Developing Countries Need Real Partners, Not Crippling Patronage
Perinbam, Lewis, Canadian Speeches
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." Nowhere are those functions more evident than in the non-governmental organizations. They are well-springs of an open democracy. They distinguish it from authoritarian and ideology-driven systems where citizens are regimented and centrally controlled. Most importantly, they have facilitated and directed people's participation which has gathered momentum as a potent force in national and international arenas. For the first time in history "people power" is a factor to be reckoned with by governments. It helped to halt the Vietnam War, rid the Philippines of the Marcos regime and end the military domination of Chile. Most dramatically, it was the driving force behind the demise of the Soviet empire and the restoration of the freedoms of the peoples of Eastern Europe. The 20th century can well be called the century of peoples' participation. It has made NGOs a growing factor for change in the international community. Governments, international organizations such as the UN and the World Bank, and the private sector are bringing them into their consultative processes and policy considerations. This is what "civil society" is about.
In a recent address in Vancouver, Dr. Sylvia Ostry, director of the Centre for International Studies, University of Toronto and a well-informed and widely-respected advisor to governments and international organizations, referred to NGOs as one of the "main actors" in globalization and an "increasingly pervasive institutional phenomenon." She noted:
"They are flourishing today because of communication technology which permits rapid and inexpensive global networking. And they are very skilled in dealing with the media, especially television. Finally, they can be termed "transformational coalitions" that are not concerned with traditional interest--group issues like the division or size of the pie as with the recipe for making it. Hence their agenda is often at odds with the other players, governments and the multinational corporations... The most prominent NGOs in the trade field are the greens and their influence was already evident at the Marrakesh meeting which concluded the Uruguay Round in April 1994 and also established a Committee on Trade and Environment in the WTO [World Trade Organization]. They provide an exemplar for analyzing a new and unexplored development in the policy-making process...
"The 1997 UN Conference on Environment and Development--the Rio Earth Summit--has been described as a watershed event for non-governmental organizations by endorsing their role in international policy-making. They were actively involved in the preparatory process, in national governmental official delegations, and in drafting. New international alliances were launched thus expanding their transnational scope. Perhaps most importantly over the longer-run, a July 1996 Report of the UN spelled out the rules for NGO's status and role in the UN system. That report marks a potentially major transformation of the postwar international policy-making architecture." (Italics added.)
In the past four decades international development has provided a focus and practical opportunities for peoples' participation in improving the lot of people in the developing world. Through the array of non-governmental organizations, citizens in Canada and throughout the developing world have been drawn together in programs for the betterment of those in need. At its best, it is a wonderful story of compassion and concern. International development has challenged NGOs to undertake co-operative endeavors in the service of humankind.
This co-operation has usually been founded, however, on donor-driven relationships. The dependency that marked the colonial era of rulers and ruled has been replaced by a new dependency between donors and recipients. Colonialism produced generations of people with the superior and arrogant attitudes of the ruler and the subservient and submissive characteristics of the ruled. It did irreparable harm to both rulers and ruled and created attitudes that undermined the development of healthy relationships founded on mutual respect. The aid era has created a new colonialism based on donors and recipients. More importantly, international development has become an industry. Like any industry -- be it the food, entertainment or health industry -- it has vested interests and protectionist attitudes that are not conducive to the cultivation of genuine partnerships.
One of the factors inhibiting relations between the industrialized North and the developing South as partners is the view that aid is the answer to the problems associated with world poverty. Many fail to recognize that trade is the engine of progress. It creates jobs, builds and develops sustainable economies and is more important than aid to most developing countries. The developing countries earn far more income from trade than they receive from aid. The North-South Institute noted a few years ago that if Canada removed the barrier under the Multi-Fibre Arrangement on imports of clothing from Bangladesh -- which accounted for far less than 1% of the Canadian market -- the net gain to Bangladesh was estimated at $370 million, or nearly three times what Bangladesh received in Canadian bilateral aid at the time.
There is no evidence of a developing country that has conquered poverty and modernized its economy as the result of aid. On the contrary, countries that have received the largest amount of aid remain mired in poverty, especially those like Tanzania that decided state control was the answer to their problems. Countries making progress like Malaysia, India and Chile are doing so because they have set their own course based on self-reliance and are driven by the determination to succeed by their own efforts. Aid can help only when it supports a country's initiatives and is not a form of dependence.
Many developing countries regard aid as the new colonialism because it is driven by those who decide what is "good" for the developing countries; but are unwilling to give them access to markets. They are worried about the burgeoning development industry to which I have referred. They are apprehensive and even fearful of the waves of developmentalists, NGOs, companies, consultants, advisers and so-called partners who come to "rescue" them from their poverty and who appear to have taken the place of the missionaries of old who came to save the souls of previous generations. As an East African said of the missionaries, "you had the Bible and we had the land, now we have the Bible and you have the land." Developing countries want to determine the course they wish to follow to build their future. They resent being called "partners" when they are really recipients of aid on terms and conditions imposed by donors -- governments and NGOs alike -- and which is not a relationship between equals.
If Canada wishes to be a leader in development co-operation its relations with the developing world must be placed in a new frame of reference. They cannot be a vehicle for domination or exploitation under the guise of "partnerships," whether by governments, NGOs or the private sector. It requires moving away from the "donor-recipient" mentality and the arrogance that aid engenders and of forging relationships as equals that lay the foundations for the progress of the developing world and, at the same time, contribute to our own. It calls for the transformation of the aid mentality into one that focuses on a mutually beneficial shared experience in which they learn from each other. It requires a two-way flow of knowledge and experience between Canadians and their fellow-citizens in the developing world.
For instance USAID launched the "Lessons without Borders Program" to bring some of the lessons learned from USAID's developing country experience to the benefit of America's impoverished inner cities and rural communities. This program is also a form of development education that teaches Americans that conditions of privation that characterize parts of the developing world can be found in their country. It uses methods to deal with them that developing countries have developed and applied successfully. Canada's NGOs and government should do the same.
The entry of NGOs on the world stage provides them with an unparallel opportunity -- indeed a duty -- to break out of the aid era of donors and recipients and to be the leaders and builders in fashioning relationships between nations as equals that lead to partnerships. More than any other group in society NGOs are equipped and well-positioned to provide this leadership. They can create a new frame of reference for co-operation between nations that is not trapped by the attitudes that characterize the aid era.
It will require them to consult their counterparts, to be guided by their thinking and attitudes and to be sensitive to their values, cultural traditions and heritage. They cannot assume that what works in their own countries will be relevant in others. Most importantly, they must understand that social change has to come from within and not from outside. The values and ideals of one society cannot be imposed on others. Concepts of personal freedom and individual rights vary in different societies and there are historical and cultural reasons for this. This is why words such as "civil society" may have little meaning in nations rooted in their own values and traditions.
Our deliberations and actions must be relevant to the realities and dynamics of today's world and to the aspirations of its peoples. Terms such as "civil society" and "partnership" should manifest meaning, purpose and vitality. They should be means and not ends; means to improve and to enhance the lives of citizens wherever they may be.
For the tapestry of life requires creativity, imagination and respect for the values and traditions of people from diverse cultural and social backgrounds. Above all, these terms should not be simply buzzwords to trigger funding or to satisfy some grand strategy concocted by bureaucrats--be they from governments, academe or NGOs.
What is at stake is our willingness to create a global society based, not on those who give and those who receive, but on sharing the bounty of this earth that Providence has entrusted to our care. We have to cease being patrons and become genuine partners. Today's NGOs can herald a new era, unprecedented in history, in which the North and South go forward as partners. It will call for patience, dedication and determination. They may not entirely succeed, but let no future generations say of them that they lacked the courage or the vision or the will to have made the effort.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Developing Countries Need Real Partners, Not Crippling Patronage. Contributors: Perinbam, Lewis - Author. Magazine title: Canadian Speeches. Volume: 11. Issue: 7 Publication date: November 1997. Page number: 26+. © 1998 Canadian Speeches. COPYRIGHT 1997 Gale Group.
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