Why a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t fit Nigeria

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I have to travel a lot for my work, and over time I have refined my packing to be as compact as possible.  I’m particularly proud of a small see-through plastic zip-up toiletries bag, which is a triumph of space saving. My toothbrush, perfume and other bits and pieces fit into it perfectly, it’s long-lasting, and it meets all the security requirements. Flying in a post 9/11 age I understand the risks and importance of security.

What is interesting, however, is how different security personnel react to my little bag. Half the time they look at the bag, see the toiletries through its transparent panels and wave me through. But other times I get to the airport and am told to empty my toiletries into a considerably more flimsy plastic bag provided by the airport. I always find this irritating as the airport bags are a) not big enough; b) nowhere near as neat as my bag; and c) take more time to empty and refill.  It feels as if the second type of security personnel are just following orders – failing to see that I have come up with a more elegant, dare I say, better solution.

Working in development, I often wonder whether my colleagues and I are like the second type of security personnel – insisting that everyone uses one solution regardless of circumstances, or whether we’re actually more like the first type – recognising the best solutions a person or a country comes up with to a specific problem.  It can be a particular issue when looking at how actors that provide aid should do so most effectively.

Is there more than one way to follow the rules? Credit: Dlisbana, 2007

I wondered about this during a recent trip to Abuja, from where DFID Nigeria runs around 40 projects.  The value of new projects to be launched this year alone is £716 million, so it’s an important office within DFID.

During my visit I attended a meeting with officials from Nigeria’s National Planning Commission (NPC). In most of the countries that DFID works in, ministries of National Planning tend to have a major role in receiving and allocating aid from other countries, and monitoring the results of the aid.  Ministries of Finance, including in Nigeria, usually receive and allocate loans – for example from the World Bank. However, in Nigeria, the ministry of planning can’t play such an involved role in aid because of major corruption risks. Thus, no bilateral donors in Nigeria currently give grants to the government directly (NB: in development speak, this means that they do not use “country systems” or “budget support”).

Added to this, compared to other countries, aid from all donors is a small proportion of overall financial flows in Nigeria – it adds up to less than 2% of Nigeria’s national income. This means there is a feeling that the time taken to coordinate donors will not reap as many benefits as it might in other countries that are more aid dependent. Hence, while in Abuja, I witnessed a meeting between a number of donors sharing information about a fantastic, transformational project DFID is supporting to help Nigeria’s state governors to share and peer review each other’s policies – for example policies to collect more taxes, be more transparent, to deliver more education and health, and so on.  While donors in Nigeria do come together to discuss their overall portfolios, they focus just as much, if not more, on the substantive results of the work.

. Similarly, I sat in a meeting of all the UN agencies working in Nigeria, where the discussion focused more on how to avoid duplication than “coordination” per se.

As I observed these meetings, I wondered whether DFID Nigeria was being effective enough.  The general belief in development, based on international agreements made in Paris (2005) and Accra (2008), has been that channelling finance through domestic ministries and coordination are both critical elements of “effectiveness”.  Was Nigeria, by not following the rules, being less effective?

The answer is no. DFID Nigeria is being as effective as possible within the circumstances it is operating, by prioritising a principle of “country ownership”. Although the NPC can’t actually receive aid, DFID Nigeria still prioritises meeting with the NPC to listen to the Government’s priorities and make sure DFID’s projects are aligned with them as much as possible. The support DFID Nigeria is giving to local state governance also helps ensure country ownership – driving accountability and open policy making.  In another country, coordinating or using other solutions – such as budget support or “joint programming”  – may be the best and primary means of ensuring country ownership.

This is why it’s so useful that the Busan Agreement on Effective Development Cooperation, made in November 2011, while still monitoring some specific tools for country ownership, has gone beyond the Paris and Accra agreements to recognise the importance of tailored solutions.  The Busan agreement suggests that all Governments – whether providers or recipients of aid – should focus more on achieving the principles of effective working.  Every country receiving aid does want real ownership, but the tools to achieve it may well need to be tailored to different circumstances.

There is certainly simplicity in trying to make every country do the same thing, just as I am sure there is a nice order when I am flying to making everyone put their toiletries in the same plastic bag. But if imposing a one-size-fits-all-approach can be frustrating when flying, it’s a great deal more frustrating when working out how to best deliver aid.  Aid to Nigeria is achieving real results, but only because it is working to Nigeria’s specific needs and circumstances.

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Research Analyst

Edmond is a research analyst who is passionate about sustainable development, innovation, and the environment. Passionate about climate financing, he firmly believe there is a more reliable system to promote equality, growth, and welfare in societies without affecting the ecosystem. Through his skills, knowledge and experienced gained over 7 years, he wants to make an impact in the world of development. Edmond holds a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Korea Development Institute and a BA Degree (Honors) in Business from University of Derby.


    Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.


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Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.


China-Africa Policy Analyst

Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.


Research Analyst

Judith is a Research and Policy Analyst, where she specialises in Africa-China relations, international development, and diplomacy. During her time at Development Reimagined, Judith has co-authored several articles published in The Diplomat on debt and China-Barbados relations and was quoted by China Daily in a piece on Women Rights in China. Previously, Judith worked as a research analyst for an Advocate and Commissioner and Oats office in Kenya.


Policy Analyst

Ovigwe specialises in geopolitics with particular reference to Africa in a changing Global Order. He is adept at critically analysing the politics of contemporary development processes and providing insight into the geopolitical interests that influence them. His work includes research, publications, tailored briefings and advising on global and regional trends, and issues at the nexus of geopolitics and development. Ovigwe appears frequently in media around the world such as Al Jazeera, TRT World, SABC, CGTN, BBC Radio, and other platforms.


Policy Analyst

Jing leads China-African health and agriculture cooperation research at Development Reimagined, having managed our FOCAC Policy Analysis and Advocacy project. She is also the co-author of “China-Africa Health Cooperation under FOCAC Umbrella”, in which she analysed China’s commitments around health cooperation since the first FOCAC summit and deepdived into four African countries’ health overview, challenges and cooperation with China as cases studies. Before DR, Jing worked at GIZ Cambodia on M&E of a disability advocacy project. She also worked as a translator with Chinese medical team in Benin.


Trade Policy Analyst

Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst and was the lead author of Development Reimagined's recent Report on Africa-China Relations titled "From China-Africa to Africa- China: A Blue Print for a Green and Inclusive Continent-Wide Strategy Towards China." and “Reimaging FOCAC Going Forward.” Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.


Senior Policy Analyst 

Rosemary is our Senior Policy Analyst. She is a skilled policy analyst and has previously worked as a UK civil servant. She is studying Human Rights at Birkbeck, University of London with a research focus on international law in the context of health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic.


Project Manager and Africa-China Communication Assistant

Jade is a Project Manager for Development Reimagined’s flagship project Africa Unconstrained, which focuses on financing needs and debt vulnerabilities of African countries. Her research focuses on China-Africa development finance alongside debt vulnerabilities, infrastructure needs and South-South cooperation. She has worked with a breadth of stakeholders from China, Africa and the wider international community, including governments, private sector, NGOs and civil society. Her writing has appeared in a number of publications, including The Africa Report, The China-Africa Project, The Diplomat and more. Jade holds a Master’s in China and Globalisation studies from King’s College London.


Programme Manager

Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.

Rosie is also alumni of the School of International Studies at Peking University in Beijing where she is also an editor at the Peking Africa Think Tank. PATT is led by a diverse group of scholars who specialise in African Studies within the context of Sino-Africa relations.



Lauren has lived in six countries from the Americas to Europe and Asia and speaks both French and Spanish proficiently. At Development Reimagined, Lauren’s research focuses on climate action both in the Asia-Pacific and in Africa, and how countries are using tools such as SDGs and Covid-19 action to build a more climate-resilient future. She holds a Masters in International Relations from Leiden University.



Etsehiwot holds a Masters’s degree in Development Studies from the London School of Economics. She has diverse experience in humanitarian and development issues by working in both multilateral organizations and international non-governmental organizations. Etsehiwot is currently a consultant focusing on the SDGs and development finance.


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Dibekulu is an economist by training. He holds an MSc in International Development Studies from Palacky University Olomouc, an MSc in Development Economics from the University of Clermont Auvergne, and an MSc in Economics, Finance, and International Integration from the University of Pavia. At Development Reimagined, he works as an Economist consultant. He has strong data analysis skills, with research interests centring around development finance, impact assessment, food security, and agricultural insurance.


Project Manager

Osaru is a health professional with an MSc in Health Systems Policy and an interest in women’s health and population management. At Development Reimagined, she applies her health sector experience to global health research and collating locally applicable development insights from China.


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Ferdinando’s research at Development Reimagined is centred on South-South Cooperation dynamics, specifically on the analysis of Chinese investment and debt flows in Africa and their linkages to African industrialisation. He is currently a Yenching Scholar at Peking University, after having graduated from the University of Cambridge with an MPhil in Development Studies.


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David is a Research and data analyst at Development Reimagined. His scholarly focus is mostly on interdisciplinary research in demographic economics and development with interests in migration, economic development and policy, education, health and subjective well-being. He is currently a PhD scholar at Nelson Mandela University from which he also holds B.com Economics and Statistics and M.com respectively.


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Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team at DR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French.


Research And Data Analyst China 

Joy Ene is a Research and Data Analyst at DR. Joy is passionate about African/global development, poverty eradication and trade policies between underdeveloped and developing countries. She is also a fourth-year student of International Economics and Trade at the  Liaoning University, Shenyang, China. She serves as the President of the Student Union, Liaoning University, International Students chapter.


Research Analyst 

Chensi Li is a research analyst. She has previously worked for local NGOs in Nigeria and Cameroon and think-tanks in China.  Her research areas include Sino-African relations, African foreign affairs, public diplomacy, state-building and national governance.

Yixin Yu

Research Analyst 

Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion


Founder and CEO

Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE's International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.