As my time in Ghana is winding down to the last 12 days, I've had some time to think about the effectiveness of aid programs. During the past three months, the usual talk in the aid agencies has been one of "buy in" and "ownership" with very - if any - discussion on governance and corruption.
Governance was the word of the day in the 90s but is strangely absent from the dialogue between donors and central governments these days - much less at the level of local governments. The simple fact is that aid funds are largely wasted with poor local governance and corruption down through every level of government. This fact has been well know and documented for over a decade.
Does Africa need aid? Most certainly, but past successes have been spotty and with the global financial crises it is more important than ever to refocus on governance and anticorruption. Aid should be strongly tied to improvements in these areas - and not just for supeficial improvements akin to smoke and mirrors.
Real connections must also be made at the local level where economic and social improvements can be readily seen which is often not the case when aid agencies routinely only work at the ministerial level.
Finally, some aid programs and projects have clearly been designed by people who have spent very little time in the field. A couple of weeks to get the lay of the land is not enough time to draft an effective program. All projects should have substantial input from those who have been recently in the target country for at least three months. They know it, academics and bureaucrats in Brussels and Washington do not.