Development Aid: Challenge for Real World Justice

Het debat over het nieuwe ontwikkelingsbeleid is vooral binnen Nederlandse kringen gevoerd. Cyprianus Jehan Paju Dale, afkomstig uit Indonesië en in december afgestudeerd aan het Institute for Social Studies in Den Haag, geeft vandaag een perspectief uit het Zuiden. Zijn belangrijkste zorg: waar blijft de mensenrechten- en global justice dimensie in dit beleid? ‘Development cooperation is a call of our humanity to build a better world for every human being.’

Door: Cyprianus Jehan Paju Dale

The WRR Report on Development Aid (Less Pretention, More Ambition, 2010) and the subsequent new government’s policy framework on development cooperation have triggered a broad public debate in the Netherlands. Following the debate as a social justice advocate from the so-called Global South studying development in a Dutch university, I saw on the stage not only the conflicting concepts and views, but also how development, and particularly development cooperation or development aid, is indeed an arena of power and politics.

This article does not advocate for more or less development aid. Rather, I will raise some critical points of reflection on an ethical basis of development cooperation, the issue of power and politics in development, and the urgency of the notion of justice in the development policies.

Pretention and ambition

First and foremost, the honesty and modesty of the debate needs to be appreciated. The conspicuous title of the WRR report—Less Pretention, More Ambition— effectively represents this modesty. It is recognized, either implicitly or explicitly, that development aid has been based on pretention and ambition.

The examination of these ‘pretentions and ambitions’ can potentially guide us in understanding the power and politics in development aid. The report has provided self-criticism on the many pretentions in the last six decades of development aid. It uncovers not only the ineffectiveness of Dutch development aid and the failures in improving the extreme situation such as in Africa, but also its basic assumptions that development aid can play significant role in improving conditions in developing countries (WRR:259). It also criticises the Western pretention that Western development is a road to be followed by developing countries. Rather, it recognizes the negative impacts of the imposition of a Western model of development in Africa and Latin America, and acknowledges how some Asian countries have managed to take their own path without following Western economic orthodoxy.

In terms of ambition, there is a new claim to go beyond ‘classical aid’ in the form of 0,7% of GDP for development cooperation and the ‘limited’ target of MDG’s of halving world poverty by 2015. The new ambitions entail not only coherent policies, but also achievement of the ‘global public goods’, by addressing broader issues such as trade, migration, climate, knowledge, security, et cetera (WRR: 270).

With this understanding of ‘less pretention and more ambition’ in mind, two important reflections need to be elaborated in the development aid discourse: first, what pretentions still exist in the Dutch development policies (since ‘less pretentions’ implies the persistence of pretention, although in lesser level); and second, to what extent are the donor’s ambitions aligned with the real conditions and priorities of those supposed to be helped.

Cause for alarm

Both the WRR report at an academic level, and the new government policy at a political level, put the focus on economic growth and stimulating the private sector. There is a substantial shift from ‘aid’ to ‘investment’ in development cooperation. Aid, such as in financing Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s), is seen as a project without long term effects, while investment is seen as contributing to long term structural improvement that make the developing countries more self-reliant in the long run.

What is the rationale behind this shifting? The WRR report outlines at least three main objectives of development aid. First, poverty alleviation and the improvement of living conditions; second, structural improvements in developing countries through sustainable economic activities; third, contributing to global public goods, in which ‘our self interests’ should be secured: a self-interest ‘of national objectives for climate, food, energy and safety cannot be achieved without active contributions by other countries and should be coordinated at a supranational level’ (WRR:262). It is obvious that apart from humanistic and altruistic motives (helping the world poor), there is also a business drive (economic activities) and self-interest in development aid.

To give a practical example, this combination of altruistic, business oriented, and self-interest motives provides possible answers for the puzzle that, in order to help the poor peasant communities who are suffering from a food crisis in East Nusa Tenggara Province in Indonesia, the funds from development aid is directed to Jatropha Curcas Bio-fuel Project. Instead of supporting the farmers to grow corn as local staple food, the donors and investors invest their money in setting up Jatropha plantations on the farmers land. The Dutch government is indirectly involved in this project, at least in knowledge assistance through Jatropha Research and Knowledge Network (JARAK) in The International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) – Leiden and Amsterdam, supported by The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The logic underlying this type of development is that through investment in agricultural projects, there will be dynamic economic activities enhancing growth, in which the poor people will also get benefit both by selling their labour and by effect of the growth.

Whether this kind of projects evidently helps the people to get out poverty and overcome the food crisis is a matter of examination on a case by case basis. However, there is no doubt that profit-oriented economy and self-interest drives for bio-fuel at global level plays a substantial role in this case.

So, the shift from social-oriented policies to economic growth and structural improvements in the current development policies is not without its problems. The WRR argues that ‘without growth there is nothing to distribute in developing countries’ (WRR: 263). Yet, the causalities of growth and justice are questionable. The report also advocates for more support to the ‘middle class’ and entrepreneurs. What is hidden in this line of thinking is the notion that profit surplus and accumulation in the middle class, in a massive unjust social structure, is sometimes the shares of the poor. The surplus might return in the long run to the market through consumptions and investment of the middle class. However, the sufferings of the poor need immediate direct solutions, prevention of hazards, and transformation towards real social justice.

Here we encounter a significant cause for alarm: there is humanistic altruism as well as a profit-dimension and self-interest in development aid. Serious scrutiny needs to be applied to investigate the complications created by the combination of such contrasting drives in development cooperation.

Any notion for Global Justice?

The above causes for alarm lead us to the more fundamental concern on the global justice and human rights dimension of the current Dutch development policy trend. While the Dutch development policy seems to shift its attention from social and humanitarian problems to a more macro-economic and growth oriented focus, it — at least in the proposal of WRR report — tends to pay more resources on promoting a type of development that ‘entails paying more attention to the management of cross-border interdependencies and realizing global development opportunities’ by addressing broader issues such as  ‘trade, migration, financial stability, climate, food, fiscal policy, energy, knowledge, and safety’(WRR: 270). It will be followed by new forms of investments in the form of funding and regulations and in new forms of cooperation, consultation and global governance. What are the ultimate aims of all these changes? The WRR report indeed mentions ‘international public goods’. However, whether the best interest of the world poor, the losers of globalization and the most-vulnerable groups are incorporated in these ‘international public goods’ remains without guarantee. So far, human rights and social justice do not get any significant attention in the current policy trends.

From the social justice point of view, there are at least three relevant issues in development policies.  Firstly, to what extent are the best interests of the worlds poorest adequately and properly addressed in development policy? Apart from some partial successes, there is no foundation for being self-satisfied when it comes to achieving the achievement of MDG’s. One fourth of the world’s population, meaning no less than 6.8 billion people, has to live on less than 1.25 dollars a day and half on less than 2.5 dollars a day. Every day, billions of people die because of real poverty. What is the message of the new shift in Dutch development policy for the lives of those people?

Secondly, there is an urgent need to prevent hazards suffered by the vulnerable groups caused by development and investment. As in the case of indigenous people and the rural farmers, for example, development often does not only fail to improve living conditions, but contrarily creates problems in the forms of loss of livelihood opportunity, unjust prices, dependency on external inputs and technologies, and neglection of social and cultural rights. In the name of growth and macro-economics, those problems often rendered as a cost to be paid to achieve best interests of the power-holders. Whether the Dutch development policy prevents or rather causes hazards should be scrutinized thoroughly in the coming years.

Finally, since development cooperation takes place at a global or international arena, global justice is the prominent issue to be tackled. Development cooperation to enhance social justice has its roots in humanity. Moreover, it is also human rights obligations as universally declared in the Declaration on the Right to Development. In the coming years we will see whether Dutch new policies in trade, migration, financial stability, climate, food, fiscal policy, energy, knowledge and safety, enhance real global justice, or serve more for self-interest.

Role of civil society

Critics of the Dutch development policy have raised the concern that the bureaucrats and politicians tend to close their eyes to human suffering and suppress the human spirit of solidarity. There is also a tendency for self-oriented policies at the cost of justice and solidarity.

From this viewpoint, one of the fundamental role of western civil society groups, including faith based and humanistic NGOs, is to bring back the human dimension of development cooperation, and remind their government that beyond pretention and ambition, either more or less, development cooperation is a call of our humanity to build a better world for every human being. Extreme poverty, development hazards, and global injustice have caused extreme suffering and violations of many of human rights, culminated in the right to live. This requires comprehensive actions. Not only through immediate aid, but also actions to prevent hazards, including the ones caused by economic development and globalization, and provision of real global social justice in all range of issues such as trade, migration, financial stability, climate, food, fiscal policy, energy, knowledge, and security.

Cyprianus Jehan Paju Dale

Independent Researcher, Graduated from Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, The Hague and Driyarkara School of Philosophy, Jakarta