The term horse trading is an Americanism that dates back to early 19th century and refers to intricacies of assessing, bargaining and trading of horses. Apparently one had to be a shrewd dealer in order to obtain the best horse for the best price or vice versa.
Of course Accra, the site of the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, is a far cry from 19th century America but the big dealers or rather donors were no doubt conducting the business of last minute bargaining to come up with aid terms in the interest of their countries. In the end, donors and recipients agreed on five development markers aimed at poverty eradication and aid effectiveness.
Driving around parts of Accra it is easy to see why Ghana is cited by the World Bank one of three countries in Africa that has made considerable progress in effectively using foreign aid to reduce poverty.
Judging by the location of the Forum, Ghana’s International Conference Center, which boasts of large, air conditioned meeting rooms, where wi-fi internet service and copious servings of hot tea, and of course cocoa (Ghana is the world’s second largest producer) were available, and observing the construction site of the impressive new presidential residence, a shopping mall and many upscale eateries frequented by a growing middle class in Accra, it is easy to see why the country has gained this distinction and to assume that things are going quite well for all Ghanaians.
Yet, this burgeoning urban affluence is a stark contrast to the young women and men hawking food and household goods on the streets. Many of them are about two tro-tros (customized vans carrying about 25 passengers around the city and connecting to rural areas) voyages away from villages where things are not quite the same. Of Ghana’s population of 23 million, well over half are small scale farmers and fisher folks living in rural areas and barely making ends meet. And considering that social spending coming from foreign aid is not sufficiently targeted to the rural poor in Ghana, like most countries, many are lacking essential public education and health services.
As my airplane descended into Dakar, Senegal a few days after the forum, the reality of the need for more and better aid hit home even more. Here urban and rural reside side by side as horses with carts carrying goods and supplies wait right next to BMW SUVs for traffic lights to change. The sanitation workers have been on strike for a few days and street children and others who have migrated from the rural areas dodge overflowing trashcans to beg for money. Senegal, unlike Ghana, is a LDC. The awareness of the need for effective distribution of aid is unavoidable.
So after the horse-trading has ended and everyone has packed up and gone their respective ways the real outcome remains to be seen by those who are at the heart of the issue – the poor and vulnerable in developing countries. The hopes of many, and the benefit to those in need, will be that donors and recipient countries keep their word to ensure that aid is properly filtered to them, and that when the dealing is done all will be better off because of better aid.