Development: Between a rock and a hard place?

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      This article was published in ECDPM’s Annual Report 2011.

      It seems fair to expect that 2011 will come to be seen as the year in which the contours of a new global consensus on development emerged. The traditional focus on aid alone was replaced by a more comprehensive view of international cooperation aimed at achieving solutions to national and global challenges. It was also the year that South-South cooperation arose as a potential standard for good practice in development cooperation. Above all, it was the year in which Africa, with the Tunis Consensus on Development Effectiveness in hand, turned a page on aid dependency. The outcome of the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, the Busan Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation, illustrates this.

      The Busan Partnership is more than just the next step after Rome, Paris and Accra. It proposes a more inclusive partnership for development, in which effective international cooperation is the key concern. New powers, emerging economies and private sector development actors have joined as partners and there is recognition of the primary role of domestic resources and national and international investments to truly trigger development. While pledging to work to reduce aid dependency, the Busan Declaration confirms the role of development cooperation in catalysing the governmental, private-sector and civil society-led transformations needed for effective development.

      Within the current global context of multiple crises, present and looming, this shift in development thinking represents huge opportunities. Yet it also carries at least two formidable risks. On the positive side is the recognition that ‘development’ can be supported in more ways than just by providing development assistance and the endorsement of the important role of the global and national private sector. Moreover, the recognition that development is first and foremost the responsibility of the countries themselves seems to have moved from rhetoric to practice. Ownership is increasingly seen as a responsibility you take, not one to be given. In fact, partner governments are now expected, even required by their domestic constituencies to be ‘developmental’, having the opportunities and well-being of their populations at heart. Besides, in times of scarcities due to global crises, development partners need to make stricter choices on where and how to invest their resources. As a result, the domestic accountability of governments becomes a key factor of choice. More than any policies on ‘coordination and complementarity’, budget restrictions might prove the strongest drivers of closer cooperation and division of labour amongst donors.

      On the negative side, the shift beyond development cooperation as we know it entails real risks for evidence-based development thinking. It could disappear from the radar of mainstream development, together with the lessons learnt and good practices built up over decades. As a consequence, global development thinking might revert to the overly optimistic frontier approaches of the past, before we learned that development is political and complex; that it doesn’t respond well to linear thinking; and that development must be seen as a historical process that doesn’t allow for ‘quick fixes’. Beyond such a sidestepping of knowledge and insights gained, in times of financial and fiscal crisis another danger is that this shift will be used as an argument to reduce public funding for international cooperation, asserting that‘the private sector is taking it over’ or ‘it wasn’t effective anyway’. This would represent a denial of everything we have learned about the need for multi-stakeholder processes to drive the transformations that are the true foundation for development.

      Today’s opportunities and risks have multiple implications for the relationship between developing countries and their partners, new and old. First, development partners will need to reinforce their political dialogues with partner countries in order to be able to align (or realign) their choices and to adjust (or readjust) amongst ‘the different and complementary roles of all actors. Second, accountability and transparency are becoming ever more important to bring about ‘openness, trust and mutual respect and learning for constructive dialogues. Third, dialogues will go beyond a strict focus on poverty issues, to address a range of national, regional and global challenges from governance, effective institutions and the business climate, to regional and global integration, global health, climate change, crisis management, conflict, fragility and vulnerability to shocks and disasters. Fourth, dialogues will need to include all relevant actors from government, the private sector and civil society to ‘deepen, extend and operationalise the democratic ownership of development policies and processes’. Fifth, developing countries will be increasingly confronted with tough choices made by partners who champion particular solutions to global challenges, putting their relations to the test.

      The above shifts portend exciting times in international relations. They also call for a fundamental reappraisal of development policy management. Will policymakers and practitioners rise to the challenge? What will give between the ‘bedrock’ of traditional ways and the ‘hard spot’ of global change? Will Europe be able to line up to effectively deal with today’s global challenges? Similarly, will our partners in Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific? And will ECDPM?

      In Europe, the Agenda for Change represents a clear move towards a more value-driven approach and greater specificity of the European Commission as a development actor, as well as increased emphasis on private sector involvement and development impact. This is certainly aligned with the times. Yet the Agenda remains very much an ‘aid agenda’ focusing on development cooperation in relative isolation. How will Europe achieve consistency between EU development policy and its policies on climate, migration, trade, agriculture and fisheries – to name just a few? Will Europe indeed take into account the impact of its policies on developing countries – as prescribed by the Lisbon Treaty? Or will such values fall victim to European global interests in times of crisis? The negotiations on the reform of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries policies in 2011 showed little convincing European leadership or broad political will for policy coherence among EU member states. The European Commission and the European External Action Service are as yet unclear about the steps they are going to take to ensure coherence between European external, internal and development policies.

      In the Southern Neighbourhood, the Arab Spring resulted in sudden regime changes in three of the five countries and some political reforms in others. But the challenges remain tremendous. The new leaderships will need to consolidate democratic transitions, ensure stability and respond to the socio-economic demands of their youth. In Europe, the Arab Spring triggered calls for a ‘European awakening’, recognising the need for the European Union to fundamentally revisit the underpinnings of its relationship with the Southern rim of the Mediterranean.

      At the same time, Africa is making progress on regional integration, peace and security, intra-African trade, infrastructure and investment. But the gap between good intentions and practical implementation remains wide. Six of the ten fastest growing economies in 2011 were African, yet inequalities within these countries continue to deepen. At the continental level, efforts are being made to strengthen pan-African governance and peace and security architectures. Strong leadership will be required to consolidate these and maintain momentum. A key advance is that the operational budget of the African Union is now fully covered by the contributions of its member states. Almost all AU programme and project funding, however, still comes from international partners. That means African ownership of the implementation of the African agenda remains low.

      The ACP Group launched a proactive search for a decision-making framework on its future beyond 2020. South-South cooperation is already high on its agenda, as is developing relationships with emerging players and new donors. The ECDPM anniversary seminar – Global Changes, Emerging Players and Evolving ACP-EU Relations – helped to kick start the explorations.

      This list is far from exhaustive. It barely touches on many of the initiatives underway. At the close of 2011, the Agenda for Change still had to be endorsed by EU member states; the European budget, the multi-annual financial framework, was still in the making; strong EU leadership on European international cooperation was not yet apparent; and levels of official development assistance (ODA) were wavering. Meanwhile, the debate on the future of the ACP Group of States was getting into full swing, and South-South cooperation was just starting to emerge as the new standard for international cooperation. In short, the jury is still out on whether and how the key development actors will navigate the global seas of change. This is reason enough to look forward to the debates surrounding the upcoming European Report on Development ‘Development in a Changing World: Elements for a Post-2015 Global Agenda’ (working title), now under preparation by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the German Development Research Institute (DIE) and ECDPM.

      As for ECDPM, in 2011 we developed a completely new strategy for 2012–2016. Anticipating the changes required in international relations and external policies, as well as their practical implementation, we defined four thematic areas: reconciling values and interests in EU external action; promoting economic governance and trade for inclusive growth; supporting societal dynamics for change in developing countries; and addressing food security as a global challenge. And we organise our work in six programmes, each focusing on a policy process that lies at the heart of the challenges faced by Europe and the countries of Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific:

      Together with our partners in Europe, Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific, we look forward to taking on the challenges that the new global development agenda presents.


      Paul Engel is Director of ECDPM.


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