Whatever happened to interdependence?

With the Conservatives back in charge of foreign policy, there is as you might expect a lot of talk about ‘The National Interest’ resuming its proper place at the heart of foreign policy. As this trend has gathered pace, so people with a more, shall we say, cosmopolitan worldview have started countering that foreign policy should be about something bigger than that.  

But what, exactly?

In a post responding to David and my Chatham House report on UK foreign policy, Oxfam’s Duncan Green expressed a worry that our argument appealed too much to the new mood of the national interest. What we’d missed, he argued, was the sense of moral purpose that can energise support for development.

We should appeal to hearts as well as heads. Otherwise we risk giving up one of our strongest cards – moral suasion. The reason why the new government has gone out on a limb in pledging to increase aid despite the fiscal meltdown is surely not just about crude self-interest, but at least partly springs from a desire to do the right thing. To, dare I say it, change the world.

ODI’s Simon Maxwell made a similar point in an email to me, arguing that

Your ‘case for foreign policy’ is at first sight defensive and UK-centric i.e. only about defending UK interests. Where is your moral commitment to the MDGs or global stewardship of the world’s people and resources?

Fair questions – not least since much of my own take on development and foreign policy is based on what I consider moral. When people ask me ‘why we’re funding hospitals in Malawi when we’re closing them down at home’, part of me is stunned that the question should even need to be asked – given that in Malawi 5.5% of mothers die in childbirth, as compared to 0.01% here. 

But at the same time, the lobbyist in me is hesitant about using morally based arguments. I always have the hunch that anyone who finds them persuasive is already, well, persuaded – and hence that they’re of limited use in enlarging the progressive foreign policy tent. Politically, the idea of an ‘ethical foreign policy’ is still seen as having been an albatross around Robin Cook’s neck at the Foreign Office. And above all, I worry that proponents of the national interest find it easy to paint moral advocates as starry-eyed, particularly given the wider backlash against aid.

But what intrigued me about Duncan and Simon’s responses is that neither of them mentioned an idea that we used to hear a lot about in discussions like these – interdependence.

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Nigeria: do donors know what they’re spending? (update x2)

You see plenty of reports from development agencies castigating development countries for one reason or another, but the boot is much less often on the other foot.

Interesting then to see this 2008 review (huge pdf download) from Nigeria’s National Planning Commission, which sets out to analyse ‘the volume and quality of Official Development Assistance to Nigeria between 1999 and 2007.’

During this time, $6bn of aid has been spent in Nigeria, almost all of it spent by donors themselves, rather than being rooted through the government’s budget. The Planning Commission’s first job, therefore, was to try and work out who had spent what.

So it sent a template to donors asking for information on what they’d spent and where:

Of all the agencies, USAID was the only agency able to provide almost all the requested information with a little delay. EU was also able to meet most of our requirement, only after about three months delay…

CIDA’s [Canada] claimed disbursement did not tally with what they had actually spent…[It] refused to supply more information when asked [to]…

DFID is another donor that could not account for all its activities. When asked to provide information on the sectors and states DFID is operating in, it simply wrote saying ‘we do not require our programme managers to collect expenditure on a state-by-state basis.’…

JICA [Japan]…did not cooperate at all despite our many efforts to get JICA to collaborate with us.

The UN system was also only ‘partially cooperative’. UNICEF did not provide a breakdown of its health spending, for example (nor did DFID or CIDA). “We do not know exactly what [this] money was spent on,” the report notes. The Chinese government was also asked for data – but the review does not tell us what its response was (read into that what you will).

Donors should be much more transparent accountable for their activities, the Planning Commission concludes, while the Nigerian government “needs to offer clearer and more effective leadership to her development partners both in terms of how and where to operate.”

It lauds the example of Kano and Ondo states. They are robust in their response to ‘intruder donors’ who operate outside a framework established by the state government. That allows leaders to set, and be accountable for, their own development priorities.

Update: Of course, Nigeria’s own statistics are often woefully inadequate, whether at national or at state level. Recently, for example, Kano state has just been counting its schools:

An additional 88 senior secondary schools and 174 private  schools had been ‘discovered’, while in some areas schools had disappeared: the Kano municipality had 10 less junior secondary schools than first thought.

Update II: Worth pointing out, too, that the World Bank, DFID, USAID and African Development Bank recently agreed a joint strategy for Nigeria – bringing 80% of Nigeria’s development assistance under a single strategic umbrella. Somewhat oddly though, it cannot easily be found on any of the donors’ websites. There’s a copy here though.

I wonder if the donors will now move towards a single online platform to show what they’re spending, where, and what results it’s achieving… and, also, how effectively their joint approach is proving (the Bank and DFID have had a joint strategy for some years now) at reducing overhead for Nigerian government and non-government partners.

The face of aid

“The nature of the ties linking the African with the European has not really changed since the first Portuguese ships went sailing down the west coast of the continent: the sophisticated magic of the white man remains irresistibly alluring to the black.” (Shiva Naipaul)

In all the debates about aid, its visual impact is rarely remarked upon. In rural areas, aid probably looks like a good thing. When you see that a donor has dug a well for your village, you may feel grateful to and enthusiastic about the donor (that is, if you don’t feel embarrassed that your community has failed to dig its own well – a fact rammed home in nearly every village in Guinea-Bissau by a billboard placed next to each well proclaiming that it was a gift of the Kuwaiti, Spanish, Portuguese or American people).

But in cities, to which young Africans are migrating in droves, the visual effect is more ambiguous. When the urban African looks at aid, he sees aid workers and missionaries driving around in brand new Toyota Land Cruisers or Hiluxes. He sees them staring at laptops or chatting on snazzy mobile phones. He sees them dining in expensive restaurants or drinking in smart cafes. And he sees their glittering air-conditioned offices and villas, with iron gates and security guards.

In countries like Senegal, where there are tourists and Western businessmen, aid workers do not stand out. But in poor, remote, unvisited Guinea-Bissau they play an important part in shaping perceptions of the developed world (Guinea-Bissau has no cinemas, precious few internet cafes or televisions, and no press to speak of). And, as they have done for centuries, Africans see all this opulence and want a part of it. Guinean politicians, grown rich on drug money, purchase Land Cruisers and build gated villas. Ordinary citizens spend more than they can afford on mobile phones. And young Guineans, who until recently have not joined the West African exodus to Europe, have begun to talk about taking the boat to Spain – a journey which at least one in six of the many Senegalese who attempt it does not survive.

Of course, foreign aid workers are not the only cause of this new yearning, but it is likely they play some role. Many young Guineans I spoke to, who do not want to risk the trip to Spain, are desperate instead to work for foreign NGOs or the UN. It could be argued that giving young Africans something to aspire to will hasten progress and encourage hard work. Maybe so, but is owning a mobile really progress when you can’t afford your daughter’s $10-a-month school fees (as one mobile-owning mother in Bissau complained to me recently)? And in a country like Guinea-Bissau where aspiration is outpacing people’s capabilities and even well-intentioned governments are struggling to manage expectations, are ostentatious displays of affluence the best way of promoting peaceful development rather than the violent upheavals Nigeria, Guinea-Conakry and others are beginning to experience?

The Dead Aid debate so far

Dambisa Moyo is rapidly becoming the bête noire of orthodox development circles. Her recent book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way for Africa has stirred up a good deal of controversy, arguing that that ‘overreliance on aid has trapped developing nations in a vicious circle of aid dependency, corruption, market distortion, and further poverty, leaving them with nothing but the “need” for more aid.’ (Incidentally, you would not believe how long it look me to realise that ‘Dead Aid’ is a play on Live Aid.)

In typically sceptical fashion, Emmanuel Yujuico at IPE Zone points out that ‘you also have to consider that several books have followed the same formula of catchy title plus scepticism about aid. Others have said it earlier–and better.’ He’s right, and people like James Ferguson have been writing on this for a number of years, but it’s worth noting that none of those authors (to my knowledge, at least) were black. As has been noted by Niall Ferguson, who wrote the foreword to Dead Aid, it is pleasing to see a ‘popular’ book on development that has been written by an African woman, rather than an American male. That said, as Global Dashboard’s own Jules Evans points out, Moyo hasn’t lived in Africa for years. Moreover, her career has followed the path of the archetypal high-flying western development worker – Oxford, Harvard, Goldman Sachs and the World Bank.

Back in February, Global Dashboard asked where the Dead Aid argument leaves traditional developmentists: ‘will they all dig in for a defensive game, or is a serious process of strategic renewal finally in prospect?’ Since then, promotional opinion pieces and interviews for Moyo’s book have led to a spate of debates (surely that is the correct collective noun?) within the development blogosphere and wider media that may be able to shed some light on this question. Continue reading

Unexploded bombs, and other G20 excitment

So here I am in the cavernous media centre at the London Summit.  Some of the main excitement of the day so far: (a) the police found an unexploded World War Two bomb sunk in the dock next to the Excel centre, and will be detonating it shortly; and (b) there are free bacon sandwiches.

Plus, it turns out that one of the other G20 voice bloggers is Daniel Kaufmann – now at the Brookings Institution, before that at the World Bank.  He’s one of the top governance experts in the world (the FT’s words), and was one of the World Bank staffers who really put pressure on Paul Wolfowitz during the 2007 graft kerfuffle – if you recall the letter that he and other Bank staff sent to Wolfowitz, it read

The credibility of our front-line staff is eroding in the face of legitimate questions from our clients about the Bank’s ability to practise what it preaches on governance.  In these circumstances, we cannot credibly implement the governance and anti-corruption strategy.”

Hats off for that.  Next up: bloggers’ press conference wit Douglas Alexander coming up shortly.

Time to dump 0.7

The Economist has a piece on its website today bemoaning the effect of the credit crunch on aid flows:

It is unclear how aid flows are responding to the slowdown but the most recent data (which predate the crisis) hardly encourages hopes of a substantial expansion. Aid from OECD countries fell between 2006 and 2007, partly because of an exceptionally high level of debt relief in 2006. Disregarding this one-off effect, aid only crept up by 2% in 2007. And as a new report from the OECD points out, a 1970 United Nations target for aid of 0.7% of rich-country GDP remains a distant dream. Only Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg and the Netherlands have reached this target. The average contribution is 0.45% of GDP.

And this sum was calculated before donor countries were hit by an economic crisis that has shifted priorities dramatically. Moreover, the size of the overall pot in rich countries will shrink as economies contract. Maintaining current levels of aid implies the unlikely earmarking of an even greater share of GDP.

Ah, the target of giving 0.7% of GNI to development assistance: bow your heads in reverence.  But hang on a minute.  Why are we all paying so much attention to a target that’s (a) not based on any assessment of how much money is needed to achieve any defined set of objectives, and (b) nearly forty years old?

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