It’s not the money, it’s the governance


How to explain the fact that the women we interviewed have not noticed any of the pro-women and pro-poor policies and budgets that are in place in their countries -often at the request of development partners? There are women’s affairs ministries from Nigeria to the Democratic Republic of Congo and from Liberia to South Africa. Traditional patriarchal rules that dispossess women have also been outlawed in most of the countries in this report. In 2019, over two hundred million US$ will be spent on women’s sexual and reproductive rights in the African region by Canada alone.

With regard to poverty, the World Bank spends about twenty billion per year on its ‘fund for the poorest,’ the International Development Association, which according to its annual report over 2017 “supports the countries most in need to face their toughest challenges.” The European Union dishes out over twenty billion euros in anti-poverty aid to the African region every year. The United Nation’s Operational Activities for Development, that “promote the development and welfare of developing countries as the primary objective” count on a budget of around the US$ ten billion per year

In the West African region -with a special focus on Mali- the Netherlands have set aside twenty-five million euros for youth employment programmes and fifty-two million to create jobs in the private sector in 2019. And of course Scandinavia, the United States, Japan, and even China give aid to African countries for such things as roads, education, employment, agriculture and health.

The women in our report desperately need support from such budget items. They need employment, education and accessible health structures to help them take care of hungry, sick and elderly relatives. But they receive no support at all. And where are those hundreds of millions for sexual and reproductive rights going? (If we may venture a guess, from much African experience: to individuals at the top to address conferences about the problem.) 

As said before, this interviewing exercise is not a scientific survey or research project. We only spoke to women -226 of them. But what we do gather from our interviews is that these women, all randomly targeted from populations who live on or under the poverty line, are abandoned by the governments and elites in their countries. Therefore, inputs made at the top make little to no difference to their misery.

We found that employment projects that were said to exist in Mali did not actually exist on the ground. It is a rational guess that someone close to the money took those budgets, the same way someone simply took Koulikoro’s Huicoma factory (see the chapter on Mali).  Liberia’s pro-poor programme, budgeted and with highly paid positions for officials, is simply not happening -not even the school meal part of it. The Women’s Affairs Ministry in Nigeria appears not to know what was happening to its own budgets for ‘vulnerable groups’ and in the DRC, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs still has to ‘survey the situation on the ground.’  In South Africa, politicians are reported to be abusing the same poor women they should make social housing available to.

Earlier reports from the African Investigative Publishing Collective about development aid have showed the same picture: water, road and agriculture projects by the World Bank in Cameroon, the DRC and Uganda did not result in a livelihood for farmers, or actual water and roads, because local and national leaders were simply not doing their job. And yet these same rulers continue to receive money.

What the women in our report need is good governance. Only good governance can get safe schools with school meals for kids to exist on the ground. Only good governance can translate budgets for health care and food aid to reach the poor. Likewise, only good governance, that holds abusers of power accountable, can protect women from soldiers who now raid and beat them. Poor women need good governance and rule of law.  

In our earlier report “African Oligarchs,” we showed how the demise of colonialism has not led to an end to self-enrichment and abuse by those in power. This report confirms the earlier findings. Money meant for ‘women’s rights’ or ‘anti-poverty’ will not help as long as it is handled by incapable governments that are run by kleptocrat elites. The term ‘good governance,’ often coined as a key focus for development aid on paper, should change from a hollow term to a practical destination. Programmes should focus on building the capability of the state, of public administration and of the justice system in countries such as the ones in our report. Incipient steps to support the development of tax systems, too, can help render states functional and increase accountability of leaders.

The AIPC calls for more research to see if its observation that bad governance seems to be at the root of much of the misery experienced by the interviewed women can be further substantiated. It recommends that aid-giving countries and multilateral institutions, if that is the case, should focus on practical state and law-and-order building in developing countries such as the ones in our report.

It also calls for increased support for local organisations that act to build good governance and social justice, for example on the terrains of tax systems, legal and health rights monitoring and investigative journalism. Until concerted efforts for state building, social justice and implementation of rights that now only exist on paper are in place, all the anti-poverty programmes in the world may have very little effect.  

More From the Series

More From the Series


CHAPTER 2: THE LAST RESOURCE, KENYA | Fighting for daily life

CHAPTER 3: THE LAST RESOURCE, LIBERIA |Surviving amid predators and hunger


CHAPTER 6: THE LAST RESOURCE, SOUTH AFRICA | Apartheid and the useless men in our lives

CHAPTER 7: THE LAST RESOURCE, UGANDA | A very public secret