Category: Analysis

This is a critical book ( in Dutch) by Francine Mestrum on development and development assistance with new proposals for global solidarity. It is meant for young people who want to ‘help’ without knowing how to do it. It goes back to the origins of ‘development’ and ‘development cooperation’, it wonders whether development is possible and desirable. It looks at the criticisms on ‘aid’ and sees that, to-day,  it mainly comes from neoliberals who only trust markets. It shows the widening gap between rich and poor countries, the net transfers from South to North due to the debt burden, capital flight and transfer pricing mechanisms of multinationals. It finally proposes a new structural solidarity, based on sovereignty, human rights, post-capitalism, global taxes and a global redistribution of incomes.





Chapter 1 : What Is development?

The meaning of ‘development’ is constantly changing. For Marx it was mainly the development of the potential of peoples and countries. Afterwards, it became ‘civilisation’ and before the second world war it was social development. In the 60s, after the independence of African countries, it was first of all economic development. The 70s were the ‘decade of social development’, though the crisis did not allow for any implementation. The debt crisis of the 80s resulted in ‘structural adjustment programmes’ and in 1990 in ‘poverty reduction’, forgetting all economic and social development planning. The only ambition of the millennium development goals is to halve extreme poverty by 2015. And they will not be met… Next comes, on the one hand, reflections on ‘happiness’, as if poor and happy people did not need help, and, on the other hand, the militarization of cooperation with ‘fragile’ countries …

Chapter 2: Is development possible?

The newly independent countries of Africa knew perfectly well what they wanted in the 60s. Most of them had plans for an African type of ‘socialism’. Looking at the first UN documents of the 60s and 70s on economic development, one has to wonder whether that development was possible within the existing economic and political system? The ‘dependencia’ theories of Latin America had shown that ‘underdevelopment’ was the consequence of so-called ‘development’ efforts, attempts to integrate poor countries in the capitalist globalisation process. Later, academics as Paul Bairoch and Ha-Joon Chang explained how different the circumstances were for poor and rich countries and how the Washington Consensus imposed rules that the rich countries themselves had never respected. It means that to make development possible, poor countries need an autonomous policy space.

Chapter 3: Is development desirable?

But is development desirable ? Now that we are faced with climate change, the green ideas criticizing ‘modernity’ are gaining momentum. According to ‘post-development’ thinkers, development only leads to productivism, consumerism, useless growth and environmental destruction. Together with some indigenous peoples, they are now promoting a ‘buen vivir’ – the good life – which is certainly better than the development policies that western countries have been imposing. However, there is no reason to throw away the child with the bathwater. Many modern values – like emancipation – do not have to be condemned. There is no determinism in ‘modernity’. Men share a common potential to be other than they are. People should have the right to develop their own version of ‘modernity’.

Chapter 4: And development aid?

What about development cooperation? What did it achieve? Did it ‘help’ or not? Development cooperation has been criticized since its inception, though in recent times criticism is mainly coming from neoliberal market fundamentalists. However, if their solutions have to be rejected, their arguments have to be taken seriously. Aid is donor-driven, very fragmented and it makes poor countries and people dependent on rich countries and people. At the same time, aid is being privatized, with the emergence of small private initiatives and of charitable foundations which mainly work in the health sector. There are no serious arguments to totally reject ‘aid’, though we will have to reflect on reforming the sector in order to be more efficient and to create less dependence.  To-day, aid erodes the sovereignty of poor countries.

 Chapter 5: A new focus on ‘security’

 Development is not possible if there is no peace and no security. This is certainly true, though peace and security are not possible without development. The current arms race in third world countries is far from reassuring. The international community introduced a concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ and academics like Paul Collier suggest we may militarily intervene in poor countries. However, this is not linked to the security of poor people and poor countries, but to our security. More and more, poverty and a lack of ‘good governance’ are interpreted as signs of ‘fragility’ that may need our intervention. In this way, there is a serious risk of militarization of North-South relationships.

Chapter 6: ‘Reverse’ Development

Development cooperation is a myth if we compare its modest amounts of money to the huge transfers from South to North as a consequence of the debt burden, capital flight and transfer pricing mechanisms, the cost of so-called ‘free trade’, etc. It is clear that Africa has become a creditor of rich countries. All the same, the third world is being re-colonialized.

Chapter 7: Steps towards a new solidarity

Economic and social development are necessary if poor countries want to give a future to their peoples. However, this will not be possible if these countries have no policy space, if their sovereignty is not strengthened.  As asked by the UN and UNCTAD, poor countries should have a possibility to work on their own national development strategies, since no universal theory can tell them what to do. Based on these strategies, the international community can help them to implement their strategies with funding from a global financial transaction tax. This is only one possibility out of many that should introduce a structural solidarity and a global redistribution of incomes. Social movements in the North have an important role to play in this process.