Global Governance and the Politics of Aid: Behemoth and the Business

[UK MoD- DfID worker checking supplies on a RAF C17 bound for the Philippines (2013)]

The following is a short review of the University of Bradford’s recent symposium Global Governance and the Politics of Aid, held on April 30th to May 1st.

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David Hulme, as the keynote speaker, set the tone for what is clearly the current trend in global governance, development and aid, quoting Lawrence Finkelstein,

Does it really clarify matters, however, or facilitate the research enterprise, to toss them in a hopper along with states, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and Moody’s Investor’s Service? “Global governance” appears to be virtually anything…we say “governance” because we don’t really know what is going on.’  

Hulme also identified tensions between UK DfID-style “results based management”, gettinWEF Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair, Bono, Olusegun Obasanjo - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2005g UK taxpayer “value for money”, and, more globally, increased scope of private investment and, of course, the Chinese. Aid, confusingly is now operating in a “post-aid” world, but perhaps still subject to likes the usual suspects at a “global governance” level (see image). With Bill Gates being campaigned to take on the battle for climate change it seems that if global governance is anything, it is high-level players operating outside the traditional realm of international politics.

This behemoth comes complete with own set of generalized metrics with which most are familiar: Millennium Develop Goals (and whatever “child” this framework will spawn for the future), and the so-called lightening rod rhetoric of a “dollar a day”. The latter is critiqued by many, and notably by Thomas Pogge arguing for the insufficiency of this tool, due to the difficulty of measuring poverty itself. Pogge implicates the World Bank in offering a skewed picture of decreasing poverty,

The World Bank’s own data show that, if they had chosen a more adequate poverty line, perhaps one twice as high at $2.50 per person per day, US dollars of the year 2005 converted at purchasing power parities, then they would have found a slight increase in the number of poor people between 1990 and 2005, the last year for which full data are now available. So it is essential to the World Bank’s upbeat picture that it chooses an extremely low poverty line. As every resident of the US can confirm, you could not have met your basic needs here in 2010 on $1.40 per day or $510 per year.

It seems that in some respects the institutions of the behemoth produce and consume their own “truth” in a high-level, closed-loop space. A space where, as Hulme points out, Bono’s special red card can sooth the souls of western capitalists, so-called “conscience consumers”, buying and spending their way to the delivery the poor and hungry.

According to another symposium participant and presenter, Emma Mawdsley, the business man now reigns supreme in the barracks of DfID, where the simplistic conflation of development and growth means the politics, power, and purse are being increasingly handed over to hedge funds, private public partnerships, and technocrats measuring the poverty of a single life through evidence-based metrics. Yet, Mawdsley holds out some glimmer of hope in face of the inevitability of the business takeover of DfID, with the promise of an injection of new approaches and ideas on the ground. Nonetheless, warnings abound for DfID to mutate into a “export credit agency”, when is ignores emphasis on labour rights of those exposed to this new delivery of aid.

South-South cooperation and the likes of institutions such as BRICS also came under scrutiny. Whilst it is true that China offers its aid, development, and emerging economic power without the pesky strings of human rights guarantees, it is perhaps not a free-wheeling as some would believe. According to participant, and Bradford professor Prathivadi Anand China gives out more than it receives from OECD countries, and deploys various financial-development instruments (lines of credit, infrastructure investment, loans, grants). From 2000-2011, it gave $104 billion in Africa, with Nigeria and Ghana as top recipients, and dominating the sectors of transport, energy and “unspecified” aid. Despite all the fuss made about Chinese neocolonial interests in Africa’s natural resources, it in fact gives more to South America than it does on the rising continent.

chinese-investment-africa

A slice of consensus from the symposium, stemming from Hulme’s critique of NGOs, was that if the above directions of aid and development are in fact true, then it is up to NGOs to engage on a grassroots level politically to fight for rights of aid recipients. This might be the only hope for more participatory methods of development where recipients are treated as constituents in a political climate capable of facilitating of accountability, peace and justice. Some African states themselves are also coming into their own with what the Dean of Bradford’s Faculty of Social Sciences Donna Lee termed “African agency” by utilizing James Scott’s “weapons of weak”. Doing discursive battle with Western donors, African states, she believes are engaging donors with a mimetic challenge, holding up the mirror of norms and preconditions of delivery. If the encroachment of special or corporate interests and the rights of the recipient, it looks like the challenge lies at the feet of those still struggling to feed, clothe, and survive in pressuring governments and NGOs to practice good governance, transparency and grassroots representation.

***Watch this space for audio/visual of David Hulme’s lecture***

References and Further Reading:

Lawrence Finkelstein, ‘What is Global Governance,’ Global Governance 1 (1995).

Nicola Banks, David Hulme, Michael Edwards, ‘NGOs, States, and Donors revisited: Still Too Close for Comfort?’ World Development 66 (2015).

Duncan Green, ‘Book Review of ‘Advocacy in Conflict’ – a big attack on politics and impact of global campaigns,’ From Poverty to Power (2015).

China’s Global Reach graphic

[WEF Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, Thabo Mbeki, Tony Blair, Bono, Olusegun Obasanjo - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos (2005)]
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