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African gold rush: Aid and UN votes

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This post is part of the Australian aid to Africa debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

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4 May 2010 10:54


This post is part of the Australian aid to Africa debate thread. To read other posts in this debate, click here.

As one of those at the Lowy Institute who has claimed Australian aid to Africa is motivated by Australia's bid for a temporary seat at the UN Security Council in 2013-14, I feel compelled by Joel Negin's post to explain my thinking.

DFAT's own promotional brochure for its UNSC candidature claims Australia is an active partner in global efforts to realise the Millennium Development Goals. Progress in achieving the MDGs is slowest in sub-Saharan Africa, so if Australia wants to be recognised by the international community as a player in eradicating poverty, it has to increase the visibility of its aid efforts in Africa.

Australia increased aid to Africa by over 40% to an estimated $165.2 million in 2009-10. The Rudd Government has indicated Africa will benefit from its scaling up of the aid program towards an ultimate target of 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015-16. 

Any country bidding for a temporary UNSC seat cannot ignore Africa. The African bloc at the UN has 53 member states. Australia's relations with all but a few of them are narrow and in many cases non-existent. Canberra will need to work hard to attract African votes. 

The normally cautious Rudd Government has undertaken the task of ramping up engagement with Africa at great speed, which suggests it is concerned about more than 'following the business...community', as Joel suggests. Indeed, this DFAT summary outlines three priorities for engagement with Africa – trade and investment, development cooperation and peace and security. 

Trade in goods and services with Africa has grown by 7.8% over the last five years but still only accounts for A$8.3 billion or 1.5 per cent of Australia's global trade. Australian investment presents a better story, estimated to be worth up to US$20 billion. But Australian trade and investment is unlikely to translate automatically to recognition of Australia in a UN context. Unlike China, the Australian Government does not direct the Australian private sector's decisions or put its stamp all over Australian foreign investment or Australian goods and services. 

The delivery of aid is by far the easiest way to achieve recognition of Australia in Africa. Increasing the number of scholarships available to African students and increasing allocations to AusAID's NGO partners and UN agencies to deliver humanitarian assistance is relatively simple, especially in the context of an expanding aid program. It does not require the same bureaucratic expertise as the delivery of complex aid programs in PNG and Indonesia.

Australia may be less direct than some others about linking its aid to support for its international candidatures. Canberra prefers to rely on its international standing and implicit understanding of the benefits of its aid program to obtain support rather than offering a cheque in return for a written commitment. But it still has an expectation of a return on its investment in building Australia's reputation. 

In delivering the aid budget last year, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said:

Australia's standing as a good international citizen, working regionally and internationally, is critical to promoting and advancing Australia's foreign policy and national interests.  A strong and effective aid program advances Australia's reputation and our influence in the international community. Our aid program is not separate from our foreign policy. It is a crucial part of it.

Just as the UNSC candidature is important to promoting Australian foreign policy interests, so is the aid program.  Happily for some projects in Africa, the Australian Government has decided that its standing as a good international citizen – a key plank of its UNSC campaign — will be enhanced by funding them.

Photo by Flickr user dpup, used under a Creative Commons license.

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