UK jeopardizing development gains in Ghana with rapid reduction of aid, watchdog warns

A primary school in northern Ghana. Photo by: Ericsson / CC BY-NC-ND

LONDON — Progress made with U.K. aid support to Ghana is at risk of being lost amid a rapid transition by the donor to a post-aid approach, the U.K. aid watchdog has warned.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact found the U.K. had been “mostly effective” in supporting Ghana’s poorest citizens, with particularly strong results in health and education.

But the watchdog warned that the sustainability of those programs was jeopardized by the U.K. government’s fast and poorly-planned transition away from bilateral support toward a “mutual prosperity” approach, emphasizing an economic partnership with Ghana.

Bilateral aid to Ghana fell from £86.5 million ($138.7 million) in 2011 to £56.4 million in 2017.

ICAI, which monitors U.K. aid for effectiveness and value for money, found there is a “considerable risk” of key areas of progress being lost, and warned against reducing bilateral aid too fast.

The U.K. has strong links with Ghana, a former British colony that became a lower-middle-income country in 2011. That prompted donors to reduce aid, although high levels of poverty and inequality remain. 

Ghana’s government announced its intention to move “beyond aid” in 2017. That same year, the U.K. government introduced its first economic development strategy, which placed an emphasis on finance and partnerships — leading to accusations that the poverty reduction outlook of U.K. aid was being diminished.

“We’re concerned that the UK is winding down its government funding too quickly, without fully considering the impact and without making sure that other donors or existing organisations in Ghana are able to support the government to provide comparable public services,” said ICAI’s chief commissioner, Tamsyn Barton, in a statement. “This risks reversing the good results that have been achieved over the past 10 years.”

ICAI said decisions about where to cut funding were “not always based on a sound analysis of the impact it would have.”

Kate Oliver, policy and advocacy adviser at Bond, the U.K. network of aid NGOs, added in an email to Devex that, “We cannot afford to let political motives undermine the hard work of the last decade by changing the purpose of UK aid, resulting in a bad deal for both the citizens of Ghana and the British public.”

After reviewing the U.K. government’s development work in the country since 2011, ICAI gave a satisfactory “green-amber” rating to the U.K.’s overall performance. But it rated the sustainability of development programs as “amber-red.”

“UK aid has made a real difference in the areas that the people of Ghana say matter to them — such as getting support to improve their livelihoods and ensuring out-of-school children receive an education,” Barton said.

But from 2016, the U.K. began to reduce aid and exit most of its direct service delivery programs, according to the report. U.K. development work in Ghana also became increasingly cross-governmental, delivered by a range of departments, rather than just the Department for International Development.

“The switch-around and the pace at which it reduced aid mean that the key results UK aid delivered when it was financing services directly are at high risk of not being sustainable,” the report found.

It also found the U.K. increasingly contributed aid through multilateral organizations but did “not sufficiently maximise its influence over programming choices.”

ICAI made six recommendations to the U.K. government, including to “ensure that the pace of ending the bilateral financing of service delivery in areas of continuing social need must be grounded in a realistic assessment of whether the gap left will be filled,” and that DFID country offices should do more to “influence ... multilateral partners on issues of strategic importance.”

A DFID spokesperson said: “We are supporting Ghana’s ambition to move beyond aid and become economically independent, as this will ultimately help lift people out of poverty, while creating jobs and our future trading partners.”

Update, Feb. 14: This story was updated to include a comment provided after publication.

About the author

  • William Worley

    William Worley is the U.K. Correspondent for Devex, covering DFID and British aid. Previously, he reported on international affairs, policy, and development. He also worked as a reporter for the U.K. national press, including the Times, Guardian, Independent, and i Paper. His reportage has included work on the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, drought in Madagascar, the "migrant caravan" in Mexico, and Colombia’s peace process. He can be reached at