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Accra Agenda for Action: sound-bites or solutions?

The final version of the Accra Agenda for Action (AAA) has at long last arrived. The document has gone through major revisions, in response to criticisms of early drafts – too technocratic and un-ambitious. However, the question remains: does the AAA provide the solutions and momentum needed to accelerate progress towards the Paris Declaration or are we getting something rather plain and uninspiring? The answer may soon become clear as Ministers and participants of the HLF3 will officially receive the AAA today to endorse in Accra.

The AAA, and the related three day Forum, mark the half way point in achieving the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, an action-oriented agreement that defines the principles and commitments by which donors and partner governments intend to increase aid effectiveness by 2010. As such, the event and AAA serve not only as a stocktaking opportunity but also as a way to address challenges and re-affirm commitment.

Emerging evidence reveals, while progress has been made in some respects, continued commitment and a clear course for future action will be needed if the Paris Declaration vision is to be achieved. As such, the AAA identifies three actions to accelerate progress: i) strengthening country ownership over development, ii) delivering and accounting for development results and iii) building more effective and inclusive partnerships.

With regards to ownership, though the commitments remain similar to those specified in the Paris Declaration, the AAA includes a firmer and more detailed discussion of the need to engage with – and strengthen – parliaments and civil society organisations, as well as the importance of using country systems and strengthening capacity. In addition, a statement on the need for policies to be consistent with international commitments on gender equality and human rights is included. With regards to accountability and results, the commitments are again similar to the Paris Declaration, but with more detailed language. There are also a few new additions, including a sentence on the need to address donor legal or administrative impediments to implementing agreed commitments. Some of the biggest additions are, however, in the section on effective and inclusive partnerships. Here, as well as listing the familiar (though once again more detailed) commitments on harmonisation, aid untying and fragile states, there is an explicit recognition of the need to work with all development actors (including countries providing development assistance outside the DAC and Global Fund Programmes) and deepen engagement with civil society organisations.

To the extent that greater aid (and ultimately development) effectiveness can be achieved by stepping up effort to implement the types of actions set forth in the Paris Declaration, the AAA goes a long way. However, it is increasingly apparent that progress is in large part dependent upon political commitment and leadership of the agenda. While the AAA makes some reference to these challenges, donor and government behaviour will not automatically change simply by endorsing another agreement; such change requires addressing the underlying incentives that determine and restrict current behaviour – be they legal, financial or political.

The politics of aid effectiveness should not be underestimated. Implementing the Paris Declaration and AAA commitments will likely require unpopular actions to be taken. This fact means that leaders may be less likely to place aid effectiveness sufficiently high on their already over-packed and competing agenda. In addition, from a donor perspective, with its technocratic jargon and indirect link to development, aid effectiveness doesn’t easily lend itself to catchy slogans and celebrity campaigns; it’s one thing to campaign for universal education, another to campaign for donors to align themselves behind and strengthen partner country strategies for the education sector. It is also difficult for donors to convey their success stories to the public; how do you explain that removing your flag from a popular project and placing it on a donor consultation meeting is a good thing?

Though difficult, such political and incentive constraints can be overcome --- in fact, they must if the Paris Declaration and AAA are to have sufficient traction. In the end, the success of the AAA depends as much on what it says as on the actions taken by leaders after Accra.

For further discussions visit ODI on... Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra and the recent briefing paper on Accra.