Development ethics

Development Policy22 Jun 2010Laurent Umans

Laurent Umans responds to the background article “Getting the basics right” in the context of the online debate about Dutch development cooperation triggered by the report Less Pretension, More Ambition by the Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy (WRR).

Laurent Umans works at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, The Hague and presents his personal views.

The basics of contemporary development cooperation relate to the relationship between the donor and the recipient. To get to the basics one needs to deconstruct this relationship from a philosophical and ethical point of view into the relation between the Self and the Other. The classical, moral imperative underlying aid is the care for the Other (or even the Christian love for the Other). Doing good. Wouter de Groot rightly makes some remarks on this. The care for the Other takes the form of either benevolent aid or well-intended social engineering. However, this care for the Other is based on suffering of the Other as constructed by the Self. Classic aid is thus grounded in the intentional mental construction of deficiencies and deprivations in such a way that the donor Self can aid the recipient Other. The Other is constructed as needy of what we can offer. This entails and results in the cultivation of the Self. We are good. The Other is less or bad or ‘sick’. Thus, classical aid not only reproduces dependency but also inequality, hierarchy and Self-interest. This means I don’t see the duality of solidarity and self-interest as described by Bert Meertens, they are rather two sides of the same coin.

Yet, there is more to it than this caricature of classical aid. The relation between the Self and the Other can take the form of the care of the Self, elaborated by Foucault. This results in an ethics of constraint. Maybe we are not that good? Maybe we are not on the right track with our modernization?

The relation between the Self and the Other can take the form of a relation between two Selves and thus the care of the Self in the Other. Self-development, self-reliance, self-determination. Just one example of such a positive appreciation of the Other is the rights-based approach which departs from what people have (holding rights) instead of what they lack. The principle of ownership too is the recognition of the Self in the Other. Taking it a step further, probably the other Self also has a lot to offer. Maybe we need to search for the part of the Other embodied in ourSelves? In these ways we can better construct collective or mutual responsibility (Quarles van Ufford, 2003), respect and learning / innovation. Development cooperation is more that classical aid. It requires a move from the recognition of development as an endogenous process to the recognition that this process requires facilitation and stimulation rather than intervention. Let the Other Self develop. Not only economically as proposed by the WRR but also politically, socially, culturally, etc. We can build on experiences with these more intimate forms of building relationships and we definitely need to deepen these new practices. They go beyond new modalities and technicalities; they have to do with politics, ethics and what I call empathic organizational capacities. At this point in time we might need more deconstruction of our development practice (including our labeling and discursive practices) before taking up the task of reconstruction. This is in my opinion the beyond-the-WRR agenda (in the sense that it takes certain elements of the WRR-report into consideration but makes a definite twist).