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The Role of Policy in Promoting Sustainable Development in Africa

30 Sep

Editor’s Note:  For the next month, we are pleased to host Tanyi Christian, who directs the Martin Luther King Memorial Foundation in Cameroon.  He is here as part of a genocide prevention exchange sponsored by NEXUS Fund.  We will reciprocate his visit in November at which time we will collaborate on programs focused on access to justice, civilian military dialogue, promototing security and access to markets for women farmers, and other projects.  We hope he will be a regular contributor to this blog moving forward. 

For the last fifteen years I have worked so hard to build LUKMEF-Cameroon from a small community based organisation to one of the most credible, visible and people-focused organisations in our region. We have moved from a founder-centered organisation to one that is departmentally structured with an established international board of directors. The number of projects completed and their impact on the lives of individuals and entire communities served by the organisation has witnessed remarkable growth. Local, national and international funding streams have been fairly stable with prospects for improvement based on the visible output from the different programs and projects conducted by LUKMEF.

Like many African and Cameroonian organisations, our focus in the past was to engage in “quick fixes” to problems without addressing the fundamental root courses of the problem or assessing the longer term implications of our work. While we would appear to be doing well and doing good, a fundamental aspect of the development equation – Public Policy — is largely absent from our organizational mission.   In the absence of sound policy guiding sound practice, our hopeful story becomes fragile and ultimately jeopardizes our work to promote sustainable development.

Efforts to end poverty, disease, the negative impacts of climate change, corruption, violence, and human right abuses, while at the same time promoting education and citizen access to resources and good governance, will never achieve the desired long term results without  greater attention being paid to the fundamental  need for sound and consistent public policy. By this we refer to levels of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation, with contributions from those whose lives are directly affected by these policies, including those who experience serious problems such poverty, hunger, violence and abuse.

In our view, 70% resource allocation on policy issues and 30% on direct actions would produce the most sustainable and long term impact in developing countries, as opposed to the current formula that generally allocates more than 90% of resources to direct services. This miscalculation has unfortunately been fuelled in Africa by the funding principles of donors.  Evidently, too many donors to Africa have confused program and project outputs with long-term impact.  We often wonder how anyone can expect an organisation or community to have lasting impact when projects are funded for only 3-12 months and given the total absence or insufficiency of effective, relevant government policies? Training women on how to stand up for their rights is good but training alone cannot be the sole reason for developing a program. Talking about gender-based violence is good, but effectively stopping gender-based violence should be the ultimate goal of the intervention.  This larger goal will require long and sustained efforts to formulate, review and advocate for effective local, national, regional and global policies on gender violence.

Corruption in Cameroon as well as other African countries is endemic but it is not natural; likewise poverty is human-made but is also not natural.  Individuals and whole communities too-readily acquiesce to the reality of issues like poverty in part through their reluctance to engage with local, regional and national policy communities.  Focusing on today’s needs such as access to water, food, shelter and respect for human rights without addressing policy issues that can sustain and build upon the small gains of today towards a brighter tomorrow seems needlessly short-sided. The situation in Cameroon and the Central African region as a whole will require better policies and actions on issues of governance and conflict prevention which will in turn require trust building among citizens who are hopefully expected, more and more, to play key roles in the development and assessment of such policies.

I have concluded that every organisation as well as every action that seeks to improve local or regional conditions must also address policy issues that can either impede or help sustain development.  Unless the Sustainable Development Goals promote policy access at all levels, we are almost certain to miss our targets in the same manner — if not worse — than we missed the MDGs.

 Tanyi Christian, LUKMEF Cameroon