it shows willingness to be accountable, if it shows willingness to be transparent in its operations, if it can fight the ills of corruption whether in private sector or public sector, help them do those things.’

But first the brain drain, and then HIV/AIDS, have cut a swathe through Zambia’s professionals, as Stella Goings of Unicef explains: ‘One of the challenges that we face in countries like Zambia is government has difficulty absorbing this role, because so many people have been lost – we’ve had a brain drain that’s been ongoing in this region for decades now; we also have a terrible problem with HIV/Aids which has cost us many of our most talented professionals in Zambia’¦ The partners have to put themselves in a position where they provide the resources – technical, financial – to help strengthen government’s capacity to guide the development process without taking it over.’ As Peter Ng’andu Magande says: ‘Let’s see the positive that has happened, build on it, and together we are going to build this country.’


For general information on Zambia, try Zambia Online, or the Zambia News Agency, which has pages about the country and the differewnt development areas.

Health Action International (HAI) is a non-profit, global network of health, development, consumer and other public interest groups in more than 70 countries working for a more rational use of medicinal drugs.

One of the best sources of up-to-date information on HIV/AIDS is the US-based Aegis website. The UNAIDS website is also a very good resource: read the UNAIDS pages on Zambia. Click here to go to WHO’s pages on HIV/AIDS, and here to read details of WHO/UNAIDS’ ‘3 by 5 Initiative’, which aims to get three million people on anti-retroviral therapy by the end of 2005. WHO’s page on Zambia is here. Global Fund. Read the World Bank’s Country Brief on Zambia.

For more on the Bwafwano Project, which helps children orphaned by AIDS, go here. Read Unicef’s pages on Zambia.

To find out more about the Millennium Development Goals, visit the Development Goals website, and the UN Millennium Project, where you can read Prof. Jeffrey Sachs’s biodata. For a report on Aid Harmonization in Zambia, go here. The EU pages on development co-operation with Zambia are here.

Earlier Life programmes about Zambia were Sowing Seeds of Hunger (on malnutrition and HIV/AIDS), Seeing is Believing(on vitamin deficiency), The Hospice (HIV/AIDS). and Crisis Control: Steeming the Spread of HIV/AIDS.


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