“What are the reasons why the approximately €1 trillion in Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Africa over the past fifty years has not significantly improved African economies? At a time when the cards of global geopolitics are being redistributed and the number of donors, proposing alternative models such as the BRICS, continues to increase, this question, posed by researchers Jean-Luc Buchalet and Christophe Praet in their book The future of Europe is being played out in Africa (Editions Eyrolles), deserves to be discussed. Since the era of independence in the 1960s, the development policy pursued by Western countries has not really contributed to curbing poverty on the continent. Thus, according to the South African Institute for Security Studies, “before the Covid-19 pandemic, more than 445 million people – representing 34% of Africa’s population – lived below the poverty line”. Director General of the Belgian development agency Enabel, Jean Van Wetter draws up an inventory of the sector while proposing food for thought during a meeting in Brussels with Le Point Afrique. Interview.

Le Point Afrique: In 2018, the Belgian Technical Cooperation (BTC) changed its name to Enabel. Why did the Belgian federal authorities find it necessary to rename your organization?

Jean Van Wetter: It was more than a change of name, it was also a change of law. The former Minister of Cooperation, Alexander De Croo, wanted to reform the CTB agency by giving it a new ambition and a new name to break away from the logic of so-called “classic” cooperation by being – that’s a play on words inspired by the English word “enable”, which means “to make possible” – an actor who contributes to a process of change in the geographical areas where we operate, such as in Africa, while being aware that our organization does not alone can revolutionize this process. Indeed, Enabel’s annual budget is 350 million euros, which is equivalent to the total budget of a large Brussels hospital. With such a sum, can we claim to revolutionize governance, agriculture, climate change in the 21 countries where we are present? I don’t think so and therefore I think we are just a contribution that has some impact.

During the last Africa-France Summit in Montpellier in 2021, speakers challenged President Macron, asking him to change the name of the French Development Agency (AFD) as well as the latter’s fund to improve development cooperation. between France and the continent. How beneficial has the name change to Enabel been, both for your organization and for your partners in Africa?

At a time of global shocks, such as climate change, we must move away from the logic of assistance to turn towards a logic of partnership. Of course, there will always be humanitarian crises, conflicts, and even more fragile areas that will need assistance. However, in the medium term, the logic of partnership should be established, which is moreover demanded by African countries. In this context, you have to be very open about your intentions and the reasons for entering into a partnership. This therefore requires changes in terminology, vocabulary and approach where determining priorities must come 50% on one side and 50% on the other.


In 2050, one in four people in the world will be African. While Europe’s population is aging and stagnating, the median age in Africa is 20. The development of the African continent is therefore an extraordinary opportunity for Europe by being a hotbed of creativity and innovation. In the face of global shocks, such as climate change or even the demographic shock, it is necessary to set up a two-way cooperation model with technical, know-how and technological exchanges, to solve our common challenges together.

The war in Ukraine has reduced aid to African countries, according to the OECD. Do you think this conflict could change the paradigm of collaboration between donor countries and partners on the continent? To what extent?

It is clear that the nature of geopolitics has changed, even before the start of the war in Ukraine. Indeed, 30 years ago, the monopoly of cooperation was in the hands of industrialized countries like Japan, or even the United States. However, in recent years, a growing number of players have emerged, such as Turkey which has developed a strategy of development through trade, even India which relies heavily on its diaspora. But also African countries like Egypt which have a development budget of 150 million euros, or Morocco which is looking for triangular cooperation. So there is a proliferation of actors born of the redistribution of power cards at the international level which impacts relations with Western countries.

Speaking of Western countries, Africa has received over the past 18 years more than 805 billion dollars in official development aid without really changing the situation. By comparison, the Marshall Plan financed the reconstruction of Europe to the tune of 173 billion current dollars. Why has this massive influx of aid to the continent failed to stem poverty – which, according to recent reports from international organizations, is on the rise?

I think you have to differentiate the contexts. The Marshall Plan was a plan to rebuild countries at war that were already industrialized. For the African continent, many States have not yet experienced this massive industrialization, because they started from a poorer situation than the European countries before the American initiative. So we are talking about a base that was much more complex. Moreover, despite the amounts quoted in your question, they remain relatively low. In question, the global annual funding allocated to development by the industrialized countries represents the equivalent of the health budget in the United Kingdom. In this context, it is necessary to know how and where to invest the money by being better able to measure the results and the impact on the ground. In this sense, I think donors need to become more selective about the projects they finance.

Comment ?

I think that a good development project brings together partners who all put money in because, if everything is on the basis of the donation and the priority chosen by the project is too donor-oriented, appropriation will be less strong on the receiver’s side. To give a metaphor, it is as if a person receives a gift that he does not want. What is he doing in this context? Generally, he puts the latter as it is on a shelf and that’s it.

In a debate organized in April by the West Africa Think Tank (WATHI), the anthropologist Olivier de Sardan explained that “development aid is a rent which has perverse effects” which does not encourage the taking of initiatives and state autonomy. Do you agree with his observation?

There is indeed a problem in the sector about the lack of transparency in the given projects which do not work. Very often, because we are talking here about aid from public funds, it seems difficult to justify aid granted to a third country. However, transparency of failure should exist through accountability to partners. In this context, the Chinese approach seems interesting to me in the sense that it uses a more transactional logic, even in cooperation projects, where the partners dare to say that a given initiative is not working and that it is necessary to stop it. Ditto on the Anglo-Saxon side where failure is celebrated in a logic of learning.

One of the concrete examples cited by this researcher is that “a competent international expert who does not know the reality of the functioning of a maternity service, a health center, a school in a locality in Niger , Mali or elsewhere cannot anticipate the unintended effects of a new policy that is supposed to improve the delivery of a service”. In the context of recruitments in a given project, do you think that development agencies take this reality sufficiently into account?

Within the framework of Enabel, we take it into account. We have more than 2,000 employees, 80% of whom are nationals from countries where we are active. To compare with Expertise France or AFD, we are much more decentralized and we have a model that is much more local. In all African countries, we have national strategic advisers who have a good knowledge of the context and who help us to ensure that our initiatives fit fully into the local context. Is that enough now? I don’t think so, because we are still a foreign actor and an improvement in knowledge related to local power games is necessary.