Original Authors: John Chukwuemeka Onokwai and Sally Matthews, Department of Political and International Studies, Rhodes University
From its inception in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria (Global Fund) introduced Country Coordinating Mechanisms (CCMs) to promote country ownership. Rather than maintaining in-country offices like many other international funders, the Global Fund mandates CCMs to take the lead in policy formulation and implementation in each country. This is in line with the Global Fund’s stated commitment to country ownership as a core principle of its practice in aid-recipient countries. CCMs, which bring together a range of stakeholders from the public and private sectors, act as national secretariats to process country grant applications to the Global Fund, and formulate and implement policies.
The term “country ownership” arises from a series of aid effectiveness forums in Paris (2005), Accra (2008), and Busan (2011), all of which gave aid-recipient countries more control over donor-funded programs. However, scholars such as Brown, Buiter and Saliba-Couture, for example, raise concerns about the concept and its implementation.
In response to such concerns, our research discusses the conceptualization and implementation of country ownership in relation to Ghana’s CCM, which is responsible for developing and submitting grant proposals and managing Global Fund grants in Ghana.
The Ghanaian CCM, which was established in 2002, consists of 25 members drawn from three major constituencies: the Ghanaian public sector (8 members), Ghanaian civil society (13 members), and multilateral and bilateral agencies (4 members). While donors are represented on the CCM, they are outnumbered by Ghanaian actors. This suggests the achievement of country ownership, but our study shows that many of those involved in the Ghanaian CCM do not perceive the CCM to function in a way that advances country ownership. The concerns raised by respondents interviewed for this study highlight several important challenges to the idea of country ownership, which are relevant beyond the Ghanaian context.
Firstly, our study shows that there are different ways of interpreting what country ownership means, and these differences in interpretation result in differences in perception about whether or not country ownership is achieved.
Some of those interviewed for this study interpreted ownership narrowly and asserted that the Ghanaian CCM does promote ownership as it includes (and gives a prominent role to) national actors. Others were more skeptical, pointing to ways in which the Global Fund still exercises influence over the development and approval of proposals. These responses reflect prominent themes in debates about the meaning of country ownership with commentators like Hasselskog and Schierenbeck arguing that the concept is “fundamentally ambiguous and paradoxical.” Clearer definitions and descriptions of what country ownership actually means are required if we are to determine whether or not it is being realized.
A second important concern highlighted in our study relates to the ways in which donors continue to exercise influence over policies and programs despite a commitment to country ownership. Due to the technical demands of proposal writing and the lack of such expertise in many recipient countries, donors typically offer various forms of “technical assistance” in the development of funding proposals. This issue came up in our study in relation to the role of consultants in the writing of proposals and of the Global Fund’s technical review panel (TRP), which can determine the fate of a particular proposal. Furthermore, as argued by Brown, donors form part of the domestic policy space such that they exercise influence within national policy-making spaces. As a result, local actors might tell donors what they think the donor wants to hear in order to secure funding. Indeed, as argued by Saliba-Couture, recipient countries might internalize the preferences of donors due to years of conditionalities, making it difficult to determine what it means for recipient countries to exercise ownership.
A third concern relates to the problem of representation. The CCM’s inclusion of a number of civil society and private sector representatives indicates an acknowledgment that country ownership ought to mean the participation of a range of national actors rather than simply the presence of government officials. However, as pointed out by several respondents in our study, the presence of NGO workers and other civil society representatives is no guarantee that the views of the ordinary Ghanaian citizens are well represented. If country ownership is understood to mean more than government ownership, it is necessary to think carefully about what kinds of representation and participation are needed for a program to be considered “country-owned.”
Together, these issues create challenges for the realization of country ownership in countries like Ghana, which depend extensively on donor funding.
The upcoming 2022 Effective Development Co-operation Summit is an essential time to revisit the principle of country ownership and ensure that it represents a true meaningful shift in power toward citizens of recipient countries and their ability to exercise their influence in the design, control, and implementation of aid.
Photo Credits: Ghana EITI | Turning the public eye on company ownership in Ghana