An incomplete analysis

Development Policy05 Feb 2008Paul Hoebink

This is a curious evaluation. It takes a certain amount of daring, of course, to embark on an evaluation of this kind. It is a complex task, in terms of topics and themes, and of methodology. IOB seems to have lost its way in that complexity, in applying the methodology, but even more so in the analytical framework.

That is particularly apparent in the two main chapters, 2 and 3. Chapter 2 should have outlined the environment in which the Netherlands’ Africa policy has operated in past decades. Instead, the chapter runs aground in a long catalogue of points and sub-points, topics and organizations, without consulting the international literature on the topics it addresses, and without any in-depth analysis. As a result, it provides no clear framework within which Dutch policy can be placed. It should have focused on three major points.

First, Africa’s place in the global economy, the recession and the recent period of economic growth. As insufficient attention is paid to these factors, they can therefore offer no explanation for what is evaluated in the chapters that follow.

Second, more attention should have been devoted to the two dominant international organizations, the IMF and the World Bank, their policy requirements and how those requirements have changed. They are addressed, but far too briefly and there is no far-reaching analysis of their significance for Africa in the past 25 years.

Third, there is no thorough analysis of the state and politics in Africa, not only in relation to capacity building and corruption, but also regarding the roles played by African political leaders and by violence. The possible successes and failures of Dutch policy can be addressed within this analytical triangle. The Netherlands is, after all, only a medium-sized player in an arena characterized by very complex economic and political structures and with a wide variety of constantly changing actors.

Chapter 3 also lacks a deeper analysis. It divides Dutch Africa policy into two periods, but the description becomes bogged down in a dry recital of policy documents and events, without clearly and concisely specifying the policy’s objectives in the two periods and how they changed. Nor is there an effective analysis of the instruments applied in pursuit of those objectives. Evaluation is surely in the first instance a matter of determining whether the objectives of a certain policy or programme have been achieved. Because the policy objectives are not clearly analyzed, the rest of the evaluation comes adrift.

That is not to say that the subsequent twelve chapters, which constitute the empirical part of the report, do not crack a few tough nuts. IOB certainly makes some interesting observations about the fluctuations in Dutch aid, the peculiar chopping and changing with general budget support, etc. But these fluctuations can nowhere be measured against the objectives, or against the opportunities – or lack of opportunities – for achieving them within the contexts in which policy was formulated and implemented. There are no measuring instruments and no focus. If poverty reduction is the main objective of the Netherlands’ development policy (and therefore of its policy on Africa), my main concern is always to know what has been achieved in terms of reducing poverty. I know now, for example, that thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is now easier to sell African flowers on the European market. That is a good thing for Dutch flower-growers who have invested in Africa, and for the flower auction in Aalsmeer, but I don’t know what benefits it has brought to poor Kenyans or Ugandans.

Of greater concern is that the report displays a high degree of introspective navel-gazing. After all the analyses of the results of Dutch aid funds and diplomacy, it lacks a chapter on how the Netherlands has tried to influence Africa policy in international organizations. What has the Netherlands done – together with like-minded countries – to try and bring about a different policy on Africa within the World Bank, the IMF, the EU and NATO? Or within the African Development Bank, or the Club du Sahel? This all remains a mystery.

For real followers of Dutch Africa policy, this IOB report certainly contains a few interesting titbits. It would certainly be good idea if Dutch members of parliament were to sit down with the report in their hands and actually have a serious and thorough discussion on Africa policy. But, given the large investment it has required in human and financial resources, it is questionable whether this evaluation itself can be considered efficient. As far as its effectiveness is concerned, we shall have to wait for the outcome of all the debates to follow before we can draw any conclusions.