Pictured: CHW Mercelyne Oketch, Siaya County, Kenya (c) Kennedy Musyoka
The UK government this week released its long-awaited International Development Strategy, outlining an approach to aid and trade that sees the UK’s national interest take priority over its global commitments. A promising recognition of the need for a “patient” and “long-term” approach to development is undermined by a focus on short-term political and economic goals.
Here is Amref Health Africa UK’s analysis of some of the key points.
The Strategy contains a welcome focus on “tackling the causes of instability, conflict and human suffering”, and sees the UK re-commit to promises made on global health and climate change.
It is reassuring to read that strengthening health systems will remain at “the core” of the UK’s approach in the long term. Health systems strengthening – including investment in the global health workforce – will play a vital part in COVID-19 recovery as well as in preventing the next pandemic. We look forward to more detail about what this commitment will look like in practice, particularly when it comes to resource allocation: the Strategy as published contains almost no detail on spending commitments. This is something we urgently need to see, especially in the wake of last year’s devastating cuts.
Women and girls
The Strategy contains a welcome recognition of the specific needs of women and girls, including a focus on ending sexual and gender-based violence. However, the approach outlined here fails to recognise the many roles women and girls play within their communities, along with the multiple barriers they face. It reflects a simplistic understanding of the gendered impact of conflict and crises: poverty, COVID-19, and climate change included.
Although the Strategy promises that “we intend to restore funding for this vital work [gender equality]”, no timeline is provided. If the stated commitment to women and girls is to be meaningful, it must be more comprehensive, and it must be well-resourced.
The UK will prioritise “key strategic partners such as South Africa, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya and Ghana” and will make “more targeted investments […] in fragile states or where there are compelling trade and investment opportunities”. Again, this marks a move away from an approach to development that is driven by need. It sidelines many countries in Africa where significant progress towards poverty eradication has been, and is being, made, with the support of the UK.
How change happens
Amref Health Africa welcomes the recognition of the need for “patient, long-term policy expertise and evidence” in tackling structural challenges. Just last month, our Group Chief Executive, Dr Githinji Gitahi, appeared before the House of Commons International Development Committee and underlined the importance of predictable multi-year funding that generates evidence to inform future programming.
The Strategy speaks of “stripping back excessive bureaucracy associated with delivering aid, giving our Ambassadors and High Commissioners greater authority and making it quicker to get programmes delivering on the ground”. The voice of communities – and the need to shift towards locally-led development that gives in-country partners more power – is, however, absent.
When it comes to supporting the most marginalised people and groups – women and girls included – local actors working within communities are indispensable. They have unrivalled access to and understanding of the people they are serving. The current Strategy risks sidelining the skilled and committed local actors who are driving lasting change.
Finally, the shift in emphasis from multilateral to bilateral funding poses questions about the future of international collaboration. Multilateral bodies have a vital and unique part to play in addressing the interconnected threats the world is facing. It should not be a case of either / or: as Bond note in their analysis, “Both bilateral and multilateral approaches are essential for good development”.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that the UK’s interests are inseparable from those of other nations,” says Camilla Knox Peebles, Chief Executive of Amref Health Africa UK. “Following two rounds of brutal cuts to UK-funded programmes, this narrow vision of development signals the UK stepping away from the commitments it has made to communities around the world.
“This new strategy makes it hard for the UK to cast itself as the bold and visionary leader we aspire to be.”