- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

I would dare say that some Americans are not immediately able to pinpoint Burkina Faso on a map.

Even with its political stability, functioning democratic institutions, smooth presidential, parliamentary, and municipal elections, free press, good track record of macroeconomic performance that has resulted in an annual growth rate of more than 5 percent, and a market that welcomes investors, Burkina Faso is still relatively unknown. Yet, it is here in one of the world's poorest countries located in western Africa, an anchor of peace for the region, that we can all learn valuable lessons on how best to deliver and reap results from foreign aid.

In Burkina Faso, as in other forward-thinking African countries, the expectations for and attitudes toward development assistance have changed dramatically, and for the better. Gone are the days when “donors know best” and throw their money at the problems they perceive as most pressing. Rather, such donors have found that empowering countries themselves is the surest way to build the accountability and responsibility that sustain results.

Engaging citizens and asking them to identify and prioritize what is needed for economic growth inspires them to reform policies and strengthen capacity to overcome specific obstacles to development. Building a policy environment where entrepreneurship can promote private-sector interests is the ultimate engine of long-term economic growth.

In these ways, American foreign aid becomes a sound investment in countries determined to use it effectively in their struggle against poverty. And, by awarding development assistance in a manner that promotes self-reliance, America improves its image around the globe. It is no coincidence that one survey found that eight of the 10 countries most favorable to the United States are in sub-Saharan Africa, where development aid has nearly doubled in recent years.

Burkina Faso is an outstanding example of aid effectiveness, investing resources that deliver results. Through U.S. support, river blindness and famine, despite years of drought, have been eliminated. With U.S. support through the Millennium Challenge Corporation - the innovative aid program that awards grants only to countries governing justly, investing in health and education and promoting freedom - Burkina Faso qualified for a threshold program that was applied toward building 132 schools and expanding primary education for girls.

At a time of severe economic downturn, when Americans rightfully expect their development dollars to be wisely invested to yield a return, an independent evaluation on the schools' performance revealed measurable impacts have increased significantly compared to similar education programs in other developing countries. Preliminary results show 15 percent to 20 percent increase in schooling rates compared to schools not covered by the program.

Because of our deepening commitment to sound policies as well as our successful use of threshold funding to tackle such a fundamental roadblock to sustainable development, Burkina Faso secured a larger, $480.9 million Millennium Challenge compact. The compact is evidence that Burkina Faso met the challenge of the corporation's stringent requirements for assistance and remains committed to ongoing reform to pave the way to sustainable development for the benefit of our citizens.

Such a compact allows Burkina Faso to make further investments not only in education but also in roads, irrigation, land security, and agriculture. More than 85 percent of the people of Burkina Faso rely on agriculture for their livelihood, and the corporation's aid will improve the productivity of this vital sector, providing our poor people with jobs and our country with increased food security.

Burkina Faso's people have felt the severe pains of the global food price crisis. This makes ongoing investments in an integrated strategy to boost agricultural productivity that much more important to sustainable development. The challenge corporation funding is part of Burkina Faso's solution to increase food production in the wake of the crisis.

U.S. assistance is making a marked difference in Burkina Faso, particularly because it is coupled with Burkina Faso's own country-sourced initiatives to sustain the results and country-driven reform agenda to open markets, decentralize power, improve the business climate and create opportunities for the poor.

Because of such efforts, the International Finance Corporation named Burkina Faso one of Africa's top reformers, no small feat for one of the continent's least-developed countries. In short, American aid is a jumping-off point for Burkina Faso's homegrown efforts, not a substitute for them.

Americans are a compassionate people, giving generously to those around the world fighting poverty, disease, and hunger and working to establish the rule of law. When that generosity empowers countries to pursue their own self-determined paths to prosperity, it creates a win-win outcome from which we all benefit. Burkina Faso is proof of this. May this best practice remain an unshakeable cornerstone of U.S. development assistance to the world's poorest countries.

Blaise Compaore is president of Burkina Faso.

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