French aid strategy “better late than never”

French NGOs welcome the government’s decision to launch a strategy to aid developing countries but say the government needs to go much further if it is to live up to its pledge of making aid more transparent and predictable.



Under the new strategy 14 countries in sub-Saharan Africa – most former French colonies – will receive 60 percent of France’s total development aid focusing on five sectors: health, education, climate change, agriculture and economic growth.



The government has reiterated promises made in 2004 to devote 0.7 percent of the national budget to humanitarian and development aid by 2015, up from the current 0.34 percent, Didier Le Bret, head of French government development cooperation, told IRIN.



An inter-ministerial committee for international cooperation and development (CICID) announced the strategy on 5 June; it was the first time the committee has assembled since President Jacques Chirac left office in 2007.



“French development aid has until now lacked transparency and predictability,” Luc Lamprière, director-general of NGO Oxfam France-Agir, said in a communiqué. “If the decisions taken by the French government are put in place, French aid could become more effective and more predictable for recipient countries.”



“The decision to target 60 percent of aid to sub-Saharan Africa and to concentrate on five sectors is good news, which will put France in line with commitments it has already signed up to,” he added.



Le Bret told IRIN: “This is the first time we have concentrated on a limited number of countries so we can really target our support by helping boost agriculture [and] economic growth and helping economies adapt to climate change all at the same time….This is particularly important given the impact of the global economic crisis on so many sub-Saharan African countries.”



Aid recipients targeted by France as of 2010

Benin

Burkina Faso

Central African Republic

Chad

Comoros

Democratic Republic of Congo

Ghana

Guinea

Madagascar    

Mali

Mauritania

Niger

Senegal

Togo

Unanswered questions



But aid campaigners say many questions remain unanswered. “The news is better late than never,” Oxfam France-Agir’s head of advocacy Sébastien Fourmy told IRIN. “But…the government is not being clear on what kind of aid it is giving, how much of it is going where, and what is behind its decision-making.”



Le Bret says the support will come through a mixture of loans, debt relief and grants. But Oxfam France-Agir is calling for more detail, including the full amount of the aid package and how much of the aid will be targeted to debt relief, to refugees living in France, and foreigners studying in France, all of which are included under French aid declarations.



“We need to know what is in the overall [aid] envelope. Sixty percent of what will go to sub-Saharan Africa?” Asked Fourmy. “How much of this aid will be spent directly on sub-Saharan Africa?”



While the strategy will outline increased aid targets for the region, NGO health coalition Action for Global Health says France has a long way to go: French spending on health in developing countries in 2007 was outstripped by the amount it spent on foreign students studying in France. 



Le Bret says the government will start producing annual reports outlining aid targets and actual goals reached in a bid to be more transparent.



“We understand we have an obligation to be open with our aid commitments and explicit about our results so outsiders can evaluate what we are doing,” he told IRIN.



France has joined the International Aid Transparency Initiative, launched in the Ghana capital Accra in 2008 to improve donor information-sharing about aid commitments.



In 2008 France was the world’s fourth-largest development aid donor after the United States, Germany and Great Britain.



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