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International relations

Reconsidering development cooperation

by Hans Dembowski

In depth

Mauretanian landscape: African countries are exposed to climate risks, and the  African Risk Capacity (ARC) contributes to managing them.

Mauretanian landscape: African countries are exposed to climate risks, and the African Risk Capacity (ARC) contributes to managing them.

The world is changing fast and becoming ever more complex. The aid system must adapt. Some challenges arise within the aid system, but overarching global trends matter too. At Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the principles of aid effectiveness serve as paradigms.

Development cooperation can be done in many different ways. One particularly sophisticated approach is to have colleges from different countries run joint masters programmes, as Manuel Parra knows. He is a Chilean scholar currently working for Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich. To boost occupational health, the University’s Center for International Health is cooperating with several Latin American institutions of higher learning. The target group of their joint masters programme consists of professionals, who, thanks to blended learning, can study in their home country, supervised by local tutors.

As Parra reports, this programme does not only serve capacity building in the health sector. Another strong point is that it generates new knowledge. The students base their master’s theses on empirical research, tackling diverse aspects of occupational health from informal employment to mental issues and workplace violence.

The curriculum obviously makes sense, but it may soon become financially unviable in some of the countries concerned, including Chile. The reason is that Latin American countries are moving up the income scale, and some will soon “graduate” from official development assistance (ODA) in the sense of no longer being eligible for donor funding. Stefan Bienefeld of the German Academic Exchange Service (Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst – DAAD) points out that this will affect the cooperation of German universities with partner institutions in those countries.

So far, the DAAD has provided funding to all colleges involved, relying on support from Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). That will stop once a country graduates from ODA, as Germany will expect partner governments to fund their own academic institutions, Bienefeld told a conference on “Rethinking development cooperation” at the German Development Institute (Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik – DIE) in Bonn in September.

The world of aid is changing fast in other ways as well, argues Stephan Klingebiel, who heads the DIE department for international cooperation. Some challenges arise within the aid system. For example, South-South cooperation is becoming ever more important, Klingebiel says. Evidence includes the growing clout of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the New Development Bank, two recently founded multilateral institutions which are dominated by emerging-market governments and based in China.

At the same time, Klingebiel regrets that the aid-effectiveness agenda has been losing momentum. It took off in 2005 with the multilateral Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, emphasising issues like donor harmonisation, the policy ownership of developing countries and mutual accountability of all partners. The idea was that the established donor community of the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) would avoid fragmentation and gear aid to boosting government capacities and improving governance in developing countries (see D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/02, p. 17). The issue remains important and deserves attention according to the DIE scholar.

Other challenges, however, arise outside the aid system. Klingebiel points out that the multilateral system is under attack and that populist nationalism is rising in many places. Migration and masses fleeing from crisis countries are fuelling this trend. Klingebiel warns that the established narratives around ODA no longer suffice.


Democracy promotion

One pertinent question is whether democracy promotion is still legitimate. When it was raised in a working group during the conference, an Indian participant immediately stated that support for democracy was most welcome south of Himalayas, given that the right-wing government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi is undermining democratic norms. The discussion fast showed that democracy promotion in the sense of transplanting the western model is not legitimate, but that support for universal principles such as human rights and elected governments is highly relevant.

The point is that people around the world want to be governed according to these principles. Pro-democracy movements have proved that in many countries, even though leaders with authoritarian tendencies deny it. It bears repetition in this context, that populist politicians tend to rise to power without actually convincing the majority of the voters. Modi’s coalition of parties gained more than half of the seats in parliament with not even 40 % of the votes, for example. Rodrigo Duterte became president of the Philippines with 38 % of the votes. US President Donald Trump only prevailed in the Electoral Collage due to quirks of the election law after his opponent, Hillary Clinton, won almost 3 million more votes than he did. Populist leaders are prone to use public office in ways that manipulate the constitutional order and reduce their opponents’ chances of ever gaining power. The more they do so, the more they forsake whatever democratic legitimacy they have.

Democracy, of course, is about more than choosing top leaders. The ambition must be to involve people in decision-making at all levels of public life. Development agencies can contribute to make that happen in innovative ways.

For example, Welthungerhilfe, a German NGO, has been involved in facilitating new legislation on land ownership in Liberia. In cooperation with local partners, it involved various stakeholders in a comprehensive and inclusive debate. As Welthungerhilfe’s Constanze von Oppeln reports, the result was not predetermined. Rather, the entire process was geared to Liberians defining rules that suit their nation’s need. The new legislation is now in force and will hopefully put a check on issues like land grabbing.


The big picture

Praveen Jha from Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi appreciates that “development cooperation has become stronger”. Nonetheless, he doubts that it “makes sense in the big picture”. In his eyes, financial capital has become too powerful internationally. He bemoans that inequality is increasing fast and points out that emerging markets like India, Russia and China are competing to create billionaires while masses of people still lack safe access to food. Jha argues that key aspects of capitalism must be regulated, but that is not happening.

In a similar vein, Aram Ziai of Kassel University argues that aid is not the real issue: “Let’s not send money, but ensure that money is not extracted.” He wants to see measures against tax evasion, for example. More generally speaking, he demands that global structures be shaped in ways that prevent poverty and exploitation. Market-orthodox globalisation is not doing that.

Ariane Hildebrandt, a BMZ officer, acknowledges serious global challenges and her ministry’s desire to shape the global agenda. At the same time, she notes that ODA resources are quite limited. She says that the Sustainable Development Goals and the aid-effectiveness agenda are the paradigms that guide her ministry. Both are valid, she insists, so there is no need to change them.

Hildebrandt emphasises that the BMZ has established the independent evaluation institute DEval in order to learn from past experience (see D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2017/07, p. 16). Moreover, it is eager to take promising new approaches. One example that Hildebrandt mentions is the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles, a multi-stakeholder alliance her ministry launched to fight exploitation in the garments industry (see D+C/E+Z 2015/12, p. 40). Another aspect is the BMZ’s leading role in introducing climate-risk insurance schemes such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC – see D+C/E+Z e-Paper 2018/07, p. 23).

The ARC is run by the African Union and allows African governments to buy insurance against climate hazards. When disasters strike, they thus have emergency funds at their disposal immediately. The ARC was launched on the basis of a long-term, interest-free credit provided by Germany and Britain. In Hildebrandt’s eyes, this approach deserves praise for several reasons, including that it respects the national ownership of partner countries, and is a response to the urgent global problem of climate change.

At the same time, the BMZ is aware of climate change requiring reforms in Germany too. Hildebrandt says it aspires to become the country’s first climate neutral ministry.

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