Sunday, April 20, 2008

Afrikadag 2008: Why we need development cooperation

On 19 April, the Afrikadag 2008 took place in The Hague. With debates, workshops, lectures and a cultural programme on Africa and development cooperation, the Evert Vermeer Stichting (EVS) and partner organisations aim each year to raise awareness and change European policies.

Bert Koenders, the Dutch minister of Development Cooperation, was a keynote speaker. He argued strongly for a modern development cooperation, which observes human rights and also embraces military peacekeeping operations. According to Koenders, it is nonsense to abolish development aid, as some Dutch parliamentarians are demanding. Those politicians are only "anxiously closing their eyes" to the global challenges. "Development cooperation makes sense and is effective, but it can still be better", Koenders said. "What we really have to do is to take risks", he added, "and we should not be afraid of accusations of ancient neocolonialism". What we need is objectivity, soberness and humility to build up a strong political cooperation with the Southern partners.

During the lunch break, Paul Collier presented his book "The Bottom Billion." A Professor at Oxford University, it was Collier's first book that "anybody can read". He decided to write a popular science book because he wanted to inform citizens. He argued that "only an informed citizenship can help to escape from gesture politics".

While we may think that the aim of development has always been the reduction of global poverty, Collier revealed that it was a World Bank report in the 1990s that led to this focus. Precisely because it neatly fitted their interests: the political left could understand global poverty reduction in the sense of redistribution, and the political right could interpret it as the need for economic growth.

For Collier, the real challenge of development is to ensure that the one billion people living without any hope in the poorest countries on earth can join the four billion people living in emerging economies like China and India, who do have hope for a better future.

In his book, Collier explains that Africa combines several characteristics which make development harder. On in particular is the 'trap' of being resource-rich. Studies show that five years after the beginning of exploitation of resources, national income goes up, while 25 years later, it has dramatically gone down again. Research has also revealed that democracy seems to make this downward cycle of resource-rich countries even worse. The ideal form of democracy for resource-rich countries seems to be a democracy with very strong checks and balances, and not only democratic elections.

Although Collier stressed that he is not negative towards development aid, he reasoned that there is much more we can do. Europe could assist in developing commodity guidelines for resource-rich countries on how to manage resource extraction and the resulting financial flows. “And I know at least five African countries at the top of my head who would be willing to sign those guidelines”, Collier concluded.

See also Euforic newsfeeds for the Evert Vermeer Foundation, on Africa, on Dutch cooperation policy, and in Dutch.

Story by Birthe Paul