Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

G8 focus on Africa: what do the public think? (DACNews June-August 2005)


While Tony Blair and Gordon Brown globe-trot to gather support for the United Kingdom’s so called ‘Marshall Plan’ for Africa, and Bob Geldof and the Making Poverty History campaign plan a major Live8 rock concert ahead of the Group of 8 meeting   - what do the UK public think?

The OECD Development Centre recently worked with the European Commission to do the first major Eurobarometer on attitudes to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and development. The results were released in February of this year.

The UK charity Comic Relief (under the umbrella, Making Poverty History ) commissioned their own study to test attitudes to aid and development ahead of G8.  It was carried out in February by a global market research firm, Synovate, and it shows similar trends to those found in the Eurobarometer, but also has some interesting  additional findings.

It’s impossible to compare the two studies. The Eurobarometer interviewed 24,999 people over the age of 15 in 25 EU member countries. Synovate conducted a qualitative study with six focus groups representing mainstream, middle England. All participants were interested in current affairs. Focus groups were made up of tabloid and broadsheet readers, men and women in separate groups, and groups of ages ranging from 18-30 and 31-45. Eight people in each group were brought together for a two hour discussion.

But here are the similarities with a few new twists:

  • Eurobarometer found that there is a decline in positive perceptions of government aid: Minus 8 points between 2002 and 2004 to 62% positive.
  • Synovate’s study found that people think extreme poverty is mostly the fault of corrupt governments, and don’t want their government giving aid unconditionally to poorer country governments.

Clearly the benefits of developing country ‘ownership’ of the poverty reduction process and ‘unconditional aid’ are not getting through to the public.

“People don’t know about the perceived negative conditions on poor countries, like forced privatisation. They just look at tons of government money going out, and they want to know that it’s going to be spent on schools not guns,” says Synovate Director Alice Fenyoe.

“People are more in favour of aid going to charities because they think it’s more likely to reach individuals, rather than government money which goes to local governments.”

However the good news is, even if Synovate found  that  people feel distant and disengaged from development issues, the UK public haven’t reached a point where they think their government should  walk away.

The Eurobarometer showed EU publics to be even more upbeat:

  • 91% believe it’s important to help people in poor countries to develop

Even despite cynicism about corruption and concerns about terrorism, the number of people who think we should continue to give aid to countries with a link to terrorism has increased by ten points in two years, to 47%. They don’t want innocent people to suffer.

  • More importantly, 54% of people in the EU believe that EU development aid contributes to the democratisation of the beneficiary countries – an increase on the last poll.
  • 1 in 2 people in the EU believes that government aid helps improve the lives of poor people

Still, there are some sobering results:

“People in the UK do believe that aid is preventing deaths, but they don’t believe that long term development is happening. They’re not even sure what it is. The Tsunami may have made people think a bit more about long term development, but its still in terms of how long it takes to build a house, not what’s likely to happen ten years down the road,” says Alice Fenyoe.

A warning for government aid agencies and development professionals: according to Synovate’s research, the public continue to think that third-world poverty is an off-puttingly complex subject. Communicating aid effectiveness and ‘ownership, alignment, harmonisation, and results’ will continue to be a challenge!

Best to stick to a clear message like ‘Doing Aid Better’.