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Are PRSPs Making A Difference? The African Experience


D Booth  (2003)
140 pages

Can Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) promote changes that lead to more effective poverty reduction? Can the vicious circle of patrimonial politics, weak states and ineffectual aid be replaced with virtuous ones, based upon greater national ownership of the anti-poverty effort? This paper written by a member of staff of the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explores these wide-ranging questions with reference to the PRSP experience of several African countries.

Such is its ubiquity, the PRSP has already stimulated much debate and has achieved a useful mainstreaming of anti-poverty effort in national policy processes in Africa. However, definite progress towards national ownership of policies has been the key missing link:

  • The PRSP and the incentives put in place around it have not yet been sufficient to generate national ownership, even in terms of the process.
  • All African cases show that ownership is quite strong in the ‘technocratic’ dimension, but in most countries this has so far been narrowly shared.
  • There are big variations between countries in the extent to which the full PRSP has made an impact.
  • The achievements in terms of building a broad base of support across civil-society are modest to date, but it may be too early to assess all the effects.
  • The PRSP has had the effect of mainstreaming poverty reduction efforts; this is mainly due to the incentive created by the prospect of HIPC2 debt relief.

Looking further ahead, it seems that for PRSPs to be credible, there will have to be a complementary process of reform in the longer term.

  • Further efforts are needed however, to spread understanding of PRSP principles within countries as well as between them. The PRSP needs to be widely disseminated and understood across local and central government.
  • Nevertheless, there is opportunity for a ‘virtuous’ circle to develop, whereby the adoption of stronger national policies on poverty and sector approaches by donors, will lead to a greater phasing out of by-pass solutions.
  • The PRSP process can open up policy spaces for new national actors, and because the process is ongoing, this creates potential for greater change in the future.

Source: Booth, D., 2003, 'Are PRSPs Making A Difference? The African Experience', Development Policy Review, vol. 21, no. 2, pp.131-287.

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