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Investing in Human Development in Sub-Saharan Africa: has the EU lost its way?

By 18 August 2022September 1st, 2022No Comments

“The European Union (EU) commits to allocating at least 20% of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to social inclusion and human development”

This sentence is well-known by every human development advocate in Brussels, and has been at the forefront of many advocacy efforts to increase the EU’s investment in human development sectors, including health. It is admittedly a tricky concept to wield, since no official definition frames what is encompassed by “human development”, but it is commonly agreed that it covers sectors such as health, basic nutrition, education, social protection, gender and WASH services. One thing is for sure: it’s all about developing and fostering access to basic, primary services for the people who are the most in need.

The EU is a large donor for human development: by dedicating part of its ODA to human development, and considering the 20% target mentioned above is set as a floor value, not a ceiling, the EU should contribute to covering basic health needs (including access to health services and medicines) and to the strengthening of health systems, especially in the world’s regions that are the most underserved. This is why it is surprising that human development does not rank higher among the EU priorities in the programming for Sub-saharan Africa, in spite of the overly strained health systems on the continent, the still ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences, a global food crisis, and the fact that the region has the weakest health infrastructure in the world and is the least advanced in terms of access to primary healthcare – to only name a few challenges. Among the 6 priority areas of the EU’s regional Multiannual Indicative Programming (MIP) for Sub-saharan Africa, human development only benefits from an envelope of €880 million, which is only about half of what is allocated to migration and displacement and 2,4 times less than what is allocated to green transition. Within this enveloppe, health represents under 4% of the total. An information session for CSOs and Local Authorities held by DG INTPA last June indicated that human development represented only 7% of the 2021 Annual Action Plans (AAP) in Sub-saharan Africa.

It is well understood that the current geopolitical context is challenging, that choices must be made and priorities decided upon. But by all accounts, it is difficult to reconcile the human development emergencies and needs with the EU’s apparent low investment in this field. The world is off-track to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the Covid pandemic has led to unprecedented setbacks in many human development-related fields, especially health, and especially in Africa. As recalled in a recent EDCPM article, “The EU cannot afford to underdeliver on its investments in human development and the commitments will have to be closely monitored. (…) Robust funding for these priorities – and not just for the EU priorities of the green transition, the digital transition and migration management – will send a signal that the EU is serious about investing in human development and the future of its partnership with Africa.

Although human development has been once again under the spotlight due to the Covid pandemic, the DG INTPA presentation raised concerns on how the EU will manage to reach its 20% human development target with so little currently invested in the region that is the most in need. Examining more closely the presentation indicated that even within the planned actions of the AAPs 2022, where human development would be better represented, there is still a lack of actions targeting health and primary healthcare. Team Europe Initiatives are steps in the right direction and enable investments and projects dedicated to human development, including to health and notably at the regional level. But the lack of information on their scope, timelines and on the financing that will be attributed to them does not allow for a comprehensive overview of their full potential. 

Overall, it is worrying to see the EU’s “development partnership” drift away from delivering basic and primary social services, including healthcare, which should be at the center of development. With the midterm review of the Multiannual Financial Framework (MFF) coming up in 2024, we call on the EU to course-correct and reopen the discussion on the scope of human development, as well as on its ambitions for this field.