Is Anyone Listening to What Ordinary Africans Think?

By Ben Leo (Center for Global Development)

“Too often, donors’ decisions are driven more by our own political interests or our policy preferences than by our partners’ needs.”

These charged words did not come from an energetic NGO arguing for major changes to US development policy. They were delivered by then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to a high-level gathering of development officials in late 2011. Whether she realized it or not, they also gave voice to the seeming disconnect between what ordinary Africans raise as their most pressing problems and where the US government is focusing its scarce development dollars.

Conventional public wisdom would suggest that Africans are most worried about the catastrophic AIDS epidemic, high child mortality, recurrent food shortages, and civil conflict. Everyone has seen the startling statistics on HIV prevalence rates, the number of children that die of preventable diseases, or heard the repeated calls for emergency food relief. Therefore, it’s only natural to fight for ever increasing US taxpayer treasure to vanquish these demons.

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