The new Country Director of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Ethiopia, Melaine Robinson, is passionate to talk about development. Married and a mother of one, Melaine has over 11 years of experience in working for the government of the United Kingdom (UK). Her hands-on experience on climate change, energy, and international development would certainly provide her with sufficient experience to capitalise on, while presiding over one of the largest Official Development Assistance (ODA) portfolios that UK has around the world.

The new Country Director of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Ethiopia, Melaine Robinson, is passionate to talk about development. Married and a mother of one, Melaine has over 11 years of experience in working for the government of the United Kingdom (UK). Her hands-on experience on climate change, energy, and international development would certainly provide her with sufficient experience to capitalise on, while presiding over one of the largest Official Development Assistance (ODA) portfolios that UK has around the world.

A person committed to delivering development results, transforming the life chances of the poorest and most vulnerable and developing strong institutions, Melaine remembers her days of working with former secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, as valuable times of learning the rules of playing the development game at the highest levels. In this exclusive interview with GETACHEW T. ALEMU, OUR OP-ED EDITOR, the Director has shared her views on a range of issues, varying from post-MDGs development targeting to the state of civil and political rights in Ethiopia. Excerpts:

Fortune: At the very time that the global development sphere is witnessing new Official Development Assistance (ODA) providers, such as Turkey and Brazil, the agenda of aid harmonisation and alignment seems to be forgotten. But the challenge of managing fragmented aid inflow remains to inflict a huge burden on recipient countries, including Ethiopia. What do you think of the incongruence?

Melaine Robinson: The new comers to the aid community need to really be welcomed. Of course, the need is still high. We still have a great deal to achieve to reach the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), to tackle conflicts, to sustain economic growth and to ensure that the fruits of growth are shared by all. Therefore, the more actors that you have working in this area the better. We should also recognise that the new donors have something new and interesting to offer. You mentionedBrazil; they have been, over the last decade, through their own impressive development process and they have been the pioneers of social protection, tackling deforestation and energy conservation. What they would bring, not only in terms of money but also experience and lessons, is extremely important. Similarly,China has been through its own rapid development process. It is also bringing its own experience and finance toAfrica. We should not be afraid of this; we should welcome this.

Does that mean that harmonisation and alignment has gone down the agenda? I would rather say not really.

The major donors and countries met atBusan,South Korea, last year. Some of these key emerging donors have also been present in the meeting and signed up to a set of principles on how we should provide aid. Some of these principles capture important issues that had been on the aid harmonisation and alignment agenda for years. One of these is the focus on results; whatever we do and how we do it together, we have agreed to make sure that we are achieving results, in terms of change in the lives of poor people, whether this is education, health, jobs or security.

We have also signed up to the principle of transparency. And many of these emerging donors have committed to improve transparency about the aid they are providing. United Kingdom (UK) championed this internationally for the last two years and we are really impressed by the progress we have made.

The third area that we have signed up to is ways of working in fragile and conflict-affected states which takes many of these principles about putting the developing country in charge of its own development and supporting its development plans.

Although the world is changing in terms of the way that development is working, it needs to be welcomed and we should be working in a different way than the past. But we should also think that it is better to capture many of the best lessons that we have learned in the traditional aid sphere over the last decades.

Q: But, the case in Ethiopia, for example, shows that the agenda of aid harmonisation and alignment stays marginal. On average, only 35pc to 40pc of the ODA inflow comes aligned and harmonised, researches shows. What do you think is holding the implementation of the Agenda back in Ethiopia?

Some aid is provided in the form of pooled funds. It comes in support of the government strategy. And that is what we see in programmes, such as Protection of Basic Services (PBS).

Programmes that we have in education and water see significant resources going through these channels. It is important to know that most of this money, if not all, is grant money. So we have to be careful not to confuse grants with loans, credits and other kinds of financial aids.

If we could sort out grant aid, I would argue, a significant amount is going through the alignment and harmonisation agenda.  I don’t think that the situation is worrisome.

We should not all try to be like each other. But, we have to always make sure that the different ways that we provide aid are complementary.

Q: The latest global economic realities, including the crisis in Euro Zone, a slowdown in China and anaemic growth in United States (US), have somewhat escalated protectionism. Experts claim that this is holding the global trend towards aid for trade back. What is your reflection on this?

When the global economic crisis first became clear in 2008, it was theUKthat calls together all the 20 developed nations to make it clear than now is not the time to close borders and to return to protectionism. This is not the best way to combat the problems of the world.

Now is the time to work even harder to have opportunities to trade with each other and to support each other. That, I think, has made a huge impact in preventing some of this protectionism from escalating at the same time.

We, of course, fought hard for good conclusion in the Doha Trade Negotiations. We are disappointed, as many countries are, about the outcome. But we still see the opportunities to open the doors to trade. The European Union (EU) still has very progressive trade policies in relation toAfrica, for example.

On aid for trade, it has always been important for theUKnot only to open the door to countries, in terms of providing markets for their goods, but also to enable them step through the door. And that is why we find aid for trade so important.

We, for example, helpEthiopiaaccess the European markets. We have a new Private Enterprise Programme where we are providing finance for entrepreneurs. We provide specific support in three sectors; leather, textiles and flowers. This is to identify where the strengths and problems are so thatEthiopiacould develop world class products in these sectors. It is only, then, thatEthiopiacould access the markets that are open in theUKand inEurope.

So, I agree with you that the signs of protectionism are worrying. TheUKis extremely clear that we should do everything we can to open trade opportunities and supporting countries for the aid for trade.

Q: Do you think that UK’s current portfolio of aid for trade in Ethiopia is adequate?

I think that we are strong. We are doing more and more in terms of building a good environment for private sector investment inEthiopia. We are also involved in providing finance for promising businesses inEthiopia, through our link with Schulze Global Investment.

Of course, we could not isolateEthiopiain speaking about aid for trade. We have regional programmes that try to improve cross-border trade in Africa and to support Africa’s ambition to trade from Cape toCairo. We, in particular, work on the borders to improve the movement of goods. So, I think, we are strong!

Q: It is in 2010 that the DFID has instituted a total restructuring of its aid scheme towards making greatest impact out of it. Aside refocusing the system, however, the restructuring did not bring new ways of streamlining transparency within the whole system. Why such a relatively lower attention to transparency?

When the coalition government came to power in 2010, they prioritised making sure that development assistance provide results and we get value for each pound. And this led to focusing our efforts on understanding how we could make the best of aid. But, I need to disagree with you about transparency.

Alongside the focus on results, there was a very big push on transparency. It is a key priority for the coalition government, not just within aid programmes, but within theUKand internationally.

TheUKis indeed leading the way on transparency, internationally. It is also leading the way on aid transparency, internationally, advocating for donors to publish, in the same format, the aid that they provide.

In addition, we are also focusing on the transparency about where the aid money goes. InEthiopia, for example, we strongly support the efforts of the Ethiopian government in streamlining public financial transparency, in which citizens would know where money is being spent.

We also have Africa’s largest social accountability programme inEthiopiathat works with civil society organisations to enable citizens hold the government accountable for the services.

I would say that, along with the big push for results, transparency remains our priority.

Q: But, it is only the open data initiative that is introduced as a new element within the restructuring made in 2010. Do you think that this initiative is enough to assure the British people that their tax money is spent well?

It is indeed an important part. As well as making sure that information was made far more available in terms of what the Department [DFID]is doing with taxpayers’ money, the government has also set up an independent evaluator, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact (ICAI) that would evaluate whether money is spent well.

They look at what we do around the world, including inEthiopia, and provide us with feedback.

Is this enough? It is difficult at times of austerity where the British people are seeing the money in their pocket getting less and less, seeing cuts in services they receive, to maintain such  an impressive level of commitment. But, the coalition government, specifically Prime Minister David Cameron, has made it clear that we would not balance our books on the back of the world’s poor. And, this has to do with British values. We do it because it is the right thing to do and because it is inUK’s interest.

But, above all, the best way to assure the British people that we are spending their money well is to provide results. The kinds of results we have achieved inEthiopiaare testament to money spent well. Results are what make sense to the British people.

Q: One of the recommendations that DFID has been receiving from the ICAI is to enhance its flexibility, especially in relation to humanitarian aid. Where do you think you are in terms of embracing flexibility?

The recommendations by the ICAI relate to the latest humanitarian aid response for the latest drought in the Horn of Africa. The report, in general, was very much positive. We were the first international player to respond at any scale. Undoubtedly, we have saved many lives due to this response, not only of the government but that of the British people.

But, I think, as the report rightly identified, it would have been better if we could respond even quicker than that. So we have accepted the recommendation and put in place systems to implement it. We, I think, are ready to respond quickly should a crisis of such kind, which no one would like to see happens again.

Q: With the year to the end of the MDGs fast approaching, the global debate is witnessing a new set of development targets, dubbed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Are you in support of another era of development targeting and specifically of SDGs?

The deadline for MDGs is 2015 but the job is not yet done. We know that we have made incredible progress, globally, against these goals but there is more to do. The progress has been uneven between and within countries; there is inequality.

We do feel that it is good for the world to have another set of goals that we could collectively come to say that, indeed, these are things that we want to achieve as a world.

TheUKis very committed to this process. Prime Minister David Cameron is co-chairing the High Level Panel, which Ban-Ki Moon, secretary-general of United Nations (UN), has set up, together with the heads of state ofLiberiaandIndonesia. He is working over the next year to submit a report to the UN with ideas for what could come after the MDGs.

The opportunity that the work on SDGs presents is the chance to bring into the next generation of goals the idea of sustainability. TheUKwould like to see the SDGs and the future MDGs come together to form the commitments that we could sign up to.

What should these other goals be? We are excited about the global debate about this. We would like to see a process where everybody could have a say on it.

The UN is running a process where the citizens of the world could share their views. And every Ethiopian citizen should take the chance to share what they think should the world focus on in the coming years.

As far as theUKis concerned, we think that we need to keep some focus on the poverty targets and making sure that we finish the job to the last person. We would also like to see focus on sending children to school and improve health care. But we also like to see some elements of development that were missing from the MDGs be embraced. This is what Prime Minister David Cameron meant when he says dealing with not only the consequences of poverty but also dealing with the causes of poverty; this involves giving more focus for tackling conflict, creating jobs through robust growth, doing more about open society, and building institutions of democratic governance. But, of course, the debate is just starting and we hope that we would see more ideas coming.

Given the progresses made in the last decade, I believe that there is a chance, in this generation, to complete the job.

Q: Some development experts claim that development targeting has made governments of least developed countries (LDCs) to be complacent about the quality of services. What is your view on their argument?                 

It is one of the interesting arguments that is being made as people think about the next generation of MDGs. Under the existing MDGs, we have focused on access and quantity. But it is right that we also need to work on quality.

You could see this merit inEthiopiawhere great progresses have been made in sending children to school and increasing the number of health extension workers. But, I think, the government has recognised that the challenge now is to improve the quality of schooling and health care.

TheUK, together with other donors, is right behind the effort to improve quality in these services. So we agree with the claim.

Q: Prime Minister David Cameron is pushing for a world-wide adoption of objectives that he called the “golden threads” of development, relating to good governance and economic growth. Do you think that the threads are similarly attractive for other donors, both traditional and emerging?

Many donors, for long time, have been talking about the importance of economic growth and governance. This is just an opportunity to reemphasise this point that was being made for long.

I think that David Cameron feels that there is a not-helpful debate between those who say that we need more aid and those who say that it is not about the money but about building institutions for growth and democracy. So he says we need both.

There are huge needs of education, health, immunisation, and social safety nets, and it requires money. Thus, he says, countries must to live up to their commitments, and we need to provide aid.

But, in the long-term, we also need to build strong institutions which will allow countries to grow and develop so they do not need any aid, and to allow for democracy to flourish.

Surely, he is clear that we need both. And, I think, that it is just what many development practitioners on the ground would like to see happening. I would be surprised if there is not some support for this opinion. But, this is a free and open debate. We would see how people would react to it.

Q: Both the current aid policy of the UK and the new European strategy for better aid advocate for enhanced alignment of aid with respect for human rights and good governance. Eventually, Ethiopia remains to be one of the foremost beneficiaries of both UK’s and EU aid, though it often underperforms in the global good governance rankings. Could one, then, say that that you are living by your principles when it comes to Ethiopia?

It is right that respect for human rights and international obligations underpins the whole of our aid relationships, not just inEthiopia. Our aid partnership has four basic strategies; respect for human rights, commitment for poverty reduction, commitment for effective public finance management and commitment to improve domestic transparency.

So when we decide how we will provide aid, we will assess these four principles and we make a balanced judgment. That will provide us with how we could work within and outside of the system.

InEthiopia, we see that the commitment for poverty reduction and the MDGs is excellent, unparalleled and hugely ambitious. We find that the commitment to public financial management is relatively good. And there is improving domestic accountability, particularly, when you think about accountability at grassroots level.

But, we continue to have concerns about civil and political human rights. And this has an impact on the kind of aid that we provide inEthiopia. It has an impact on the relationship that we have withEthiopia.

What do we do about it? First, we have open and frank dialogue with the government ofEthiopiaon our concerns about civil and political human rights. We have been raising this at the highest level. We have been setting publicly, whenever we think is necessary, what our concerns are. WheneverUKministers come toEthiopia, they discuss these issues with high level officials.

We also have programmes that we try to improve civil and political rights inEthiopia, from programmes supporting civil society to programmes supporting community security and justice.

These interventions show our commitment to the improvement of civil and political rights inEthiopia. We just do not talk about these issues. It shows that we are trying to do something on the ground. It shows our commitment to supportEthiopia’s transition to a liberal democracy.

Q: One area of the Ethiopian development scene that has seen a significant contraction in the last seven to eight years is that of the civil society. Are you worried?

Yes! We think a vibrant civil society is an essential part ofEthiopia’s development. It strengths development participation and gives voice to the marginalised. The importance of this a regular part of our dialogue with the government ofEthiopia, not only at bilateral forums but also on high-level forums as the Development Assistance Group (DAG).

We continuously raise this issue in our dialogue with the government. But we do not just raise the issue. We also try to help the situation.

That is why we have a major programme to support the civil society so as to improve the effectiveness of the Ethiopian civil society. We also have a relatively new programme with different financing windows that civil society organisations could apply for and deliver results on the ground. We, in general, see that a vibrant civil society is essential inEthiopia.




Overall Programme Aid to Ethiopia (2012) – Over 300 Million Pound Sterling.

Share of Overall Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia (2012) – 12pc

Total number of people obtaining cash transfer through the Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) – 1.2 million

Number of Children that UK aid has enabled attend primary and secondary school – 1.85 million

Mothers that UK aid has helped give birth safely – 30,000

Number of people who obtain emergency food assistance through UK aid – 2.5 million people


To support 2 million children attend primary school.

To provide 7.5 million people with basic health care.

To provide 1.4 million additional people with clean drinking water.

To equip 1.5 million people to deal with climate change.

To help private enterprises create over 40,000 jobs.

To ensure 3.5 million women and girls have improved access to security and justice.

Published on Nov 11, 2012 [ Vol 13 ,No 654]



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