Fit for the future
Thanks to the international community’s decision in 2000 to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), international Development Cooperation found new momentum after years of stagnation. There have since been conferences at the multilateral, European and bilateral levels, all guided by the idea of a new development policy serving the new millennium, taking into account failures and lessons of the past 40 years.
That has not come true, however. In my experience as a medical doctor who has worked in several developing countries and as a member of the Bundestag active in the field of development, I cannot but notice that there has been no systematic, institutional and conceptual adaptation of the set-up of Germany’s development agencies to the daunting global challenges we face. Unless we want to cast doubt on official development assistance as such – as well as on governmental efforts to fight poverty in general – we must make the effectiveness of development cooperation the top item on the agenda of international debate.
Nine years have passed since the Millennium Declaration. There are but six years left to achieve the MDGs. At half time, it was already obvious that not a single one of the eight MDGs would be achieved in sub-Saharan Africa, the world’s poorest region. That insight was followed by a devastating food crisis. In the meantime, we are struggling with the worst financial and economic crisis humankind has witnessed in 80 years. Its impact on developing countries cannot be foretold yet.
That the MDGs will not be met as planned by 2015, however, does not make the agenda obsolete. I am convinced that we will only be able to keep up momentum in development efforts, with the aim of halving global poverty eventually, if we honestly assess timeframes. Otherwise, we risk losing all credibility.
In very fundamental terms, we need to understand that the MDGs are really nothing but a milestone on the way to rational, cause-related development cooperation. It is necessary to understand the root causes of widespread lacks of development, and to tackle these causes. So far, there is no indication for that happening. German agencies are re-iterating their conventional “fight poverty” rhetoric, and so are European as well as multilateral agencies. What they should be doing instead is boost economic development. Development is an issue of economic development. It always was and always will be. Economic development is the only route towards long-term generation of the means necessary to allow poor and deprived people a decent life.
A major domestic challenge is the fragmentation of German development institutions. Several ministries and a host of implementing bodies are involved. The results include double work and massive bureaucracy, burdening our partners that receive aid. The irony is that there is consensus about the inefficiency of German fragmentation, but nonetheless our Financial and Technical Cooperation remain disjunct. Moreover, incoherence among the various government departments is spreading. Apart from the Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), 14 other ministries are involved in activities that count as ODA. These activities vary greatly in terms of goals, guidelines and tangible measures.
In view of massive global challenges, coherent German policymaking matters more than ever before in the arena of global policy-making. German Development Cooperation must focus on causes and results – and, obviously, the action of all government departments in the fields must be stringently coordinated.