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NAM 16: Still Non-Aligned Together

Posted in Africa, Foreign Aid, Fragile States, Human Rights, Non-Aligned Nations with tags , , , on January 12, 2013 by michaelkeating






by Joshua Pritchard


The sixteenth meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which concluded in late August 2012 in Tehran, earned mention in the Western media for procuring RSVPs from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi. Yet the involvement of the UN and Egypt in the NAM summit is nothing new. In 2009, Ban addressed the organization’s fifteenth summit, which took place in Egypt. Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, spoke at the 2006 NAM summit in Cuba. As Sri Lankan ambassador and journalist Ernest Corea states in a report on the Tehran meeting, Ban’s attendance followed tradition, and served to reaffirm “the interlinked relationship between the UN and NAM.” The location of the August summit should not have surprised anyone, either. Tehran’s turn as host city, which rotates between NAM members, was known at the conclusion of the 2009 meeting.

Nevertheless, much about the sixteenth meeting of the NAM was different. Changes made to NAM’s standard guest list, engendered by the Arab Awakening, affected the atmosphere and purpose of the 2012 meeting. (Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi were not in attendance.) In addition, the ongoing dispute between Iran and the West over its development of nuclear technology informed the event proceedings and the media coverage surrounding it. Although it is undoubtedly a talk shop and a stage for political theater, the modern day NAM has attempted to evolve its purpose and mission. The West’s dismissal of the NAM as a Cold War relic speaks to how geopolitics continues to inform macro-level policy related to global development.

NAM: Organizational History

The first NAM meeting took place in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. Guests included Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, Indonesian President Sukarno (Kusno Sosrodihardjo), and China’s Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. As Phillip McMichael notes in Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (2011), the aim of the NAM was to serve as something of a bunker from the geopolitical rivalry between the US and Russia. In order to counter the spread of communism and expand their access to natural resources and commodities, Western leaders were enlisting countries of the Third World into the development project. Meanwhile, Russia and China were working to spread their own political ideals and influence, and foment pre-existing skepticism regarding the aims and intentions of the West. “Cold War rivalry,” writes McMichael, “governed much of the political geography of the development project. So long as the Third World was under threat from a political alternative, First World security was at stake.” According to McMichael, the NAM was established to counter “the model of development embedded in the multi-institutional world order.”
  Post-Cold War

Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose and mission of the NAM has been widely debated, both by observers and its member states. In addition, globalization in its modern form, augmented by technological advancements in communication, production, and transportation, have caused the conversation about global politics to move beyond Cold War-era constructs such as territorial sovereignty and economic nationalism.

The US and Europe leveraged the resources and human capital of developing countries in their creation of the global market system, and both readily welcome the consumer dollars of Asian countries that have successfully ascended the development ladder. Nevertheless, regional political relationships, even if formed in congruence with the development initiatives delineated by, for example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are ignored if they are not otherwise in sync with the West’s larger geopolitical agenda. As Sally Morphet writes in the journal Global Governance, “neither the Western media nor Western scholars pay much attention to the multilateral policies and practices of the states variously described as the South, the third world, or developing countries. In particular, patterns of cooperation among these states in pursuit of common interests at the UN are often ignored or dismissed as of little consequence.”

Indeed, far from being a principle of cooperation, development aid has routinely been used by the West as an implement of statecraft and a tool to achieve the best possible outcome from otherwise treacherous or complicated political conundrums. Writing about development in his native Burma in his book Where China Meets India, Thant Myint-U writes, “As part of an official sanctions regime [against the ruling junta], all development aid was denied, making any moves toward greater economic reform much more difficult.”

Prioritizing Development?

“Heads of government expressed particular concern over the economic situation in LDCs, the majority of which were still located in Africa. They noted further that economic underdevelopment, poverty, and social injustice constituted a source of frustration and a cause of new conflicts, and that stability, security, democracy and peace could not be consolidate without rectifying growing international inequalities.”

The above statement is not a description of the 2000 Millennium Summit that established the MDGs, it is an excerpt from official documents published after the NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa in September 1998.

The West is right to endorse improvements in human rights in China, and right to stand against absurd comments made by Iranian officials questioning the historical legitimacy of the Holocaust. Moreover, Western officials should be judicious in their offering of military and development assistance to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (an NAM member), which is enduring a civil conflict involving unabashedly brutal warlords.

Questions posed by the traditions and agendas of geopolitics are at play when considering the range of challenges facing global development, which include poverty, hunger, and disease. Nonetheless, the mission of UN development organizations and Western aid groups would be better served through increased cooperation with the NAM’s working groups and committees. NAM criticisms regarding the implementation of the MDGs should be considered, not least because every country in Africa (with the exception of South Sudan) is an NAM member states. Commonalities of purpose regarding human development are as good a reason as any to move beyond the dictates of an outmoded world order, and a good pretext to foster cooperation where none exists.

Joshua Pritchard is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at UMass Boston.








Land Grabbing and Development Models

Posted in Ethiopia, Foreign Aid, Foreign Direct Investment with tags , , on November 1, 2012 by michaelkeating

Marc Dubois is an international development consultant.

Since the 2007 spike in global food prices, the international media and myriad international organizations have picked up on a new phenomenon in globalization: ‘land grabs’. ‘Land grabs’ is the highly negative term given to purchases of agriculturally productive land in developing countries by, most often, foreign multinational agricultural firms. Since 2007, LDCs have rented or sold an acerage of farmland equal to 1.14 times the size of France, usually leased at between 3 and 10 dollars per hectare per year. The most common story behind the land purchases is thus: a developed country that has declining agricultural output, such as China, or population growth set to outpace domestic food production, like India, will financially support one of its agricultural firms to purchase cheap land in a developing country in order to produce foodstuffs or biofuel for export back to the home country. This phenomenon has occurred all across the globe, but most often in Africa.
There is a fierce debate in the development community over the value and the effects of this practice. In general, the investors purchase large areas of land, bringing with them the modern tools and techniques necessary for factory farming. Large-scale farming requires developed infrastructure, such as electricity, roads, and irrigation. In theory, developing countries that allow land grabs to happen will benefit from this introduction of advanced farming techniques and a productive partner in building up rural infrastructure.
However, some stakeholders in the international community, most notably civil society organizations that support peasant groups, argue that land grabs are detrimental and should be avoided for two reasons. The first is that the agricultural investors do little to develop the regions they inhabit. Indeed, there are persistent allegations that the Ethiopian government is actually breaking down rural society by forcing its rural citizens into villagization programs that free up land for investment. The second reason fundamentally challenges the basis of agricultural development: large-scale farms are less productive than small-scale farms. This debate erupted recently in a row between the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which has recently come out in favor of large scale farming, and civil society groups that favor small-scale agricultural development.
There is no hard answer as to which agricultural technique is better for fostering economic development. But it behooves the international community to identify several fundamental truths regarding the argument. The first is that it is important for the development community to disregard their inclination to interpret African governments as hapless victims of wealthy international agricultural firms. Most of the time, LDC governments have well-developed reasons for allowing foreign agricultural firms to purchase their land at rock-bottom rates. They are not strong-armed into allowing land grabs due to international economic pressures; they genuinely seek infrastructure and economic development from the foreign firms.
The second truth is that while the jury is out on whether large-scale farming is more productive, it is almost certainly more ecologically damaging. Fertilizers, mass deforestation, and monocropping are all associated with large-scale farming, and all are environmentally harmful. With LDCs among some of the highest countries at risk for environmental catastrophes, environmental practices cannot be neglected. In evaluating development plans, it is important to remember that economic growth is not a goal in and of itself, and must be accompanied by environmentally sustainable economic activity. Small-scale farming is more adaptive to climate change, and generally requires fewer environmentally damaging inputs.
A third and final truth is that development programs regarding agriculture require input from the communities they impact. For example, in order to determine whether large-scale farming will work, the community near the prescribed site of the farm should be consulted on a variety of issues. If, for example, they cannot expect employment at the large farm, is there a city near by with the capacity to absorb those who choose to leave? If the city is at social and economic capacity, it might be best to work on developing small-scale agricultural productivity through land ownership grants and technology transfers, that way more food is produced for the nearby city and the rural population remains employed.
Whether land grabs are useful or harmful will ultimately be decided by how and where they are applied. The development community must respond to this reality and adapt development projects to account for rising international land sales.

A New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States

Posted in Education, Foreign Aid, Fragile States, OECD on April 26, 2012 by michaelkeating


It’s rare that a major international organization will admit to the general failure of  foreign aid activities in fragile states but that’s exactly what the OECD  (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) ‘almost’ did when it reflected that:

The current ways of working in fragile states need serious improvement. Despite the significant investment and the commitments of the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness (2005) and the Accra Agenda for Action (2008), results and value for money have been modest. Transitioning out of fragility is long, political work that requires country leadership and ownership. Processes of political dialogue have often failed due to lack of trust, inclusiveness, and leadership. International partners can often bypass national interests and actors, providing aid in overly technocratic ways that underestimate the importance of harmonising with the national and local context, and support short-term results at the expense of medium- to long-term sustainable results brought about by building capacity and systems. A New Deal for engagement in fragile states is necessary.

At the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan South Korea last November over 35 countries endorsed the New Deal proposal. This is what they agreed to:

- In 2012 the group will develop a set of Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals which will be used to track progress towards achievement of the Millenium Development Goals and other objectives.

- The group will focus on developing country-led initiatives to find the ways out of fragility.

- The donor countries will work in a more coordinated fashion and try to bring more accountability into the overall process.

All in all these are laudable goals. It remains to be seen whether they can be brought off the drawing board.


Michael Keating

Twitter: @mihailovitch