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December 05, 2010

`We became beggars'

Dr Francis Omaswa



This is the 12th in a series of posts from the Ministerial Leadership Initiative for Global Health's Learning Collaborative Forum in Ethiopia. On Monday we will post two wrap-up pieces from the conference, and later this week we'll continue with out Motivators series from health leaders in Ministries.

 At the MLI Learning Collaborative Forum in Ethiopia, a four-day event that attracted senior officials from five Ministries of Health, one of the most poignant moments came early on the last day in opening remarks by Dr. Francis Omaswa.

Peggy Clark, vice president of policy programs at the Aspen Institute and executive director of Aspen Global Health and Development, introduced Omaswa by not only describing his work as a former director-general of Ministry of Health in Uganda and founding director of the African Center for Health & Social Transformation, but also that he spent five years as a doctor in a remote mission hospital in Uganda nearly three decades ago.

Omaswa, a senior MLI adviser, used his breadth of experience to give a sweeping view of Africa, country development, and the current trend of expansion and progress.

But he minced no words in talking about the difficulties in the past. In many countries, he said, the post-independence era initially went well, but in the 1980s, he said, “it changed.”

‘Africa on its knees’

“We in Uganda had Idi Amin, but even African countries without Amins didn’t escape trouble,” he said. “In decline, Africa ended up on its back and on its knees. But the last decade, 15 years, maybe a little more, there is a new Africa, a much more hopeful Africa than the ones on its knees. In Addis, in Angola, in Senegal, you hear the same story. You also hear it in Mali, Benin, Dar es Salaam, among other places, of the past few years that our GDP is growing at 5 or 6 percent. That is the Africa we have now. We have a chance – a second chance – to take over.”

Then he talked about country ownership of health programs, a central theme of the MLI forum.

“We have been looking at this topic for the last two or three years very closely,” he said. “There is no issue about definition, about what country ownership is, it is all well articulated with the Paris Declaration, the Accra additions to it. There are roles for countries, roles for partners. When we talk about country-led, it is those countries where the governments are strong, they are making the most progress.”

The important roles of donors, civil society

Omaswa said that strong governments were critical, but “governments alone are not enough. Governments need to provide space for their people, for civil society organizations. We need in Africa to have space provided for development partners as well. Because of that decline phase, we were on our knees, we became beggars, we did not have enough money on our own to find our way out.”

Now, he said, donors need accountability from recipient governments, and they should be able to press governments about reaching pre-determined goals. “Our friends supporting us have to account to their own people, they have to show the money they give gives results,” Omaswa said.

“But they also have to listen to us. If a country is clear, donors will come,” he said. “If you are strong and clear and you know how to articulate things, normally you find your interests with the donors are the same. It is this spirit in which I am really please to work with MLI. MLI is acting as a catalyst for countries. It gives us an opportunity to discuss more and understand each other better as to how we will want to support country leadership.”

Live-blog from Ethiopia:

Part 1: MLI Live-blog from Addis Ababa

Part 2: ‘Its Always Good to Think Big’

Part 3: Mali’s Path to Community Health Insurance

Part 4: ‘A New Dawn’ in Health Care in Sierra Leone

Part 5: Want to Bargain? The Nepalis can Help

Part 6: From Mali to Nepal: The Trail of a Negotiator

Part 7: Ethiopia’s New Plan: ‘It’s going to Really Improve this Place’

Part 8: Ethiopia and the Importance of Family Planning

Part 9: Gang of Four: Table Talk with Reproductive Health Directors

Part 10: Ethiopia’s Tedros: Four Steps to Owning Health Programs

Part 11: ‘We Want to be Led”

Forum Wrap-up, Part 1: Marty Makinen and Amanda Folsom

Forum Wrap-up, Part 2: Rosann Wisman


Photo Credit Dominic Chavez