A killing embrace of diversity?

Development Policy06 Dec 2011Reinier van Hoffen

The ‘development world’, which may be referred to as a world in it’s own right, has witnessed yet another high level gathering at a ‘critical juncture’ in global development. 

The ‘development world’, which may be referred to as a world in its own right, has witnessed yet another high level gathering at a ‘critical juncture’ in global development. As this term appears in almost any outcome document of any conference you keep wondering whether there is any road in between the junctures. There are always running-ups. And despite Paris firing a gunshot for a start of a race, the Accra Agenda for Action exposed that the development pack was difficult to mobilize.

Attending a presentation of the Human Development Report last Friday at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs there was hardly any mention of Busan. All that counted was Rio+ (coming up in 7 months). So then, what do all these ‘junctures’ offer in terms of alternative pathways? Or are they only meant to ‘be consistent with’ as a famous phrase that appears several times in the document, presumably indicating that no new narrative has been formulated. More importantly: What do the outcomes offer to people in need?

Donor language

In the draft outcome document you will come across a nice list of terms that the majority of domestic voters will wonder how they connect to the day-to-day challenges they are facing:

complex architecture, triangular cooperation, vehicles for development, Monterrey, financing for development, our dialogue, uneven progress, implementation in full, commit to modernize, embrace diversity, recognizing distinct roles, common set of principles, lessons to be shared, diverse approaches to development, south-south, north-south, achievements and innovations, unique characteristics and respective merits, playing a catalytic and indispensable role, reaffirming commitments to scale up, examining interdependence and coherence, expanding domestic capital markets, inclusive development, taxation, domestic resource mobilization, aid for trade, non-concessional public funding and climate change finance, new financial instruments, investment options, technology and knowledge sharing and public-private partnerships.

The above sums up half of the second page of the outcome statement. Just a sample of the 36 articles produced of which 35 already existed on the 28th of November. It is worth reading the draft outcome statement of the ‘Sherpas’ (interesting Tibetan term for loyal hard-working community members, which in this case are the top-negotiators drafting documents for meetings like this) along with final outcome document. Article 2 being the only addition to the final outcome document. Hence, this article requires close scrutiny. What do we read?

Article 2 of the outcome document reads: “The nature, modalities and responsibilities that apply to South-­South cooperation differ from those that apply to North-­South cooperation. At the same time, we recognise that we are all part of a development agenda in which we participate on the basis of common goals and shared principles. In this context, we encourage increased efforts to support effective cooperation based on our specific country situations. The principles, commitments and actions agreed in the outcome document in Busan shall be the reference for South-­South partners on a voluntary basis.”

What does this mean?

Interestingly, the plea I made in my contribution to The Broker’s debate on the role and shape of knowledge in Dutch global relations management is confirmed by the appearance of this very article in the outcome statement. I suggested to do away with donor forged ‘south-south’ terminology as well as other masking grouping like DAC and BRICS. Here is the reason why: The Busan outcome document became obsolete as a result of inclusion of article 2 using the same masking language. This article allows any government to voluntary accept or reject the outcome statement as a point of reference for domestic and international decision-making. It just depends where you locate yourself. In ‘the North’ or ‘the South’?

Differential commitments

So, where’s China? In the ‘North’ or the ‘South’? And what about Russia, Brazil, India, Middle East, etc.? The DAC were happy to include the BRICS. However article 2 provides the escape goat for any unwilling government (with the exception of those that have considered themselves for years to be part of ‘the North’ – including Australia, but also Italy that is rapidly confirming its southern connotation). This continued differentiation into North and South in Article 2 is could appear to be the Achilles heal for the nicely eluded ‘new partnership that is broader and more inclusive then ever before’. (Article 1). It is all about ‘differential commitments for effective international development’ as the same article concludes. So commitments may be different from country to country.

Civil society in a deadly embrace

And what about Civil Society? They have effectively sidelined themselves by the addition of one phrase in article 22a that I presume has been added as a result of advocacy efforts of Civil Society Organizations. In any other case, CSOs have not prevented it from appearing. They have been assigned a role as “independent development actors” as the article reads in its final version. This phrase was missing in the draft document. What does independent mean in this case? I always believed Civil Society Organizations saw themselves as negotiators, each representing a certain interest group, the very reason why in my view CSO representation is fictitious, except for advocacy for civil society space itself. Apparently the participating CSOs have been dissolved instead into an amalgam of inclusiveness and embracement of diversity, dismantling civil society in the process.

What is painfully missing in the outcome document is the much-needed appreciation of civil society space equally contributing to good governance & deepening democracy. Also the recognition of civil society space for safeguarding level playing fields for entrepreneurs could have been mentioned. That would have harvested the much referred to recommendation of the Dutch government advisory council (WRR) to better utilize the Dutch civil society experience facilitating the development of endogenous social dialogues on conditions for employment, equal business opportunity and the like.

Currently those presumably representing civil society, occupy space at a table of donors, ensuring the voices of those having a voice at the table are being heard. Instead they could have challenged their state representatives to excel in taking global responsibility. I hope economic diplomacy (by their presence) would then contribute to safeguarding global public goods for future generations and the development of a global private sector would contribute to wealth redistribution rather than opportunistically take advantage of global inequalities. The latter was also painfully missing in the much-praised consideration of inequality in the Human Development Index presented in the Human Development Report (bringing the Netherlands from a seventh to a third position). The inequality index only applied to inequality within countries, missing out on the global inequality dimension. Some countries appearing at the top have disproportionately benefited thereof.