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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Democracy and Development - Searching for a 'new us'

The Hague, 13 September: The SID Netherlands 2007 Lecture Series on Democracy and Development culminated today in a one-day conference hosted by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs. [related story]

A full house heard Minister of Development Cooperation Bert Koenders explore different dimensions of democracy development and the implications for his policies.

Thereafter, different speakers and a lively audience explored what former Dutch Foreign Minister Bot called the ‘three D’s’ – development, defense, and democracy, and the often complex relations among these.

One clear conclusion is that a ‘3D’ perspective is hardly sufficient to comprehend the richness and complexity of the topic. This is especially the case when you delve into different local and national situations and cultures – and even it seems when you delve into the international data often used to explain how democracy and development can be achieved. As keynote speaker Professor William Easterly argued: “we just don’t know!”

To generate the needed multi-dimensional perspectives, democracy and development communities are felt to need more ‘searchers’ – individuals with the freedom to “figure out” and learn from their own questions, answers, causalities and actions.

Where will we find these development/democracy searchers? Certainly not just in established networks and experts. Even in the most difficult places, panelist Bossuyt suggests, we “don’t know the rich tissue that exists in every fragile state”… a richness that can be set free to tackle local to global issues and dilemmas.

According to Bossuyt, moving in this direction requires a more effective dialogue that explores what democracy really means in different local situations and then a "reversal of the fundamentals of the way in which we work" to support democracy … [listen below]


Concluding that "nobody is too poor to be free", Easterly urged us to trust ordinary people and give them the freedom to search - to test, to fail, to try different courses - that is democracy.

This commitment to empowerment is perhaps where democracy promotion and development cooperation come together. As democracy provides freedom to search, debate and innovate, so development gives space and resources to take action.

The search for models and mechanisms was echoed by Minister Koenders. Drawing on the ideas and lessons generated through the lecture series he drew participants’ attention to the continuing search for effective democratic models in the Netherlands. He suggested that the search for “social cohesion and the integration of new citizens into a common identity – a new ‘us’ – is one of the biggest challenges in deepening Dutch democracy.” This search for a “new us” is an effort by citizens, state and political parties to re-discover their common interests, through inclusive processes that give voice – and freedom to question and search – to all.

In a way the challenge in developing countries is to make spaces where they too can search for and build their own versions of this ‘new us’ – creating democratic assets instead of looking to overcome democratic deficits. Koenders emphasized that these processes in developing countries need to reflect the realities of the poorest and seek to include them in emerging new dialogues.

What does this mean for Dutch policies? The Minister summarized his major policy directions under four headings: "a more political conception of good governance; a democracy and development agenda; and more focus on fragile states and women’s rights."

Adriano Malache from NIMD Mozambique reacts to the day’s discussions:


The conference was organized by the Netherlands chapter of the Society for International Development (SID). It was co-organized with the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy.

Euforic web page on governance

by Peter Ballantyne

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