Element 4 (for the benefit of developing countries) is the one everyone thinks they’re discussing. You can wave your hands, say “Bah” to the above, and say, “Here is the crux of the matter. Actions for the benefit of a developing country.” That’s what pure development is, finally we can talk about what matters.
Except it says “primarily” for developing countries. It doesn’t say it can’t benefit Canada too, it just can’t be the primary benefit. I’m sure that doesn’t worry you at all, but you can bet FAC loves the thought. To use my old metaphor from a previous post, it is not only that oatmeal is the right thing to do, but it’s also a tasty way to do it too. Like, for example, potentially doing development more in countries where we have strong commercial interests. Win-win. Not, as Maurice Strong suggested, making commercialism the primary goal, but giving some weight to it when deciding which of the 48 least developed countries should get the money.
No worries, though, too about the commercialism as the OECD has already decided “what is development” by establishing a very long list of “DAC Codes” (8 or 10 digits long, can’t remember now) that says what qualifies as “development activities”. Whew. Finally, a definitive answer.
Except it’s a HUGE list that covers just about everything imaginable. As long as the proposed programming is in the list, it’s development, or to be precise, it’s ODA-eligible. And that’s how the DAC decides whose benefit the activity was for — if it is one of these activities, and done in a developing country, it’s assumed to be eligible. Let’s look at health care.
- Would paying a DOCTOR to administer to AIDS patients count as ODA? Yes.
- Would paying for the DRUGS the doctor uses count? Yes.
- Could you pay a company to TRANSPORT the drugs to the country? Ummm…probably. Great, FedEX just got aid dollars.
- Could you pay a company to develop the drugs? No. Too commercial, not obviously primarily for the benefit of a developing country.
For a lot of people, that is the ultimate in hypocrisy — the company won’t make enough money to justify the research, but the donors can’t pay for it. So a disease that might affect more poor people than the entire population of the Western world could go unfunded. Of course, the aid community says, “We didn’t say you couldn’t pay for it, not at all. We just said you couldn’t use aid budgets to pay for it.”
And suddenly our neat little answer isn’t neat anymore. How could we say that something was “development” (like developing a vaccine) but not “ODA-eligible”? Isn’t it “development or no development:”? Like a game show hosted by Howie Mandel except the players are donors?
Worse still, a government (oh, look, like Canada!) sets up a budget to do development. And then can’t do just “anything developmental” with that budget but rather only those things that are “ODA-eligible”. So, how could Canada pay for that vaccine development? Sure doesn’t sound like a Foreign Affairs budget item. Nor Trade. Nor Defence. Nor a lot of domestic work. Maybe we’ll say it’s primarily a health issue, so Health Canada should pay for it. Great idea! We just have to tell Canadians that while we’re not paying for research for the issues that affect them, we are willing to subsidize a company (Canadian or otherwise) to solve the health problems of others.
Wait, no, we don’t have to do that. The UN WHO can do it, right? We’ll just give them the money. What money? Oh, we’ll take it from the aid budget. But it’s not aid. No, the WHO qualifies, therefore they can do it. Wait a minute, something’s wrong. Weren’t we talking about whether something was for the benefit of developing countries, not who (no pun intended) did it?
Right, so not eligible. Except donors get around that all the time by using organizations, like the WHO or the FAO, to do things that normally wouldn’t qualify as “development” necessarily but because it is through a clearly focused multilateral organization that (supposedly) avoids crass commercialism, it can come from the aid budget. Great. Problem solved.
No, not really, because now people are asking, “Why did you spend that money on the drug that we don’t know will work and costs a LOT OF MONEY when we could have spent it on basic education? Or other health care risks?” Because as soon as you spend money on something, you’ve said something very important — it was a priority. Resources are not infinite, so you spend them on priorities.
Here’s the kicker that drives me nuts when the lay public says we should spend more money on X, Y or Z. Great, tell me first why and then tell me where it should come from. Those are the first two rules of government — you need to give us a rationale and we have to shift resources.
But if I put 1000 development “experts” in the same room and ask them which projects are the highest priority or which sectors or which methods or even which countries, they will give me at least 500 different answers. All with good rationales even. Education is better than trade, for example.
Sounds good to me, but let me ask you this as devil’s advocate — how do you pay for education on an ongoing sustainable basis? Without trade, the best you can hope for is economic entropy within a country — just moving money around within a closed system. To grow, and hence to reduce poverty levels, a country needs to find a way of attracting more money into the system. And the only three ways to do that are investment (which wants a return), donations (unsustainable), or trade (generating “profit” on things that are exported, i.e. getting more money into the system than it cost to produce the item that was exported).
Again, I digress. Choosing what “activities” ends up being political in nature because it is about making choices — there is no one size that fits all or even an agreed international hierarchy of development steps that have to be taken.
At the start of this section, it was easy because the DAC codes are supposed to tell you what “is” development and what “is not”. But they are bendable really easily.
Could you pay for a triage unit? Could you pay for a mobile triage unit? Could it be in an ambulance? Could you pay for the ambulance? Could you pay for an air ambulance in the country? Great, maybe we can get someone like Bombardier to build it. Oh, wait a minute. That’s not development, is it? If the country wanted help with health care and mobile health care in particular, does it count? Probably. Even though it might generate some jobs in Canada. Shhh….don’t tell anyone. Just like no one should tell the world that Japan uses its aid program to build telecoms infrastructure all over Asia and uses its aid budget to do it.
I used these little examples, not to be definitive, but to simply present some issues of how murky the “purity” gets pretty fast. The best example though is peace. Every single development expert on the planet, perhaps even every citizen, can tell you that there can be no sustainable development without peace and stability. Some will even go so far as to say it is a “prerequisite” for development.
Yet most peacekeeping and military aid of any kind (equipment or services) cannot ever count as development aid. Terrorism may be the “big” threat at the start of the new millennium to many fragile states, but you can’t pay for anti-terrorism activities with aid. Why? Because the OECD said no.
During the late 90s and 00s, this was a huge issue. As donors got more and more involved in war-torn and fragile states, the need for “additional help” was clear. Sometimes it was humanitarian supply lines (yep, that’s eligible, but not training the soldiers to actually do that job), sometimes it was fighting back insurgents. And the conversations drove Foreign Affairs types nuts all over the globe — how could a development person tell them that peace was essential to development, terrorism was a serious threat to peace, but anti-terrorism training or support wasn’t “development”? Again, the OECD said the same thing — “Yep, it’s important, go ahead and do it, but you can’t pay for it out of aid money.”
As I said, it drove FAC-types nuts. But it was entirely accurate — they were telling countries like Canada, go ahead and do it. Fund it separately. Just don’t raid the development piggy bank to do it. Why? Because it’s really dang expensive and it is ripe for abuse — we don’t want everyone suddenly expanding military expenditures and saying, “Great news, developing countries — we’re sending you all our soldiers, which must be for your benefit because we’re using the money we used to spend on health and education programming to do it!”.
So I ask again, are you still comfortable that you know what development is? Great, because now I’m going to give you a practical test. Your aid program is to help a South American country. One of the poorest towns is suffering from a lot of violence in the area, mostly drug traffickers. And everybody comes along and says, “Our time for peace is now!”. You help mobilize them, and they elect a new sheriff! Based on the consultations, he wants new police, highly trained, a strong force to protect the population and to bring a new era of peace to the city (casting for the movie version probably starts next week, but I digress). The citizens tell you this is their first priority. What can you pay for?
Can you pay for the salaries of extra police officers? Hmm…how about training instead? Great idea, let’s do training. Can I train them in basic police duties? Umm, sure. That sounds fine. Can I give them special diversity training? Great! Can I train them in human rights? Yes! Can I give them special weapons training? Hmmm…oh, and maybe special tactical training? Ummm. Oh, oh, oh, and they have to go against some pretty heavily armed people who are well-trained, almost like a militia, can they get training on how to deal with military-style combat? Ummm….let’s back up. How about another consultation with locals instead? We can pay for that.
Now you may think I’m making that up, but in development circles, it’s happened before. And guess what? The donors DID pay for the training. And promptly helped the sheriff become the best-trained thug in the region, complete with his own troop carriers that he repurposed from the construction equipment the town received from donors too. It wasn’t Canadian money, but it wasn’t pretty. So the OECD is very leery not only about what is paid for but what is done in the name of “development”.
For some CIDAites, the solution to all of this is clear. We’ll just ban all military spending, we won’t do infrastructure, and everything is golden. Great, so we’ll also ban all human rights training for existing militia and/or police officers. It is, after all, spending on the military, right?
But I don’t need an answer to that question, I can start with something much simpler — the confusion of development assistance with humanitarian assistance.
When NGOs, particularly the advocacy groups, talk about development, they wrap it in a flag of humanitarian assistance. They have always done this because pictures of starving children are easy for citizens to comprehend and garner funds more easily when fund-raising. Heck, CIDA publications often did the same thing up until the early 1990s. It was how development was sold globally — helping the poor, the sick, the downtrodden, etc. Loaves and fishes to feed the starving children, for those with a religious bent.
But humanitarian assistance is about the short-term, it always has been. It is what you do when you can’t do development. While it is an emotionally painful metaphor, it’s not unlike a trauma doctor figuring out how to stabilize the patient NOW, regardless of any underlying long-term health concerns. The worst part is that there are thousands of people dying every day from various diseases (natural and man-made physical and social ills) who get no “rallying cry” issued for them, but if they were a victim of an earthquake, we’d be there tomorrow. Worst still is that the news cycle demands it — if it bleeds, it leads, and if there are more than 1000 dead somewhere from a natural disaster, humanitarian assistance organizations start mobilizing. Less than 1000? That’s a local problem, nothing to see here.
Development assistance, i.e. the longer-term work that donor agencies such as CIDA were created to do, is not picture-worthy. It’s pretty hard to take a picture of human rights capacity development, where it looks like a bunch of people sitting in a room talking. Internationally and domestically, the explanation of how difficult development can be is not well-received. You can’t say it in a sound bite, you can’t put it in a talking point. We like to use the “teach a man to fish” argument, but what we are REALLY talking about is “teach a person to engage in sustainable fisheries management as part of a gender-neutral, economically positive, environmentally friendly, socially conscious, and equitable country-wide strategy”. I’m going to share three little anecdotes as I think they are good examples of how difficult it is to explain the true nature of development, or at times, even understand it.
One of my favourite examples is road construction. From an economic perspective, road construction is a backbone activity for economic growth and prosperity — creating the physical infrastructure for the free movement of goods, interconnecting markets, and the actual costs of building the road itself can create huge multipliers that can drive growth. Separate from the potential for manifest destiny side effects, it is the economic equivalent to building railroads in North America. Canadian industry, citizens, the people on the street — this makes perfect sense to them. Of course we should do that, right?
So roads were built in Africa. And a curious thing happened. AIDS transmission followed the road. Because the prostitutes were following the labourers working on the roads. And when the road reached a town, or a bridge connected two previously separated villages, AIDS rates between the groups suddenly went to the highest common rate. Economic theory didn’t allow for the health variables, and those lovely citizens on the street who thought road-building was a no-brainer option just crashed their SimAfrica app.
A second example came from the FAO looking at dam building with impacts on the local standard of living (SoL). A dam was built, and they hired local labourers who all lost their traditional subsistence livelihood to the new flooding patterns but made money on the building projects, so there would be a bump in economic SoL in the area. Then, the dam was finished and there was no more work. And the SoL would go down again. So a lot of the male labourers would head off to the cities, find work, and send money back, driving the SoL back up. But after being away for a few years, the money home would start slowing down as family cohesion fell apart. And the SoL would go back down. Time for some of the women to head off to the cities, where a lot would end up as prostitutes. But they would send money home, so the SoL would go back up for a while. Then, a few years later, the women came home — now infected with AIDS, they returned to die. Again, we don’t have an app to explain that model.
A third example comes from a leader in the Caribbean. At one of the Financing for Development Conferences, he decided to speak candidly. While I am paraphrasing, he basically said. “We want to develop, like you did. But we will do it without destroying the environment. We will do it without displacing indigenous populations. We will avoid exploiting women, children and minorities through unfair labour practices. We will refrain from growth through conquering other nations or establishing new colonies. We’ll do it without massive inequality. And each of these things, on which much of your own growth was based, will be avoided. Plus, we’re going to do it all, with our hands tied behind our backs, in 10-20 years instead of 200 or more. But we’ll need a lot of financing to do it.” Eloquent, impactful even in my paraphrasing, but how do you make the average Canadian understand all of that when you only have a soundbite to get your point across?
The short answer is that most communicators don’t. So the editorials and articles talk about how we are compromising “development” when in fact they don’t explain how extraordinarily complex it is, the definitions of what counts and what doesn’t aren’t as easy as people think, and just for fun, they then use examples of humanitarian assistance instead of complex development. Even without addressing any of the other four elements, we really should at least be able to not mix humanitarian assistance with development when we’re talking.
Particularly as HA probably won’t be affected by the merger, since FAC and CIDA have worked on humanitarian stuff for years. Not to mention DND and RCMP contributions when it was an unsafe location on the ground. Yep, the departments already work together on this stuff. Sometimes, and this isn’t always popular, some of the people working on humanitarian assistance have more to do with the FAC people than they do with the CIDA country programs already on the ground at the beginning. Because even after the patient is stabilized, it is a long time before you can return to “traditional” programming (if ever in some countries), and even transitional programming is relatively unique.
I’d like to say this is a uniquely-Canadian problem but it isn’t. Lots of donors have problems with “educating their taxpayers” about what REAL development is. Not to mention educating the stupid idiots who think it’s a great idea to donate junk from their garage to be shipped thousands of miles to “help out”.
But if the experts who write the op-eds and articles can’t separate out HA principles from development, and tell you that what “is” or is “not” development is easy, when does the real conversation begin?
On to part 5…