Developing Countries Need Real Partners, Not Crippling Patronage

Article excerpt

Senior Advisor (External Relations), The Commonwealth of Learning, Vancouver

A new relationship between developed and developing countries -- replacing patronage with partnership, aid with trade, dependency with interdependency -- is called for. Relationships of donor and recipient countries are viewed as the new colonialism, trapping developing countries in dependency and poverty, providing ineffective aid while blocking urgently-needed trade. Speech to the South Asia Partnership Annual Forum on "Strengthening Civil Society: Program Strategy or Smokescreen?" University of Calgary, Calgary, October 8.

I feel honored to participate in this conference, especially as it is organized by the South Asia Partnership because I have high regard for SAP and for its accomplishments. Since its inception it has been a pioneer and a leader in building relationships between Canadian and South Asian non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

I am pleased to be among you because I received my apprenticeship in international co-operation in the non-governmental community and owe much to it for what I learned and the precious and lasting friendships it brought me. I was also privileged to play a part in creating CIDA's [Canadian International Development Agency's] NGO Division and to be its founding director general. It is gratifying that through the NGO Division CIDA learned much and has also played and influential and supportive role in strengthening tp the NGO movement. I have an unswerving commitment, therefore, the NGO community and to its well-being and future. I admire its accomplishments and the leadership it has provided in international development. I am impressed by the work of the NGOs that are participating in this conference.

I intend to approach the subject I have been given in a non-doctrinaire way. I would prefer to deal with it from a pragmatic perspective that speaks to peoples' participation and their aspirations, and gives meaning to terms such as "civil society" and "partnership."

In this context the Commonwealth merits mention as it manifests a rich variety of societies and partnerships in unique ways. It is a remarkable community of 54 independent countries comprising over one billion people. It includes the world's largest democracy, India, as well as authoritarian, one-party and military-controlled states. It functions without rules of procedure or a constitution. It works because it is founded on mutual trust and respect. Recognizing the need to ensure access to education to all segments of a nation's citizenry and the importance of education in building stable and open societies the Commonwealth Heads of Government created the Commonwealth of Learning in Vancouver 10 years ago. It seeks to widen access to education through distance learning and the effective use of new communications technologies. They recognized the central importance of education to a nation's progress and in preserving its cultural heritage.

The Commonwealth is inspired by the desire to improve the lot of its citizens and to help them to work together as collaborators to meet common goals. It can take firm action as it did against apartheid in South Africa. More recently it suspended Nigeria and Sierra Leone from its membership on account of their human rights violations. Today's Commonwealth is evolving continuously and adapting to new circumstances and challenges. Its members are fashioning societies based on the needs specific to their peoples.

The NGO is one of the most vital characteristics of an open democratic society which is another term for "civil society." It enables citizens with common interests to work together in a fellowship through which they can fulfil their ideals and hopes and shape the future. The 19th century French political philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed that "the health of democratic society may be measured by the quality of the functions performed by its private citizens. …