Kate Gross comments on Africa Confidential articleFriday, Jun 08, 2012 in Africa Governance Initiative
In the 8 June edition of Africa Confidential the magazine published an article about AGI and its work in Africa. The article raised several positive points about our work, but also highlighted a number of criticisms, some of which we would like to address. We take the time to do this because Africa Confidential is a title whose content we respect.
The article claims that AGI is a ‘reticent and close-knit group, fiercely defensive of [Tony] Blair’s Africa vision.’ We are proud of the work of AGI and the achievements of Tony Blair on international development but we are also an open and collegiate organisation, constantly looking to learn from and partner with others. We are also more than happy to speak about what we do; indeed Africa Confidential repeatedly declined our offers of a direct briefing for this article.
The article suggests that in Sierra Leone, ‘NGO and Government staff tend to bypass AGI staff’. It is a shame that Africa Confidential relied on anonymous sources and did not seek to speak to any members of the Government of Sierra Leone – or indeed any government staff in the countries which AGI works with. Had Africa Confidential reported their perspective, and drawn out comments such as this from Dr Sas Kargbo, Director of Reproductive and Child Health in Sierra Leone, a different and more accurate picture might have emerged of AGI’s work.
“They are asking us what we need – not telling us what to do, as others have in the past. This makes a huge difference. We hope that other donors follow this same path – looking to Health Ministries in Sierra Leone and in other countries to take the lead on what is best for their nations...Only with more support to Health Ministries – not just funding -- can we begin to address the problem on a national scale.”
The article makes the repeated assertion that AGI staff are too young to be effective in the work we do. AGI are immensely proud of the calibre of our staff, and of their commitment to the work they do, in what we acknowledge are complex and challenging circumstances. We are unaware of any evidence that our staff are disproportionately younger or less experienced than other peer organisations. Indeed we are able to recruit from an increasingly wide pool of candidates with the majority of our staff having significant experience in Africa, and the very highest academic and vocational qualifications.
The article goes on to suggest that AGI ‘exaggerate’ our role in the success of the countries we support, citing the example of the Free Health Care initiative in Sierra Leone. We would be the last to claim the success which rightly belongs to our partner governments, as I said in my introduction to last year’s Annual Report, which is available on our website: “We are proud to have played a role in the free healthcare initiative, alongside Sierra Leone’s partners in the international community including the UK’s Department for International Development. But the true credit for this achievement must go to the remarkable public servants in Sierra Leone’s health Ministry, like Dr Daoh, the Chief Medical Officer, and Dr. SAS Kargbo, its Director of Reproductive and Child Health”.
The article opens an interesting debate on country ownership, and it is good to see Africa Confidential addressing this important topic. However, it is wrong for the magazine to suggest that AGI staff “displace local public servants”. AGI is not a substitute for local capacity: a core part of our mandate is to work alongside public servants in our partner countries. It is only by working in that way that sustainable capacity can be built.
Finally, the article makes a number of vague insinuations about Tony Blair’s role with AGI, all of which are unfounded. Mr Blair is the charity’s Patron, and makes significant personal charitable donations to the organisation. All of the work he does with AGI is pro bono. His advice and support to the governments AGI supports is a core element of our model and is hugely valued by the respective leaders we work with. There is no profit motive in any aspect of AGI’s work, or Mr Blair’s role with the organisation.
We look forward to opening a dialogue with Africa Confidential and hope that in the future you will be willing to take a broader view of the work we are doing in Africa. The offer of an in-depth briefing is still very much open.