'Re-compromising' development aid for the future
by Jos Jonckers
The author of this article offers an academy critique of *e
challenges facing the global system of development cooperation in the post-cold
War era. He argues that the old compromises that have shaped development
assistance since the Second World War have broken down and pleads for a radical
re-think of the strategy in order to 'enable' fess affluent societies to gain
from the advent of global 'free market democracy'
Let us face it. International development early 50 years, the
developed world has taken aid for granted. It no longer does. In real terms, it
has started to give less. The expected 'peace dividend' has not materialised and
scepticism is rising. Aid and solidarity are considered old-fashioned concepts.
Progress and development, it is increasingly argued, must come from cooperation
based on mutual interest and a businesslike approach.
Aid scepticism is at its highest in the USA. A conservative
majority in Congress promotes radical 'winner' recipes and aid has been slashed.
Slowly but surely, America is getting out of the development business. Lacking
domestic support, the Clinton administration seeks to 'rescue' the country's aid
programme by seeking more cooperation with other donors - particularly the KU,
whose solidarity horizons do not yet stop at its own borders. But even here,
horizons are shrinking. European aid to its immediate neighbours in the East and
the southern Mediterranean basin has risen. Happy and prosperous neighbours
suddenly seem more important than distant friends in need.
Has the end of the cold war marked the beginning of a cold world
- where international solidarity is being dismantled together with the nuclear
warheads? Or could we be experiencing the beginning of a fundamental reshaping
of international solidarity and aid between nations?
Beyond altruism - self interest
International aid has always involved a compromise within
affluent society. People and nations are not normally disposed to give something
away unless they receive something in return. Any attempt at understanding and
reshaping the future of development aid must therefore start from the premise
that those providing development aid do so as a result of a complex and evolving
compromise between altruism and self-interest.
Affluent countries are usually only interested in assisting
poorer ones when the effect is to strengthen their international leadership, and
in some way to enhance their security and material wellbeing. Looked at in this
context, we must recognise that development aid, whatever its altruistic aims,
will only exist if it also serves the legitimate, albeit more selfish agenda of
the donor. It also means that the compromise which gives aid its rationale in
affluent society changes over time: aid is regularly 'recompromised'. In secure
and prosperous times, donors are more inclined to forego self-interest and to
cooperate in the interest of less affluent countries. In times of insecurity,
the altruistic dimension is likely to diminish in importance.
In colonial times, systematic aid flows first emerged as a
result of a compromise between expansionist Northern governments and Christian
society with its own 'colonizing' clergy. Decolonisation had the effect of
increasing insecurity in most former colonial powers. In an attempt to safeguard
the capital they had 'invested' in their overseas territories, following the
latter's independence, they increasingly shaped aid with a view to 'buying'
goodwill from the new rulers. This process, which 'recompromised' aid from a
colonial into a neocolonial form, resulted in the secular, institutionalised
arrangement now known as 'bilateral aid'. In addition, during the Cold War,
Western aid was used increasingly as a device to stop the Third World joining
the Second World (the communist bloc). The result was an aid system which was
both more internationalised and more politicised.
The next stage came with the end of the Cold War. Communism had
joined colonialism and fascism in the dustbin of history. Affluent Western
society had emerged as the winner. With it came the Western vision for
stability, peace and progress: a world of sovereign nations, organised on the
basis of democratic and capitalist market principles and committed to respect
for each other's territory and for basic human rights. Today, capitalism has
become the norm in most nation states. Long-time sceptics such as India, and
even convinced opponents such as China and Vietnam, have embraced it. Democracy
has not yet achieved the same coverage, but it is sailing forward under
favourable conditions. Political pluralism is steadily being consolidated in
much of East and Central Europe, while dictatorial regimes in Africa, Asia and
Latin America are now the exception.
The effect of all of this has been a speedy erosion of the terms
of the compromise on which development aid thrived for so long. In a rapidly
globalis ing,multi-polar world, the old approaches appear increasingly
redundant. From this perspective, the current aid crisis is not surprising and
is not necesarily a bad thing. Western affluent society is essentially trying to
come to terms with the demystification of its development aid, as part of a
process of reshaping it for the future.
Three 'recompromising' strategies
As in the past, the recompromising process is influenced by both
self-interest and altruism in affluent society. Three trends can be identified..
The first, which is the most idealistic, involves restoring altruism. This
approach seeks to 'purge' aid of the perverse political and economic compromises
and contradictions caused by decades of neocolonial and Cold-War self-interest.
It has impacted on aid in several ways. First, it has given a significant boost
to humanitarian aid - the most altruistic form - at the expense of development
assistance. Second, it has led to a 'decentralisation' of aid - with more
assistance being channelled through organisations such as NGOs, that have an
'uncompromised' altruistic profile. Third, it has led to a 'deconstruction' of
development aid along idealistic-altruistic lines. 'Women in development',
'child health', 'environment'and 'poverty alleviation' are all examples of
deconstructed labels around which aid is increasingly being structured and
justified. Finally, it has prompted an 'intellectualisation' of development aid
with the particular purpose of tightening its altruistic aims. For example, the
Logical Framework Approach, the concept of 'sustainable development', the UNDP's
Human Development Index and various experiments with more 'accountable' project
management systems, have all essentially been devised as ways of encapsulating
and supporting the altruistic intentions that lie behind aid.
The second recompromising strategy, which may be summed up in
the expression be businesslike, approaches development cooperation much more
skeptically. Aid, it is argued, only makes sense if it leads to real progress
and development - and the prevailing view is that this is not happening. The
approach is fueled by the obsession of trying to measure progress with the help
of business tools such as 'output', 'impact', 'efficiency', 'rates of return'
and so on. This has led to burgeoning aid 'evaluation'. It has also probably
contributed to the discovery of aid failures which, in turn, has prompted
growing criticism of aid agencies and operators. The businesslike strategy has
gained further ground because of the failure of many countries to achieve any
real progress in recent decades. Its advocates argue that the compromises which
undermined aid's development impact in the past are inherently linked with its
altruistic nature. The conclusion is that altruistic aid will seldom or never
work. The strategy has impacted on aid in a number of ways being, for example,
the major cause of so-called 'aid fatigue'. It has also prompted a search for
ways to enhance cooperation for mutual benefit, indeed transforming the narrow,
pre Cold War trade cooperation link with developing countries into a much
broader and rapidly growing economic cooperation approach. Finally, it has
sought to enhance aid's impact on the economic conditions and growth prospects
of developing countries through more ambitious, structural-oriented forms of
Regionalism, the third major strategy, is linked to
globalisation. Rooted in human survival psychology, this approach prompts
nations in close proximity to form 'strategic' coalitions. In the post-Cold War
era, development aid is one of the instruments used by affluent regions to
strengthen their position in a 'globalising' environment. The strategy entails
promoting 'open' regionalism elsewhere in the world and capitalising on this to
create linkages and interactions which enhance their own influence or hegemony.
From the point of view of the international political economy, this makes
perfect sense. Having succeeded in making the 'world of nations' accept
capitalism and democracy, it is through the consolidation process of free market
democracy in other countries and regions that powerful affluent nations will
seek to gain maximum advantage.
Need for a vision
With this improved insight into the dynamics that have been
reshaping development aid, is it now possible to go further and develop a more
political vision of relations between affluent and less affluent nations in
Free market democracy, having endured the 'crises' of
decolonisation, fascism and communism, has succeeded in promoting stability and
peace within and between nations. Its main strength has probably been its
crucial enabling function, with an increasing number of people and nations now
in a position to 'earn' a better future. It appears that the model has the
capacity to generate fairly equitable growth and progress, which is presumably
why more and more countries are turning to it. As is so often the case, however,
the strength of the system also contains the seeds of its weakness. Conceived as
an 'enabling' mechanism, it results in the categorisation of those who fail to
'be enabled' as 'unable'. Marginalised because they cannot participate and
perform in the system, the excluded (whether individuals or states) are dubbed
They are seen as a burden and a threat by the 'winners'.
The result is disparity in society.
Experience in most affluent nations suggests that despite the
enabling environment created by free market democracy, up to a quarter of the
population finds itself unable to perform effectively, and is marginalised as a
result. Moreover, there seems to be an upward trend in the numbers affected by
unemployment, underemployment and poverty. Disparity never occurs without some
cost to society, which is a good reason why it ought to be minimised. The costs
come mainly in the form of internal transfers earned (but foregone) by the
active, 'winning' section of society. In more sociallyinspired, free market
democracies, it is accepted that marginalisation resulting from the model's
shortcomings must be minimised and/or adequately compensated for. In more
conservative free market democracies, exclusion is seen more as a weakness of
individuals than of the system. Compensatory transfers are generally kept to a
minimum to induce people to 'break out' of their situation. But while such
societies may save on 'empathetic' transfers, they will generally need to spend
much more of their wealth defending against threats posed by growing disparity,
such as crime, drug-trafficking and political extremism.
The costs of disparity are political as well as financial.
Genuine democracy is based on the participation of a representative majority of
citizens. In affluent societies, however, a growing minority no longer
participates. The real danger stems from the fact that this is highly skewed. It
is the same, growing, marginalised minority that is 'unable' to participate
which is also withdrawing from democratic involvement. The result is alienation
from the political system and an erosion of democracy to the extent that its
very survival may be threatened.
What is really at stake
Having conquered most of the world's nations, free market
capitalism is now set to conquer the world of nations, helped by technological
advances in communications, transport and computer technology. Economists have
amply shown that the interdependence resulting from free international
competition need not be detrimental. Indeed, because global capitalism ensures
that ideas, initiatives and resources can be 'put to work' anywhere in the world
- wherever they generate most profit - interdependence is usually seen as
mutually beneficial. In essence, it confirms what might be called the global
enabling effect of free-market capitalism. The basic thesis is that the adoption
by less affluent nations of free market democracy should 'enable' many more of
them to improve the lives of their people in the coming decades. The boost
engendered by this 'enabling effect' will, in turn, help to sustain progress in
the more affluent countries.
If this is the aim, then a new vision should progressively
inspire future cooperation between the affluent and less affluent countries. The
first concern should be to define 'purpose' and 'interest' much more in terms of
system and process, than of output. What really matters is the 'enabling
potential' of free market democracy in the specific context of the less affluent
countries. How something is achieved and by whom should take precedence over
what is achieved. The ultimate aim must be to ensure that free-market democracy
'takes root' in less affluent nations and is able to determine who does what and
A second major concern should be to maximise the 'enabling
potential' of free market democracy for the most vulnerable sections of
individual populations. As mentioned earlier, up to a quarter of the people in
affluent societies are excluded. In poorer countries, the figure is much higher.
If free market democracy fails to enable a significant proportion of this
marginalised group, then it will not take root. And if the poor cannot be
mobilised, the growth that does occur will be highly skewed, leading to growing
A third point is to ensure that the 'global enabling' effect of
free market capitalism does not become the exclusive preserve of deregulated
capital and the 'winners' who control it, leading to new forms of exploitation
and disparity. The concern must be to find a way of directing the combined
forces of 'capitalism without borders' and 'democracy within borders' in such a
way that it leads to a genuinely better world in which the number of 'losers' is
dropping and disparities are diminishing.
A historic perspective
It is useful at this stage to take a look at the history of
capitalism. Freemarket democracy delivered affluence to about a third of the
global population over the last century mainly because of the 'accommodation'
between labour and capital in an enabling environment created by 'Fordist'
mass-production and consumption. A similar accommodation is now needed to enable
global free market democracy to extend material wellbeing to the remaining two
thirds of the (continually growing) world population, while at the same time
sustaining it among the existing affluent third. It is no longer an
accommodation between capitalists and workers that is required, however, but one
between the affluent and the less affluent.
Fordism basically transformed the 'interdependent' stake of
capital and labour in the economic pie, into a 'joint stake' - leading to the
production of a larger pie. By analogy, what is needed today is to ensure that
affluent and less affluent societies develop a joint stake in the production of
a larger 'global pie' as a result of new technologies and more efficient,
globalised modes of production. Attracting and sustaining capitalist investment
in such modes will increasingly depend on demand and consumption structures
which guarantee that poorer societies share with affluent ones the benefits of
such global production systems. In the same way that a larger 'mess-produced
pie' was dependent on higher and more equitable mass consumption, so will a
larger 'globally-produced pie' depend increasingly on higher and more equitable
global consumption. In this context, the principal policy aim of development
cooperation should be to ensure that growth resulting from globalisationis both
enabling and disparity-reducing.
The disabling effect of 'poor' competition
Driven by the powerful motive of capital accumulation,
globalisation has the tendency to promote competition. In principle, this should
be a good thing, but left unchanneled, it can have negative effects. One might
draw an analogy between the conquering of the global market and the spread of
water during a flood. The water always takes the easiest route, entering the
most vulnerable areas first where it causes the most damage. Likewise,
globalization, fueled by 'deregulated' capital, often tends to promote
competition where it is easiest, but where it is not necessarily beneficial.
This is the case, for example, in less affluent countries, where poverty is
exploited to achieve what might be dubbed a 'poor' competitive advantage - in
the sense that it is based on disparity, but also in that, far from 'enabling',
it may actually have the opposite effect. Child labour, sex tourism,
environmentally destructive tourism, tropical forms logging, the export of
industrial pollution and misuse of intellectual property are all examples of
'disabling' competition resulting from global disparity. In a rapidly
globalising world this is ultimately damaging to all concerned, which is why
both affluent and less affluent nations have an interest in reducing the gap.
All of this points to the need for a major redefinition of
society's role in general and of aid in particular. During the colonial and Cold
War periods, development cooperation was progressively uprooted and alienated
from society. Serving an increasingly complex and non-transparent agenda, it
became more and more a 'cockpit' affair, piloted by a small specialised crew -
and it found itself flying higher and higher above society. In short, affluent
society lost touch with development cooperation and aid. Occasionally, the media
intervened to 're-establish contact' but the result was that development aid
usually only attracted mainstream public attention when things had gone terribly
Turning vision into action
If the aim is to have affluent and less affluent society working
together to ensure that the latter adopts 'free market democracy'- and can adapt
it in a way which benefits both - it is vital that the former be reconnected to
the business of development cooperation. The affluent must be challenged to help
transform their less affluent partners, in the interested and creative manner of
a minority stakeholder. They must be ready to share the wealth of knowledge and
experience generated in their own process of development. Representatives of all
walks of affluent life should therefore be provided with greater opportunity for
dialogue and cooperation with their less affluent counterparts. Increasingly
easy and cheap communications and transport should facilitate this. This new
form of stakeholdership will not happen, however, unless affluent society can be
imbued with the new vision.
Donors should actively support the process. Instead of spending
most of their time and resources determining the scope and content of
development cooperation, they should step down from their cockpit. Their new
role should be as brokers and facilitators of cooperation. An initial priority
must be to extol the vision itself. As this gathers momentum, they should then
turn to 'brokering' it in practice - acting as a catalyst between the affluent
and less affluent in order to facilitate 'enabling' cooperation between them.
The development of an effective brokerage profile and methodology will probably
entail important changes in the way that donors work. They need to move much
closer to their constituency, and to be made democratically accountable again.
As mentioned earlier, the concept of enabling cooperation
concentrates on who does what, and how. Essentially, therefore, it should be
seeking to mobilise democratic and free market forces in less affluent
societies. The advantage of working this way is that change and progress will be
determined primarily from within the society in question - with cooperation as a
source of encouragement. Such an approach also entails acceptance of the fact
that the pace of progrms must be left much more to the enabling forces of the
maturing democracies and free markets, however weak and imperfect these may
still appear. Indeed, the central purpose of cooperation should be to help these
fore" become stronger. To achieve this, cooperation will need to move away from
an emphasis on engineering outputs to one which involves 'messaging' the system
and process. And it is not just methodologies that need to be altered; there
must also be a radical change in cooperation mentality. Thus, for example,
donors should attempt to broker cooperation which is 'small but smart'.
Advancing 'best practice' might be another creative way to pursue cooperation
which is enabling. And while some output-related decision techniques can still
be used, these must be creatively reshaped to support a more 'enabling'
In conclusion, this enabling vision entails an awareness of the
imperfections of free-market democracy, combined with a conviction that it
offers enormous potential for the less affluent countries of the world.
'Recompromising' development aid for the future will mean reshaping it to
support a process of adoption and adaptation of free market democracy in less
affluent countries which is highly 'enabling'. The result should be a system of
international solidarity which is working for free-market democracy, rather than
as a substitute for it.