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Development assistance in Sub-Saharan Africa

Australia’s development program to Sub-Saharan Africa

2021-22 bilateral allocation [budget estimate]
$15.0 million
2021-22 total Australian ODA [budget estimate]
$59.3 million
2019-20 total Australian ODA estimated outcome
$136.6 million

Africa is important to Australia's global interests. COVID-19 is compounding Africa's development challenges and disrupting agricultural productivity, supply chains, employment, markets and food security. Our program focuses on health security, stability and economic recovery to help address these challenges. The program also supports people-to-people links, supports inclusive economic growth, and promotes gender equality.

Many African economies experienced economic growth before the emergence of COVID-19 and this growth presents opportunities for trade and investment-led development gains. Australia is developing strong economic partnerships with African states, including through targeted development assistance.

The effects of COVID-19, development context and challenges faced differ dramatically between the diverse countries of the Sub-Saharan region. However, many of the key constraints to economic growth are shared across the continent, including: health systems capacity; skills shortages; poor enabling environments for business and governance; food insecurity and low agricultural productivity; humanitarian crises; and gender and other inequalities. Africa is at the bottom of almost every knowledge economy indicator, and many of its tertiary education systems are not capable of meeting the immediate skill needs or supporting sustained productivity-led growth. These skill shortages are particularly acute at the professional levels. In the public sector, these skill deficits hinder the capacity of governments to deliver services, support sustained growth and address development challenges.

Australia's aid contribution to Sub-Saharan Africa maximises our impact by focusing on sectors where Australian experience and knowledge visibly adds value and where we can also deepen our engagement.

Australia Awards

Australia Awards in Africa is a targeted and flagship aid investment to Africa. Australia Awards in Africa extends the knowledge, skills and professional development to mid-level professionals from public, private and civil society organisations. The program achieves those outcomes through Masters scholarships and Short Courses, facilitated through Australia's globally recognised higher education sector and Australian expertise across key sectors including: extractives, agriculture and public policy.

By contributing to African leadership and human capacity development in these fields, Australia Awards are also helping to address Australia's national interest in the security, stability and prosperity of Sub-Saharan Africa. The fast growing population of the Sub-Saharan Africa region presents increasing opportunities for trade and investment-led development gains. African countries are active members of global political and trade organisations and are important partners in addressing global issues such as economic growth, trade liberalisation, agricultural productivity and food security, trans-national crime and counter-terrorism. The social and academic networks scholars develop with Australians and Australian institutions contribute to considerable goodwill towards Australia, as well as helping facilitate our economic and public diplomacy initiatives and supporting people-to-people links.

Australia Awards in Sub-Saharan Africa

Humanitarian assistance

Working with effective humanitarian partners, Australia provides assistance to communities in Africa affected by humanitarian crises. We continue to focus our humanitarian assistance on responding to urgent humanitarian needs, including protection, food security and nutrition. The disproportionate impact of conflict and disasters on women and girls is of utmost concern and Australia advocates for better monitoring of gender and protection issues. Australia advances the interests of affected populations and influence policy decisions in line with best-practice humanitarian principles.

Empowering women and girls and improving gender equality outcomes

Promoting gender equality is one of the priorities identified in the Foreign Policy White Paper. Gender rights are a powerful tool for development, economic growth, and stability. The Sub-Saharan Africa program focuses on enhancing women's economic participation and voices in decision making, particularly in the agriculture and extractive sectors. We aim for gender parity of access to the Australia Awards-Africa program and close to 50 per cent of our awardees are women. The Women in Leadership Network provides ongoing professional development support to female awardees on their return to their home countries. The alumni are active supporters of development in their communities. The focus of Australian aid, particularly through Australia Awards-Africa, is to promote women's access to higher skilled jobs and inclusive economic growth.

We support and advocate for gender equality in all our negotiations with African partners.

Addressing gender-based violence in South Africa

Civil society engagement

Australia is engaging with non-government organisations (NGOs) to provide community based interventions to poor and marginalised people in Sub-Saharan Africa. NGOs are key development partners, offering a unique depth of experience, skills and community awareness to the development sector. Support to civil society in Africa is primarily delivered through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP), the Direct Aid Program (DAP), and the Australian Volunteers International (AVI).

Engaging with civil society in Sub-Saharan Africa

Extractives sector

Australia supports a number of global initiatives that assist developing countries to improve governance of their natural resources.


Australian volunteers achieve tangible results by supporting organisations in developing countries deliver on their own development objectives, help to increase knowledge of Australia, build personal ties between communities, promote cross-cultural understanding and contribute to public diplomacy. The Australian Volunteers program is part of the Australian Government's people-to-people program portfolio, connecting Australians to Australia's aid program.

Volunteer placements in Africa are focused in eastern and southern Africa, and where possible, complement Australia's aid investments that contribute to poverty alleviation and economic growth. In 2018-19, Australia supported 98 volunteer placements in Africa (South Africa, Tanzani, Eswatini (Swaziland) and Lesotho).

Our results

  • In 2020 there were 238 Australia Awards-Africa scholarship recipients who attended Australian institutions (47 per cent to women).
  • Australia Awards Alumni in Africa contribute to development and prosperity in their countries.
  • The 2019-20 Africa Development Program Progress Report, 85% of scholarship holders who returned to Australia reported using newly acquired skills, knowledge to contribute to gender equality and social inclusion.
  • In 2019, Australia's humanitarian assistance reached over 234,572 vulnerable people in Somalia and South Sudan.
  • In 2020-21, the Australian NGO Cooperation Program will fund Australian NGOs to work with local partners to deliver 72 projects in 18 African countries.

Strategic direction

Our investments align with the COVID-19 Development response Plan target areas of health security, stability and economic recovery. Leadership and human capacity development; agricultural productivity; humanitarian assistance; and women's empowerment and gender equality remain important. We work predominantly in Eastern and Southern Africa where we have historical program ties and relationships as well as long-term Australian NGO experience, economic and security interests and diaspora links. This is also consistent with the Indo-Pacific focus of the aid program.

Australia Awards is the flagship of the African aid program. Australia Awards primarily focus in areas where Australia has expertise including good governance and capacity building in the agriculture, extractives and public policy sectors. Australia's support for food security, agriculture, and water, sanitation and hygiene programs is provided through our significant contributions to multilateral organisations delivering programs in Africa. Australia supports agricultural programs in Eastern and Southern Africa through ACIAR and contributions to the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF). Our investments in sub-Saharan Africa contribute to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 8 (Decent Work & Economic Growth).

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