Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans


Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

It's Africa's time

“From Finland’s point of view, for too long Africa has largely been only a target for development aid. Most of Finland’s bilateral development assistance is directed to partner countries in Africa. In recent years, much good news, too, has come from the continent. The atmosphere in Africa is positive, and development starts from Africans themselves,” says Pekka Puustinen, the new Director General of the Department for Development Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. “Although the problem of poverty is still huge, the economy of many African countries is growing at a rapid pace and national economies are prospering. Now we must be able to help partner countries to benefit from their own resources themselves, and Finland can be a support in this.”

The greatest challenge in his opinion is the equitable distribution of the benefits obtained from natural resources within countries.

“African countries and decision-makers bear the main responsibility for this themselves, but influence can also be exerted through development policy. This is also one of the main themes of Finland’s Development Policy Programme,” Puustinen explains.

In Puustinen’s view, Finland’s business community is increasingly interested in development issues and is engaging more in trade and development activities. In addition, there is increasing interest in Africa. Minister for International Development Heidi Hautala and Minister for European Affairs and Foreign Trade Alexander Stubb will make a joint trip to Tanzania and Zambia in May. They will be accompanied by a Finnish business delegation. The trip offers an innovative way to combine sustainable development objectives and corporate responsibility goals.

Pekka Puustinen, the new Director General of the Department for Development Policy at the Ministry for Foreign AffairsNo slackening of development goals

“A little less than a thousand days remain before the 2015 deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals. Now is not the time to slacken the pace; work must be done to the fullest until the end. At the same time, the new Post-2015 Development Agenda is being formulated. With regard to development policy, this interesting process is among the most important for the coming years. The purpose of the Post-2015 Development Agenda is to connect future development goals, and the objectives of sustainable development into one framework. Financing is one of the key issues of the new agenda, as there is a need for developing countries’ own resources, private-sector support and international support. Finland has its own candidate for the working group on sustainable development financing. If Finland’s candidate is elected, we will be involved in financing negotiations more closely than ever. Speedy times are ahead,” Puustinen says.

 “Internationally, development cooperation is also undergoing in a time of change. Interest in focusing cooperation more on fragile countries is increasing, as they lag behind the Millenium Development Goals the most and create instability both for their own citizens and for neighbouring states. Working with fragile states is more risky, but the situation must be controlled.”

Presence and cooperation

“I started in an interesting position with a humble mind,” Puustinen says. He walks about in the Ministry and within the department to talk with employees so they all feel that the management is present and supports their work. This will improve the department’s internal communication and collaboration with other Ministry departments that deal with development issues. This spring, the government discussion on spending limits took far-reaching decisions concerning development policy. It was decided to cut appropriations for development cooperation in 2015-2017 by about 30 million euros annually. At the same time, it was agreed that the revenues arising from emissions trading would be directed to development cooperation.

“It is still early to estimate how much revenues emissions trading will eventually bring in, but it is hoped that they will offset the cuts in development assistance and that even some growth would be achieved. Finland was the first country that made a decision of this type. We encourage other countries to take a look at our model of a new kind of financing for development.”

Results to the fore

The effectiveness of development cooperation is now a topic of widespread discussion, among others in the EU. In Puustinen’s opinion, the matter has progressed in the right direction, although the trip is a long one. “Indicators enabling the evaluation of results have been incorporated into the country programmes drawn up for long-term partner countries,” he says.
This is at the same time a pilot phase, and learning will take place on the basis of the results. Finnish missions abroad report on results to the Ministry at six-month intervals. Finland’s support to UN agencies, development banks and other regional organisations is also being evaluated right now.

Puustinen considers it important to highlight results, but in practice that is easier said than done. Many factors affect the results of assistance, and their measurement, at the very least, is challenging.

“The challenge is also one of communication. Small-scale concrete results are easily found from the cooperation carried out by civil society organisations. As a sector donor Finland is only one factor among many, but at the same time the intention is to achieve greater changes and results. All forms of cooperation have their own role to play,” Puustinen says.

Puustinen thinks that how development cooperation is communicated is important.

“Results as well as difficult issues and failures must be related openly. The Ministry for Foreign Affairs is currently revising the practices for informing the public about suspected development aid abuse and for communication management. Development communication plays an important role in the public debate,” Puustinen states. 

Outi Einola-Head