In 2003, the Organization for Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa (OSSREA) launched a study entitled “Assessment of Poverty Reduction Strategies in Sub-Saharan Africa” as one of its specialized projects. Financial support for covering costs relating to the overall undertaking was provided by the African Development Bank (ADB). The assessments were conducted in six African countries, namely, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Uganda, and Zambia. Academic researchers and persons responsible for poverty reduction strategies in the pertinent government departments of the countries in question conducted the country studies on the basis of the terms of reference provided by OSSREA. The undertaking was aimed at analyzing the PRSP components and processes of the case-study countries and identifying the opportunities and challenges relating to stated objectives and programme goals and with the view to providing information on the salient aspects of the findings. It was hoped that these could be judiciously used by policymakers and other stakeholders engaged in poverty reduction efforts in ways that are presumed to contribute towards improved implementation of the programme where they are found necessary and appropriate.
Upon the completion of the case studies, findings were presented in national workshops held in each of the six countries followed by the convening of a regional conference held in Nairobi, Kenya, from 28 February 2006 to 1 March 2006. Pertinent inputs obtained from the deliberations made in both the national workshops and the regional conference were incorporated in the drafts, which were enriched and presented at another round of meetings in all the study locations. Another regional conference was held in Kampala, Uganda, from 29 September to 2 October 2008 as a wrap up and a final leg of the exercise. The meetings at both the national and the regional levels attracted a wide variety of participants representing relevant government agencies, donor organizations, CSOs, academic and research institutions, and invited diplomatic missions. At this juncture, it is worth mentioning that OSSREA has accomplished a broader dissemination activity by publishing the outputs of all the country studies and the proceedings of the regional conferences that became instrumental in reaching out to the concerned policymaking circles, stakeholders, and the wider public.
As indicated in the introductory section, this synthesis report covers a wide variety of themes that are treated on a comparative basis based on the findings of the country assessments, which are summarized as follows:
Whereas there have been similarities and points of convergence with regard to the initiation of the overall process in terms of time frame, programme design, key poverty-oriented targets, institutional arrangements, and monitoring and evaluation modalities within and between countries, some differences with regard to the degree and extent of consultations and stakeholder participation, priority setting, the level of programme ownership, and achievements and drawbacks experienced in view of key targets have been identified;
In most of the case studies, it is affirmed that formulation of the PRSPs has passed through two stages, namely, the interim and final phases, as demanded by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund;
The different phases of PRSP formulation undertaken in the six countries are believed to have helped in identifying the sources and the magnitude of the poverty phenomenon by shedding light on the actual state of affairs in a manner unprecedented hitherto;
In the overwhelming majority of cases, government policies and programmes that predated PRSP formulation and with concerns associated with poverty reduction issues have been subsumed under the PRSPs, which qualified as comprehensive poverty reduction policy frameworks of the six countries;
Relatively indirect approaches like optimal service delivery have been underlined in dealing with the problem of poverty with less emphasis lent to direct means and ways relating to issues of income, employment, equitable access to available opportunities of productive engagement, and fair and balanced distribution of resources;
The incorporation of government policies introduced prior to the formulation of PRSP into the poverty reduction strategies of the six countries has entailed, in a way, a feeling of local ownership lending a stature of being home-grown to the national programmes in the sense of being contextualized to local realities;
Achievements and gaps in view of key targets experienced in the different countries show variations in terms of the causative factors responsible for whatever outcomes witnessed. These were attributed, as the case may be, to natural factors, different imperatives that were accorded primacy depending on the internal developments in the countries, and the degree of favourability or otherwise of the internal politico-administrative arrangements;
Similarities across the board with minor and insignificant variations have been observed with regard to institutional arrangements, priority areas of engagement, lending attention to a host of crosscutting issues and concerns, key and leading roles played by specific government line departments in strategy formulation and monitoring and evaluation, and responsiveness to external environments pertaining to such matters as compliance with debt relief and HIPC initiative requirements, the need for embarking on institutional reforms, etc;
Common challenges faced by the case-study countries in the course of implementation and meeting key targets include capacity constraints, gaps in coordination of activities, shortfall in availability of financial resources for implementing programme components, and unfavourable economic forces and factors at the international level;
Varying degrees of dependence on external aid in the study countries have been observed in the course of expediting national plans and strategies;
In spite of the fact that countries have benefited from the HIPC initiative in the form of varying degrees of debt relief, the countries under study still continue to experience different levels of the burden of indebtedness; and
In view of entrenched problems accrued by the workings of unfavourable internal and external factors originating from a variety of causes, perseverance in poverty reduction efforts in all the countries under study tends to continue depending on external support and assistance in the years to come.
It is believed that the assessments on poverty reduction strategies including the attendant processes and the outcomes thereof have contributed a lot in several respects. These include creating increased and data-based information and awareness with regard to the situation on the ground, sensitizing policymakers and stakeholders on the need to bridge the gaps identified in the findings, bringing to light existing challenges that are worth noting, and discerning available opportunities on which to build in similar future endeavours.
Drawing on the findings of the assessments, it would be worthwhile to say a few words on the way forward with regard to the fight against poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. This is presented as follows by way of providing recommendations:
Countries should be encouraged and supported to design their respective strategies on the basis of local realities anchored in empirical scientific researches that could generate authentic data on poverty. This is believed to lay a firm foundation for forging a sense of belonging and local ownership;
Since poverty reduction efforts require the conscious, active, and committed involvement of all stakeholders, ensuring broader participation and in-depth consultation in decision making at all levels of programme design and implementation would help in optimal realization of stated goals and objectives;
There is a need to give more emphasis to approaches with direct bearing on poverty reduction in addition to those that are believed to entail positive ramifications in one way or another;
In view of the fact that governance failure and lack of peace and stability are detrimental to socio-economic development in general and poverty reduction efforts in particular, there is a need to make the entrenchment of good governance as an entry point of all policies and attendant practices directed at the fight against poverty;
Perseverance with regard to the fight against poverty calls for continued external all-rounded support, and hence bilateral and multilateral donors should make it a point to ensure sustainability of efforts through extending the necessary and legitimate assistance to countries for some time to come;
Given that PRSP performance evaluation exercises serve as arenas for drawing lessons and taking corrective measures in good time, it is necessary to view them as continuous processes until such time the situation stabilizes and the problem is put under control. Hence, there is a need to support periodic assessment studies pertaining to successive programme cycles in order to establish progress made and identify persisting gaps and inadequacies.