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close this bookThe Courier N 137 - January - February 1993 Dossier: Development and Cooperation - Country Report: Mauritania (EC Courier, 1993, 100 p.)
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View the documentDevelopment and cooperation
View the documentThree decades of development
View the documentToward an ethic for development
View the documentAn interview with DAC Chairman Alexander Love
View the documentDevelopment as a pledge of financing
View the documentCan development be measured?
View the documentDevelopment and poverty: the case of Latin America
View the documentCan development be left to the economists?
View the documentThe informal sector: development at the grassroots
View the documentAn interview with Michel Relecom, Chairman of UNIBRA
View the documentTrade reform: impacts for the North and the South
View the documentAASM then ACP... what next?
View the documentAid and development- where the twain shall meet
View the documentIs development aid harmful to development ?
View the documentDevelopment aid in the 1990s

Development aid in the 1990s


by Marie-Angque SAVANE

Development aid poses a problem whether the philosophy behind it is charity and solidarity or self-interest. Yet development aid is essential if the developing nations are to be helped to lay firm foundations for their growth. If it is misconceived, however, it creates heightened dependence, without necessarily solving the problems which will enable the countries concerned to take on their own development.

For many years, the main thing was whether the aid provided was in line with the development aims of the countries of the South.

Then it was the volume of aid in comparison with South-North financial transfers and domestic savings which held the attention of the analysts, development operators and decision-makers.

In the present period of history, when humanitarian relief has replaced development problems as the prime concern of the countries of the North, it is more essential than ever to rethink the terms of a new-style form of cooperation between governments in North and South... and of a new-style partnership between the citizens of North and South.

Manna from the North - a misconception

The African nations gained their independence in a state of euphoria, convinced that the North - and particularly Europe, as a former colonial power - would sustain their drive for development. Everything was planned in the light of the Western contribution alone, which not only pushed up the cost of the projects, but did so without any reference to the real potential of the countries or the people who lived there. So there were grandiose schemes and competing funders, there was scant interest in small, inexpensive projects and there was seen to be little point in mobilising domestic savings to finance part of the national development or in getting the populations themselves involved.

No-one ever really called for the domestic effort which would have brought better returns on the external contribution. However, external aid was seen as manna which came down regularly from heaven to feed the designs of sectoral development.

This passive and unhealthy attitude by African governments, contrary to all logic, was one which the funders and donor countries were anxious to see.

And as long as the world economy was expanding and resources could be redistributed, loans and aid graciously lent themselves to the African governments' games and helped finance the famous white elephants. But in the 1970s, the second development decade alerted the international community by highlighting the fact that the essential needs of the people, particularly the poorest of them, had to be met.

By the end of the 1960s, social allocations (into health, housing, education and so on) were already on a gradual decline and poverty was mounting. This, of course, was the time when the price of raw materials plummeted and the terms of trade deteriorated - which triggered enormous tension when it came to choosing development priorities.

Instead of responding to this by producing strategies to diversify their output and adapt to the changes in the world economic set-up, African governments charged blindly into borrowing so they could produce more raw materials - thereby increasing their weaknesses on what was no longer a buoyant market.

This in many ways incoherent attitude was only justified by the State's assurance that they could count on aid from friendly governments in the North. It led to a breakneck race for aid, but it also temporarily plugged the gaps.

The outcome of all this was that, in the early 1980s, structural adjustment had to be forced on the national economies and aid had to be channelled through so-called private institutions, especially NGOs, and provided on terms dictated by the IMF and the IBRD.

As far as the North was concerned, this transfer was even more essential in that it happened at a time when the developed countries were making a huge effort to

Conditionality and malaise

The sudden incursion of the Bretton Woods institutions into African development strategies was made easier by the Western governments' malaise. Two decades of development aid had failed to accomplish much. Indeed, illiteracy rates were still high, health conditions were still cause for concern and poverty and famine sill persisted.

The impression was that, despite every effort, nothing was happening in Africa. Everything remained to be done.

This negative assessment of development cooperation triggered all sorts of anti-Third World attitudes and points of view, just when every energy in the North was focused on combating inflation, unemployment in the West was becoming cause for concern and the fourth world was emerging in most of the capital cities of the North. There were more converts to the idea that charity begins at home.

This malaise in development cooperation was reflected in the ease with which many governments, even those viewed as friends in the South, transferred the onus for development to the Bretton Woods institutions and closed their eyes to how hard the effects of structural adjustment were on the most vulnerable sections of the population.

The fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of the Communist bloc has helped bring human rights and democracy to the centre of the debate and development cooperation has seen the birth of what has been called 'political conditionality'. This has brought immediate protests from NGOs in the North and governments in the South, the commonest argument being that conditionality hits the stomachs of the poorest. But all observers know that corruption and misuse of public money are common currency in many of these countries. And the precariousness of the current state of the poor in town and country alike shows that aid has not always reached those who needed it most, so some kind of conditionality is needed if North-South relations are to be mobilised and aid is to become a proper pact of solidarity between partners in a situation of planetary interdependence. If the North wants to ensure its political and economic security, it has to make a serious contribution to the development of the South and it will no longer do this out of ordinary Judeo-Christian charity, or bad conscience, but out of self-interest - the only valid reason in the eyes of the people of the North.

What are the alternatives?

The serious problems facing the developing countries present a major challenge to the international community and not just the States, but the citizens and their organisations too, have to respond. Development cooperation will then have to be redefined in the light of the new prospects offered by the world environmental conference in Rio in 1992, which suggested that sustainable development was the only possible response to the challenges of the modern world.

As far as the States are concerned, the Stoltenberg proposal of development contracts seems to be the best solution for aid.

For the NGOs, the proposals made at the Cotonou (13enin) conference in January 1991 offer another approach.

Development contracts

The structural adjustment programmes set up to improve the balance of payments in the 1980s were the sole responsibility of the national governments. However, the success of such programmes very much depends on other countries' commercial and economic policies - hence the need to replace them with the famous development contracts suggested by Thorvald Stoltenberg, Norway's Foreign Minister, at the OECD Development Centre Symposium (One World or Many) in Paris in February 1989.

Development contracts are general instruments for financing medium- and long-term development plans drawn up by the countries of the South themselves, possibly with the help of external technical assistance. The point is that the plan should reflect a broad national consensus obtained through consultation of all the citizens, because success very much depends on how much support the recipient government gets from the people. Democracy and involvement are therefore essential forerunners of development contracts.

Adjustment programmes have taught developing countries and industrialised nations alike that everyone involved has to respect the development contract, once it has been adopted by common agreement, and undertake to adhere to its guidelines - provided, of course, that assumptions on external economic forces dictate no changes.

Alongside the national governments, the major industrialised nations, big developing countries, Bretton Woods institutions and international organisations both inside and outside the UN system need to be involved.

Another possibility is to set up a financing plan which encompasses IMF loans intended to restore the balance of payments, development bank loans to assist sectoral adjustment, bilateral aid grants for basic requirements, and financing which combines bilateral aid and export credits to import specific products, capital goods and services. Some of the loans should be paid over quickly and others should go through the conventional project examination process. Costs should be shared in the light of specific assumptions about the roles of the parties involved.

An institutional framework for this plan could be an improvement on the present advisory groups and round tables. Provisions brought in with this in mind should ensure fair and just involvement and a central role for the developing countries concerned. General coordination of the political and economic aspects of the development contract system should be carried out in the UN organisations.

This sort of broad system should be based on larger and more predictable grants of aid. The 0.7% official development assistance target - which is only a minimum for the 1990s - has to be attained by all donors.

Partnership between citizens in North and South

Over the past few years, and despite all the contradictions, the NGOs have maintained a North-South dialogue which had otherwise come to a halt at Canoun in 1981. They have managed to make up for various international shortcomings in the economic and social crisis which has hit many of the countries of the South. They have also taken over many social projects excluded from the adjustment programmes. Yet the comfortable paternalism of a simple transfer of ideas or resources has to be replaced by proper contracts in which the two parties commit themselves for a specifc period and run the risk of the operation together. The idea here is to get beyond the unequal relations in which all the risk is on one side and all the moral advantage on the other.

A code of good conduct between associations in the South is the essential basis for a proper partnership. So, in Cotonou, it was decided that: - cooperation, being an unavoidable reality in a world reduced to a planetary village, was essential; - a renewed partnership was vital, although the reasons for it and the motivation behind it had to be clear; - in addition to financing, a partnership needed a long-term relationship in which decision-making powers were shared and methods and operations were transparent. This meant development education, information sharing, the mutual assessment of achievements and greater financial autonomy for the South;

- one of the essential aspects of NGO action was the boosting of their ability to affect the preparation and making of decisions at the various levels of national and international life. NGOs in North and South had therefore to join together to identify common themes and subjects of concern worldwide, thereby giving themselves the possibility of proposing alternatives to the present strategies.

The end of the cold war, followed by the collapse of the Soviet bloc, against a 11 expectations, has opened the way for new forms of violence at both national and international level.

East-West-South cooperation has to develop along original lines if it is to take up the new challenges. The deterioration of the environment, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, international migration, AIDS, drugs, internal conflicts and, above all, the explosive forces of poverty are issues which concern the whole of the international community

Tackling them means setting up more stringent international cooperation machinery.

The UNO should organise a North South summit to seek the foundations of a more efficient system of coordinating macro-economic policies between the industrialised and the developing nations.

The NGOs can be a dynamic means c transferring aid to a sustainable form ofdevelopment.

This is the only way in which cooperation and solidarity can again become the means of forging a common destiny.

M.-A.S.