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Grand developmentalism: MDGs and SDGs in Sub-Saharan Africa June 3, 2015

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Development & Change, Development Studies, Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Poverty, UN's New Sustainable Development Goals.
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“Development should be all about satisfying the needs of the people and improving their livelihood patterns. Development should be what the people actually want or need, and not what national governments or global institutions think that the people need or want. The MDGs – as aresult of modernization and neo-liberal ideologies – were articulated and presented by the international agencies as “real development’’ or as legitimate solutions to the development problems of people in the respective countries of the Global South. But in reality, they did not capture the priorities and problems facing the people in those contexts. The issue of sustainability is embedded in what people actually want and people are at the centre of sustainable development. The authors of the MDGs do not find out what the people really want – instead, they designed and formulated the goals on different assumptions, thus reinforcing the existing power relations in the global structure of power.”

“The argument that the Global South is facing problems of development may be generally true, but the problems are not actually defined and understood within the context of situations and everyday realities in the respective countries. It is thus important not to make general statements of development, but to concretise them in relation to the contexts and settings where they are to be applied. Both the MDGs and the SDGs, as general or universal frameworks for global development practice, fail to acknowledge how this general problem finds its expression in the concerned countries.”

 

“…An independent development commission should be inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly in each country that is signatory to the post-2015 development agenda. The commission should be allowed to perform its responsibilities independently without undue interference from national governments and international institutions. The composition of the commission should include: local activists and NGOs, a national government official, local academics, development experts, a UNDP official and a representative of global financial institutions. The commission should be saddled with matter relating with global development financing, fund disbursement, monitoring, evaluation and implementation of development projects. The commission must also ensure that funds are channelled to approved projects, projects are executed according to approved standards and reflect the real costs of the projects. In evaluating the projects, the commission should develop its own yardstick for measuring whether targets and indicators outlined to actualise (a) particular goal(s) are achieved or not. This will help to checkmate the griming reality of weak state institutions, corruption and mismanagement that undermined the performance of the MDGs especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.” – A. Bayo Ogunrotifa, Pambazuka  News,    Issue 728

 

Grand developmentalism: MDGs and SDGs in Sub-Saharan Africa

A. Bayo Ogunrotifa*, Pambazuka  News, Issue 728

INTRODUCTION

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, international development efforts have been coalesced around the framework of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs are a set of ambitious goals and national targets put forward and ratified by the United Nations General Assembly in 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger – however, a significant progress towards reaching the targets has been notably achieved or deemed successful in some countries but in others, especially in sub-Sahara Africa, the progress has been marginal or deemed unsuccessful. A variety of factors has been attributed to this failure: over-ambitious goals themselves and unrealistic expectations (Clemens & Moss 2005); aid dependence over growth and self-reliance (Manning 2010); lack of ownership and commitment (Amin 2006; Ogunrotifa 2012); limited state capacities and governance incapabilities (Mishra 2004; Oya 2011); non-emphasis on sustainable development (Sachs 2012); evaluation and implementation problems (Fukuda-Parr & Greenstein); and the failure to take into account different national realities, capacities and development levels (Rippin 2013).

The outlined factors are just symptoms and not the real issue that undermine the achievement of the MDGs in Africa. The fundamental trouble associated with the MDGs is the way in which goals, targets and indicators articulated in the programme of the MDGs are conceived, defined and formulated, which are in sharp contrast to the real world situation and do not reflect the true picture of what is on ground in Africa. This is regarded as ‘’grand developmentalism’’—the general and narrow way in which development issues are defined and problematized takes priority over questions posed by the empirical world.

This has important implications on international discussions on the post-2015 development agenda that emphasises the incorporation of visionary indigenous and independent development paths and ideas on the successor agenda to the expiring MDGs (the post-2015 development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals – SDGs) that is currently in discussion.

WHAT IS ‘GRAND DEVELOPMENTALISM?’

The term ‘grand developmentalism’ was coined from the notion of conceptual fetishism articulated by C. Wright Mills in his treatise on sociological imagination (1959). Mills argues that abstracted empiricism loses its grip on social reality by prioritising methods rather than the problems of the empirical world. Mills posits that grand theory engages in a fetishization of abstract concepts in place of genuine and substantive problems of the empirical world.

In other words, it is the concepts rather than the actual problems that are of paramount importance to grand theorists. However, grand theory is particularly relevant to this paper because of its engagement with development discourse. Grand developmentalism is the dialectical engagement of grand theory but goes beyond the remit of the later. In grand developmentalism, development issues are problematized on the basis of narrow or general definition without adequate empirical grounding, such that the conceptual frames and schemes are created on the basis of a narrow problem definition. If the problem definition is flawed, the conceptual schemes, variables and methodology to interrogate the issue and arrive at workable solutions, will also be flawed, while the evaluation and implementation process will be problematic.

Development I define in this paper as solving the social problems of the people (citizens) in socio-culturally appropriate and locally sustainable ways, as they [problems] are experienced, perceived and understood by the people. This definition is in sharp contrast to the western-centric development paradigm that conceived the global north as ‘’developed’’ and the Global South as “underdeveloped’’ and that the latter needs to be more modern and develop by catching up with the former. International agencies (as appendages of the western imperialistic establishment) reinforce this development paradigm by ensuring that they control the aspirations of the Global South, and redefine their problems, priorities and realities in a way that has nothing to do with the actual situations.

Grand developmentalism lost all contact with the social, cultural and historical dimension of development of the societies it purports to offer solutions because it works at a high level of generality and superficiality. Given the degree of generality in its problem definition, grand developmentalism creates concepts that are suitable to the narrowly defined problem, whereas concepts should have been derived from the empirical world. This therefore negates the contextual and specific problem of development it seeks to analyse and proffer solutions.

MDGS: A FORM OF GRAND DEVELOPMENTALISM

The Millennium Development Goals are an outcome of the United Nations Millennium summit held in the year 2000. The origin of the MDGs goes back much further in time, and some of the most important components will be discussed in this paper. In fact, it is important to strip the MDGs naked in order to flesh out their basis, compositions and essentials. The MDGs comprise of 8 goals, 18 targets and 48 indicators. The goals and targets have been set (mostly) for 2015, using 1990 as a benchmark or baseline. They evolve out of the ‘resolutions of 23 international conferences and summits held between 1990 and 2005’ (Rippin 2013). They are clearly worked out by an ‘’Inter-agency and Expert Group on the Millennium Development Goal Indicators (IAEG), consisting of experts from the DAC, World Bank, IMF and UNDP’’ (Manning 2009; c.f. Hulme 2009; Hulme 2010). The development as understood in the MDGs is a reflection of neo-liberalism and a modernisation approach that seeks to reinforce the hegemony of the Western economic model in the Global South, and strengthen their mainstream development discourse. The 8 goals, 18 targets and 48 indicators articulated in the MDGs programme are quantitative in nature, design and outlook. They are designed to be evaluated and measured in a statistical format[1] .

The most obvious shortcomings associated with the quantitative approach are that they do not reveal the real life situations or subjective dimension of the life world of the people, context and settings under study. These goals, targets and indicators are the perfect example and reflections of grand developmentalism as they imply that development “research starts with a concern for numbers or measurement, which it elevates over the specific qualities of the empirical world it is attempting to analyse’’ (Gane 2012: 154). Technocrats of the respective agencies are unduly rigid towards the use of quantitative methodology and techniques – which is not wrong in itself, but in this case implies the impositions of quantitative techniques on all aspects and dimensions of development issues and problems regardless of the specific contexts and demands of the empirical world. The sort of difficulties inherent in the MDGs stemmed from the philosophical and methodological foundations that underpin the conception of the programme itself. The MDGs as a form of grand developmentalism can be expressed exemplary in the following ways:

POVERTY REDUCTION AND HUNGER

The targets and indicators used to define, measure and tackle poverty and hunger obscure the nature of reality or real life experience of poverty in developing countries. Questions that need to be asked instead are: what are the natures of poverty in different countries of the Global South (but also Global North)? Is the poverty situation in Nigeria the same as the nature and level of poverty in Bangladesh and Vietnam? How is poverty seen and defined by the people in developing countries? What are policies that generate and engender poverty? Does the poverty situation transcend the global yardstick of US$1 per day [1993 Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)], or rather, what are the cultural, social, historical and moral dimensions of poverty? The established targets of reducing by half the proportion of people whose income is less than US$1 a day and the proportion of people who suffer from hunger is a one-size-fit-all yardstick that cannot adequately measure poverty and hunger. This is a danger of grand developmentalism.

GENDER EQUALITY AND EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN

The issue of gender and women empowerment features prominently in the third goal of the MDGs, and this intersects with primary education with respect to equality between boys and girls in terms of primary school enrolment. However, it is unclear what forms and shape gender takes in developing countries as far as the MDGs are concerned. Inability to understand how gender is entrenched and shapes the everyday lives of people in different places will affect efforts being made to address gender inequality in access to education and women empowerment. The MDGs failed to adequately capture the social, cultural and historical contexts that underpinned and shaped gender in developing countries; and the sorts of cultural beliefs and practices that promote gender inequality in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). In fact, without delving into the questions of what sorts of cultural practices inhibit girls’ education and what forms of national policies promote gender inequality in education enrolment and attainment, achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment will remain unrealistic and vague.

ENVIRONMENTAL SUSTAINABILITY

The most important targets to achieve environmental sustainability—which is the seventh goal of the MDGs—is to integrate the principles of sustainable development into national and global policies; reduce-by-half the proportion of people who have no access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation; and to improve the living conditions of slum dwellers. The indicators to achieve these targets seemed unrealistic and unworkable. This stems from the fact that the MDGs did not take into consideration the low level of industrialisation, the contribution of carbon emission to global carbon emission, and the policies and programmes that undermine the sustainable provision of clean drinking water in the Global South. The complexities inherent in the local realities of environmental sustainability make the targets and indicators impracticable. Furthermore, it is problematic that the western world, which is entirely responsible for the environmental problems the Global South is facing, is not mentioned in this goal and, even more remarkable, is not even asked to reduce their emissions or to make drinking water available by not letting firms like Nestlé etc. privatise the drinking water of the world! As a form of grand developmentalism, the issue posed by environmental sustainability in the MDGs did not address the nature of capitalistic policies that promote environmental problems in the Global South. This indicates that the important targets responsible for environmental problems in the Global South as far as the MDGs are concerned are neglected while unrealistic targets are put forward.

UNRELIABLE SOURCE OF FINANCING

The implementation of programmes and projects required a guaranteed financial war chest to achieve its overall targets and objectives. Yet, as far as the MDGs are concerned, there is no guaranteed financial outlay or specialised savings and international gold reserve for their attainment. The means to finance MDG measures are based on financial pledges and commitments from the Global North. The financial commitment from developed countries is premised on the condition that recipient countries must operate openly and non-discriminatory towards the global trading and financial system. This is meant by the “global partnership for development’’. Basically, it determines that poorer countries must be part of a neo-liberal system that requires recipient countries to open their markets for all goods from the North before they can receive Official Development Assistance (ODA), aid and grants, and debt relief from the latter. This is not only problematic because donor countries may experience financial crises and economic recession and may not be able to fulfil their financial commitment and pledges. It may render aid dependent relationships futile and put the attainment of the MDGs into serious challenges. As the source of financing is not based on the size of the economies and the GDP of the respective LDCs but depends on foreign aid as the main source of financing, there is no independent financial pathway for developing countries to achieve the MDGs other than ODA, debt relief, aid and grants articulated in the eighth goal.

EVALUATION, IMPLEMENTATION AND ENFORCEMENT OF MDGS

The millennium declaration that paves way for the endorsement of the MDGs in the global space was made in 2000 while the benchmark of its implementation was backdated to 1990. Technically, there was a period of 15 years to implement the MDGs across different societies in the LDCs. But it is unclear how the MDGs would be implemented in the Global South within the said period. Are the MDGs producing the intended effect? Are there targets set for each year? How are the targets going to be achieved? How much does it cost to achieve the targets? Whose agencies or institutions are saddled with the responsibility of monitoring, evaluating and implementing the MDGs? Do beneficiaries of development projects talk back about the effects of the projects? When they do, are their voices reflected as ‘’native’’ point of view or disciplined and translated to institutional points of view?

While in some settings in the Global South, measurement, evaluation and implementation are being taken seriously inability to take these questions in some settings into consideration constitutes a problem for measuring the progress and performance of the MDGs’ progress such that “even in the case of countries with a perceptible acceleration of progress consideration doubt has been raised whether this acceleration is the result of real national commitment or rather an effort of ‘speaking the language’ in order to secure donors’ support’’ (Rippin 2013: 19). This problem of evaluation and implementation makes the MDGs a form of grand developmentalism.

SUSTAINABILITY DEFICIT

The third critique is the huge sustainability deficit inherent in the MDGs. Development should be all about satisfying the needs of the people and improving their livelihood patterns. Development should be what the people actually want or need, and not what national governments or global institutions think that the people need or want. The MDGs – as aresult of modernization and neo-liberal ideologies – were articulated and presented by the international agencies as “real development’’ or as legitimate solutions to the development problems of people in the respective countries of the Global South. But in reality, they did not capture the priorities and problems facing the people in those contexts. The issue of sustainability is embedded in what people actually want and people are at the centre of sustainable development. The authors of the MDGs do not find out what the people really want – instead, they designed and formulated the goals on different assumptions, thus reinforcing the existing power relations in the global structure of power. Sustainability here is linked significantly to ownership, participation and power-relations. The centrality of sustainable development indicates that people’s ownership and participation in the development conception and design will promote the sustainability of such project. I believe that people protect and sustain development projects that emanate from them and address their needs and wishes. The MDGs are suffering from sustainable deficits because there is no provision for how the projects would be sustained by the people who are the end-users.

A NOTE ON THE PROPOSED SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS (SDGS)

The UN and other international (development) agencies are currently working on post-2015 development agenda. Following the UN conference in Rio de Janeiro (2012), an Open Working Group was established to develop a set of sustainable development goals that will be part ofthe UN development agenda beyond 2015.[2]

From the outline of the SDG proposal, it is already clear that the basic premise underlying development is still unchanged. The development paradigm is still a top-down approach; implying that the Global South is incapable of facilitating its own development without external assistance and seeks to foster aid-dependent relationships. The SDG proposal implies the notion that the respective countries of the Global South are incapable of driving and engendering their own developmental initiatives. The SDG proposal as a development programme is founded on the basis of modernisation and neo-liberal approaches whose rendition serves as the prism that shapes the orientation and mandate of international agencies towards acting as a sole repository of ‘legitimate’ development solutions that will ensure that development in the Global South is fast-tracked to the pace of development in the global north without having to undergo latter’s historical circumstances and processes. This imposition of development strategies and ideas on the Global South is the basis of grand developmentalism as people in the Global South are not allowed to control their development destiny and define their problems and priorities in relations to their respective local realities. This inhibits the ability of the Global South to develop according to their own pace, capacities and realities.

What is questionable in the proposal is how different national priorities and realities are taken into consideration. The SDGs set global targets for measuring development, with the authors of the SDGs assuming that those goals and targets are the legitimate solutions to development problems faced by the respective countries in the Global South, which they will not object to. What will be problematic in the proposed SDGs is that the definition of development problems and priorities will be put together in some capital city of the Global South where “policy is thus bureaucratised and depoliticised through ‘commonsense’’ practices such as planning and strategies” (Escobar 1991: 667) which are exogenous to social and political situations or been derived vis-à-vis grassroots movements.

Third, the SDGs are the rehash of the MDGs in terms of financing. Huge development projects and programmes implicit in the SDGs require guaranteed levels of financing for them to be executed and implemented. So far, it is not clear at all how guaranteed financial outlay or specialised savings and international gold reserve for the attainment of the SDGs are spelt out – and whether the third conference on financing for development in July 2015[3] will see an end to this.

Finally, the notion of ‘’sustainability’’ in the SDGs document is vague. What sorts of social relations to the grassroots are involved in the design, planning and implementation of development projects? What forms of power do the SDGs foster or undermine? The fundamental crux of the proposed SDGs is that international agencies’ notion of development articulated in the document prioritised and privileged bureaucratic and institutional definition of the problem rather than the actual problems obtained in local contexts. Sustainability in the SDG case is non-existent because people in the Global South are not the driver nor are they at the centre of such sustainable development initiatives, and as such, they are incapable of sustaining development projects that are not of their own making.

CONCLUSION: TOWARDS A POST-2015 DEVELOPMENT AGENDA

The argument that the Global South is facing problems of development may be generally true, but the problems are not actually defined and understood within the context of situations and everyday realities in the respective countries. It is thus important not to make general statements of development, but to concretise them in relation to the contexts and settings where they are to be applied. Both the MDGs and the SDGs, as general or universal frameworks for global development practice, fail to acknowledge how this general problem finds its expression in the concerned countries.

As far as the discussion on the post-2015 development agenda is concerned, a participatory process must urgently be facilitated. It must start from grassroots development research where local activists, anthropologists, sociologists and NGOs are engaged with a view to mapping out the real development problems faced by the people and identify sustainable solutions to them. The participatory process should proceed towards national consultations where policy makers, economists, and development experts are engaged in debates, deliberations and discussions about the findings of grassroots development research. Through this participatory medium, national capacity, the characteristics of the economy (i.e. GDP), and a country’s financial state would have to be taken into consideration and formulated into national priorities, targets and indicators for achieving national development goals. Thereafter, a thematic consultation between the national governments and global institutions should be facilitated. This would ensure that important national development issues with differentiated targets that reflect a universal goal framework are derived in a participatory process.

Secondly, an independent development commission should be inaugurated by the United Nations General Assembly in each country that is signatory to the post-2015 development agenda. The commission should be allowed to perform its responsibilities independently without undue interference from national governments and international institutions. The composition of the commission should include: local activists and NGOs, a national government official, local academics, development experts, a UNDP official and a representative of global financial institutions. The commission should be saddled with matter relating with global development financing, fund disbursement, monitoring, evaluation and implementation of development projects. The commission must also ensure that funds are channelled to approved projects, projects are executed according to approved standards and reflect the real costs of the projects. In evaluating the projects, the commission should develop its own yardstick for measuring whether targets and indicators outlined to actualise (a) particular goal(s) are achieved or not. This will help to checkmate the griming reality of weak state institutions, corruption and mismanagement that undermined the performance of the MDGs especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Finally, a fundamental re-examination of global development financing from aid dependent relationship (over-reliance on ODA as enshrined in the MDGs) to available domestic fiscal affordability is needed. This will help to create independent financial pathways for LDCs to achieve the development goals at their own pace and level of development. Rather than relying on donor’s agencies and international institutions in implementing all development goals and targets, the financial gap between country’s fiscal capabilities and national priorities has to be plugged through debt relief, ODA and financial aid from international institutions.

Conclusively, the ideas and practices of global sustainable development that would come after 2015 should be developed in relation to the complexities of development issues in the LDCs and not on abstract agendas and strategies that are constituted in a universalistic frame. This will incorporate the perspectives of the North and the Global South in the participatory process of drawing up a new agenda that will reflect a win-win situation where strategic ‘’engagement of local mobilization with global discourses, and of local discourses with the global structure of power’’ as Cooper (1997: 85) brilliantly captured, are entrenched.
* A. Bayo Ogunrotifa teaches at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

REFERENCES

1. Amin, S. (2006): “The Millennium Development Goals: A Critique from the South.” Monthly Review, March 2006, accessed January 6, 2015,http://monthlyreview.org/2006/03/01/the-millennium-development-goals-a-critique-from-the-south
2. Clemens, M. & Moss, T. (2005): What’s Wrong with the Millennium Development Goals? CGD Working Paper. Accessible at http://tinyurl.com/orrpjgk
3. Clemens, M.A., Kenny, C.J & Moss, T.J. (2007): ‘The Trouble with the MDGs: Confronting Expectations of Aid and Development Success’.World Development, 35 (5): 735–751,
4. Cooper, F. (1997): Modernizing Bureaucrats, Backwards Africans, and the Development Concept in Cooper, F. & Packard, R. (eds) International development and the Social Sciences: Essays on the History and Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.
5. Escobar, A. (1991): Anthropology and the Development Encounter.The Making and Marketing of Development Anthropology. American Ethnologist, Vol. 18 (4): 658-682.
6. Fukuda-Parr, S. & Greenstein, J. (2010): How should MDG implementation be measured: faster progress or meeting targets? Centre for inclusive growth working paper 63. Accessible at http://tinyurl.com/ortwhn6
7. Gane, N. (2012) ‘Measure, value and the current crisis of sociology’. The Sociological Review, 59(S2) 151-173.
8. Hulme, D. (2009): The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): a short history of the world’s biggest promise, BWPI Working Paper 100, 2009
9. Hulme, D. (2010): Lessons from the making of the MDGs: human development meets results-based management in an unfair world, IDS Bulletin 41(1), 15-25
10. Manning, R. (2009): Using indicators to encourage development: lessons from the Millennium Development Goals, DIIS Report
11. Mills, C.W. (1959): The Sociological Imagination. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
12. Mishra, U. (2004): Millennium development goals: whose goals and for whom? BMJ. Sep 25, 2004; 329(7468): 742
13. Ogunrotifa A.B. (2012): ‘Millennium Development Goals in sub-Saharan Africa: A critical assessment’. Radix International Journal of Research in Social Science, 1(10): 1-22
14. Ojogwu, C.N (2009): The challenges of Attaining Millennium Development Goals In Education in Africa, College Student Journal.
15. Oya, C. (2011): Africa and the millennium development goals (MDGs): What’s right, what’s wrong and what’s missing. Revista De Economia Mundial, 27, 19–33. Retrieved from http://www.semwes.or
16. Rippin, N. (2013): Progress, Prospects and Lessons from the MDGs. Background research paper submitted to High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Accessible at www.post2015hlp.org/…/Rippin_Progress-Prospects-and-Lessons-from-t..
17. Sachs, J. D. (2012): From millennium development goals to sustainable development goals.Lancet, 379, 2206–2211.
18. Sahn, D.E and Stifel, D.C. (2003): Progress towards the Millennium Development Goals in Africa. World Development, 31 (1): 23-52.
19. Sumner, A., Lawo, T. (2010): The MDGs and beyond: pro-poor policy in a changing world, EADI Policy Paper
20. UNDP (2003): Indicators for monitoring the MDGs. Accessible atwww.undp.org/content/dam/aplawas/publications

* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM

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A failing project: International development aid November 24, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Africa Rising, African Poor, Aid to Africa, Development & Change, Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Afar, Ogaden, Sidama, Southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, The extents and dimensions of poverty in Ethiopia, UK Aid Should Respect Rights, UN's New Sustainable Development Goals, Youth Unemployment.
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They tell us that poverty has been cut in half in the last fifteen years or so, but independent watchdogs have repeatedly shown that this claim rests on statistical sleight-of-hand. Moreover, it relies on a poverty line of $1.25 a day, which no longer has any credibility. A more realistic line of $2.50 – the absolute minimum for achieving normal human life expectancy – shows that 3.1bn people remain in poverty today, which is 352m more people than in 1981, according to a 2008 study. And all the while, the wealth ratio between the richest and poorest countries has grown from 44:1 in 1973 to nearly 80:1 today (according to my estimation). The richest 85 people in the world (Mr Gates being one of them) now have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion, or half the world’s population. The aid project is failing because it misses the point about poverty. It assumes that poverty is a natural phenomenon, disconnected from the rich world, and that poor people and countries just need a little bit of charity to help them out. People are smarter than that. They know that poverty is a feature of the global economic system that it is very often caused by people, including some of the people who run or profit from the aid agenda. People have become increasingly aware – particularly since the 2008 crash – that poverty is created by rules that rig the economy in the interests of the rich. –  http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/11/death-international-developmen-2014111991426652285.html

 

 

 

The death of international development

The development industry needs an overhaul of strategy, not a change of language.

By Jason Hickel*

International development is dying; people just don’t buy it anymore. The West has been engaged in the project for more than six decades now, but the number of poor people in the world is growing, not shrinking, and inequality between rich and poor continues to widen instead of narrow. People know this, and they are abandoning the official story of development in droves. They no longer believe that foreign aid is some kind of silver bullet, that donating to charities will solve anything, or that Bono and Bill Gates can save the world.

This crisis of confidence has become so acute that the development community is scrambling to respond. The Gates Foundation recently spearheaded a process called the Narrative Project with some of the world’s biggest NGOs – Oxfam, Save the Children, One, etc. – in a last-ditch attempt to turn the tide of defection. They commissioned research to figure out what people thought about development, and their findings revealed a sea change in public attitudes. People are no longer moved by depictions of the poor as pitiable, voiceless “others” who need to be rescued by heroic white people – a racist narrative that has lost all its former currency; rather, they have come to see poverty as a matter of injustice.

These findings clearly demonstrate that people are beginning to reject the aid-centric approach to development. But instead of taking this as an opportunity to face up to their failures and change the way the industry works, the Gates Foundation and its partner NGOs have decided to stick with business as usual – but to cloak it with fresh language.

Leaked internal documents make it clear that the Narrative Project is nothing more than a PR campaign – a bid to “change public attitudes” by rolling out fresh language that will be more effective at securing public support and donations. The strategy goes like this: Talk about the poor as “equals” who share our values; emphasise that development is a “partnership”; stop casting rich people and celebrities as saviours of the poor; and above all, play up the idea of “self-reliance” and “independence”, with special attention to empowering women and girls. Progressive Westerners love this stuff.

This new framing amounts to little more than a propaganda strategy. Instead of changing their actual approach to development, the Narrative Project just wants to make people think they’re changing it. In the end, the existing aid paradigm remains intact, and the real problems remain unaddressed.

A failing project

Why do people no longer believe in the charity and aid-centric model of development? According to the Narrative Project, it’s because they’re all a bit stupid. They let their personal beliefs override the “facts”. They’re “old” and “conservative”. And they’re too calloused to care about social causes. It doesn’t occur to the development industry that people might have good reasons for their scepticism. And there are many.

For one, the aid project is in fact failing. There have been some achievements, to be sure, but the Gates Foundation and official sources like the UN want the public to believe that these piecemeal gains are tantamount to overall success. They tell us that poverty has been cut in half in the last fifteen years or so, but independent watchdogs have repeatedly shown that this claim rests on statistical sleight-of-hand. Moreover, it relies on a poverty line of $1.25 a day, which no longer has any credibility. A more realistic line of $2.50 – the absolute minimum for achieving normal human life expectancy – shows that 3.1bn people remain in poverty today, which is 352m more people than in 1981, according to a 2008 study.

And all the while, the wealth ratio between the richest and poorest countries has grown from 44:1 in 1973 to nearly 80:1 today (according to my estimation). The richest 85 people in the world (Mr Gates being one of them) now have more wealth than the poorest 3.5 billion, or half the world’s population.

The aid project is failing because it misses the point about poverty. It assumes that poverty is a natural phenomenon, disconnected from the rich world, and that poor people and countries just need a little bit of charity to help them out. People are smarter than that. They know that poverty is a feature of the global economic system that it is very often caused by people, including some of the people who run or profit from the aid agenda. People have become increasingly aware – particularly since the 2008 crash – that poverty is created by rules that rig the economy in the interests of the rich.

A system of plunder

We can trace this rigging process through history. The programmes that global South countries used successfully to build their economies and reduce poverty after the end of colonialism – trade tariffs, subsidies, social spending on healthcare and education – were in many cases actively destroyed by Western intervention in the name of “development”.  Western-backed coups in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Congo in 1961, Brazil in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Chile in 1973 – to name just a few – deposed democratically elected leaders with pro-poor platforms to install dictators friendly to multinational corporations. Most of these dictators received billions of dollars in “aid” from Western governments.

When coups fell out of favour with the voting public, the World Bank and the IMF stepped in instead. They leveraged debts to impose crushing “structural adjustment” programmes on poor countries, forcing them to privatise public assets, open their markets to Western goods, cut social spending and reduce wages, and give foreign companies access to extra cheap labour and raw materials. Structural adjustment was one of the greatest single causes of poverty in the global South in the 20th century, and it continues to this day under the guise of “austerity” .

These destructive policies only persist because voting power in the World Bank and the IMF is controlled by rich countries. High-income countries control more than 60 percent of the voting power at the World Bank, but are home to less than 15 percent of the world’s population.

Right now, developing countries lose as much as $900bn each year to tax evasion by multinational companies through trade mispricing, and almost the same sum again through transfer pricing. They lose another $600bn each year in debt service to mostly firslt world banks. These losses alone amount to nearly 20 times more than the total flow of aid, which is a paltry $135bn – and that’s not counting land grabs and other forms of resource theft.

All of this makes it clear that poverty is not a natural condition. It is a state of plunder. It is delusional to believe that charity and aid are meaningful solutions to this kind of problem.

Some people in the NGO community know this all too well, and they are calling for genuine political change: The democratisation of the World Bank and the IMF, fairer trade rules, and an end to tax evasion. But because the leadership at the Gates Foundation and some NGOs find these issues inconvenient  such alternative voices are being side-lined in favour of a disingenuous attempt to “fix” public attitudes by pushing ever harder on the same old charity and aid story.

If the Gates Foundation and NGO leadership want to get serious about tackling poverty, they might start by talking to the public about the importance of releasing developing countries from the siphons of rich countries and their corporations. They might help put the final nails in the coffin of the paternalistic story of charity and aid, white saviours and poor brown victims, and tell the real story about how the rich get richer off the backs of the poor. That would be a true starting point for development in the 21st century.

*Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules.

Martin Kirk, Global Campaigns Director of /The Rules, contributed to the analysis for this article.

 

Read more @ http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/11/death-international-developmen-2014111991426652285.html

African presidents ‘use China aid for patronage politics’

Most of the $80bn of development funds sent to Africa went to areas where national leaders were born rather than the most needy, says AidData report

http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/19/african-presidents-china-aid-patronage-politics

African leaders are almost three times more likely to spend Chinese development aid in areas where they have ethnic ties, casting doubt on the humanitarian effectiveness of Beijing’s strict “hands-off” policy in the continent.

China says it spends more than half of its foreign aid in 51 African countries, and AidData, an open-source data centre, says Beijing sent more than $80bn in “pledged, initiated, and completed projects” between 2000 and 2012. Most of that aid went to areas where national leaders were born, indicating a strong political bias, AidData said.

“As soon as [a region] becomes the birthplace of an African president this region gets 270% more development assistance (from China) than it would get if it were not the birth region of the president,” said Roland Hodler, professor of economics at the University of St Gallen in Switzerland and co-author of a report, Aid on Demand: African Leaders and the Geography of China’s Foreign Assistance, published in conjunction with the database.

Ghana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia received the most Chinese development assistance over the reporting period, the study showed.

China is sending development funds to African governments with the aim of buying long-term political alliances, Hodler said. Sierra Leone’s president, Ernest Bai Koroma, recently used Chinese aid to build a school in Yoni, his hometown, according to the report.

“To us, this suggests that the Chinese principle of non-interference in domestic affairs allows African presidents to use Chinese aid for patronage politics. I am sure the Chinese are aware of this, and I would argue that they accept it because they care more about having a president who is sympathetic to them than about the poor,” said Hodler.

But the study also noted that, contrary to popular belief, Chinese aid to Africa is not strongly tied to countries that host Beijing’s oil and mining operations. “We do not find a strong pattern that Chinese aid only goes to regions where there’s a lot of natural resources. The picture that they only go after natural resources is not really confirmed by our sub-national level analysis,” Hodler said.

Deborah Brautigam, director of the China Africa Research Initiative at John Hopkins University, said: “Most Chinese finance in Africa is not official aid, but business-related export credits borrowed by governments to finance infrastructure projects of various kinds. If these governments want to channel projects to their home town, Chinese banks would have no objection.

“For official aid, which is heavily diplomatic, the Chinese government looks beyond any sitting African leader to all the leaders to come, and to public opinion more generally. This is why they use their official aid for big, visible projects like stadiums, ministry buildings, and airports that can be seen and used by many people – in the capital city – and not tucked away in a rural hamlet.”

Researchers took data that China published on its foreign assistance and mapped where development projects were located. “The Chinese tend to send more aid to countries that are somewhat poorer but within these countries they go for the relatively rich regions,” said Hodler.

China maintains that it sends aid to African governments with the aim of furthering their development agendas.

The Chinese government said in July: “When providing foreign assistance, China adheres to the principles of not imposing any political conditions, not interfering in the internal affairs of the recipient countries and fully respecting their right to independently choosing their own paths and models of development. The basic principles China upholds in providing foreign assistance are mutual respect, equality, keeping promise[s], mutual benefits and win-win.”

• This article was amended on 21 November 2014 to clarify that the $80bn figure for aid to Africa between 2000 and 2012 was an estimate by AidData, not an official Chinese government figure, and that the estimate includes “pledged, initiated, and completed projects”.

Read more @ http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2014/nov/19/african-presidents-china-aid-patronage-politics

The statement ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa’ carries no real meaning. To utter it is merely stating that you subscribe to the hype August 26, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Africa and debt, Africa Rising, African Poor, Aid to Africa, Development & Change, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Free development vs authoritarian model, Illicit financial outflows from Ethiopia, Land Grabs in Africa, Poverty, The extents and dimensions of poverty in Ethiopia, UN's New Sustainable Development Goals, Undemocratic governance in Africa, Youth Unemployment.
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‘Most of the time we simply do not know enough to assert accurate growth rates. There are also known biases and manipulations. Ethiopia, for example, is notable for having long-standing disagreements with the IMF regarding their growth rates. Whereas the official numbers have been quoted in double digits for the past decade, a thorough analysis suggested the actual growth rates were around 5 to 6 percent per annum. More generally, one study used satellite imaging of nighttime lights to calculate alternative growth rates, and found that authoritarian regimes overstate reported rates of growth by about 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points. Another recent study argues that inflation is systematically understated in African countries – which in turn means that growth and poverty reduction is overstated.’
http://africanarguments.org/2014/08/26/why-saying-seven-out-of-ten-fastest-growing-economies-are-in-africa-carries-no-real-meaning-by-morten-jerven/

Why saying ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa’ carries no real meaning

By Morten Jerven @ AfricanArguments
Before, during and after the US Africa summit one of the most frequently repeated factoids supporting the Africa Rising meme was that ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa.’ In reality this is both a far less accurate and much less impressive statistic than it sounds. More generally, narratives on African economic development tend to be loosely connected to facts, and instead are driven more by hype.

***

The ‘seven out of ten’ meme derives from a data exercise done in 2011 by The Economist. The exercise excluded countries with a population of less than 10 million and also the post-conflict booming Iraq and Afghanistan. This left 81 countries, 28 of them in Africa (more than 3 out of 10) and, if you take out the OECD countries from the sample, (which are unlikely to grow at more than 7 percent per annum), you find that every second economy in the sample is in Africa. It might not give the same rhetorical effect to say: ‘on average some African economies are expected to grow slightly faster than other non-OECD countries,’ but that would be more accurate.

And before we literally get ahead of ourselves (The Economist was reporting forecasts made for 2011 to 2015) there is a difference between forecasted and actually measured growth. According to John Kenneth Galbraith, the only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable. So how good is the IMF at forecasting growth in Low Income Countries?

According to their own evaluation, IMF forecasts “over-predicted GDP growth and under-predicted inflation.” Another study looked at the difference between the forecasts and the subsequent growth revisions in low income countries, and found that “output data revisions in low-income countries are, on average, larger than in other countries, and that they are much more optimistic.” Forecasts are systematically optimistic all over the world, but in Low Income Countries even more so.

***

Among those on the list of the fastest growers were countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Ethiopia. The news that both Nigerian and Ghanaian GDP doubled following the introduction of new benchmark years for estimating GDP in 2010 and 2014 should remind us that the pinpoint accuracy of these growth estimates is lacking. How confident should you be about a 7 percent growth rate when 50 percent of the economy is missing in the official baseline? Recent growth in countries with outdated base years is also overstated.

While Ghana has reportedly had the highest growth rates in the world over the past years, a peer review of the Ghana national accounts noted that “neither a national census of agriculture nor other surveys, such as a crop and live-stock survey, have been conducted…there is no survey to provide benchmark data for construction, domestic trade and services.” It was recently reported that an economic census is being planned for next year. What we do know is that Ghana (together with Zambia, another of the projected ‘top ten growers’) has returned to the IMF to seek assistance following their entry into international lending markets.

Most of the time we simply do not know enough to assert accurate growth rates. There are also known biases and manipulations. Ethiopia, for example, is notable for having long-standing disagreements with the IMF regarding their growth rates. Whereas the official numbers have been quoted in double digits for the past decade, a thorough analysis suggested the actual growth rates were around 5 to 6 percent per annum. More generally, one study used satellite imaging of nighttime lights to calculate alternative growth rates, and found that authoritarian regimes overstate reported rates of growth by about 0.5 to 1.5 percentage points. Another recent study argues that inflation is systematically understated in African countries – which in turn means that growth and poverty reduction is overstated.

***

Data bias is carried across from economic growth to other metrics. The pressure on scholars, journalists and other commentators to say something general about ‘Africa’ is relentless, and so the general rule is to oblige willingly. When talking about average trends in African politics and opinion, analysis is influence by the availability of survey data, such as Afrobarometer, and the data availability is biased. According to Kim Yi Donne, on The Washington Post’s ‘Monkey Cage’ blog, of the 15 African countries with the lowest Polity IV rankings, only seven have ever been included in the Afrobarometer, whereas all but one African country rated as a democracy by the same index is included.

Any quantitative study which says something about the relationship between growth and trends in inequality and poverty, relies on the availability of household survey data. One paper boldly stated that African Poverty is Falling…Much Faster than You Think! The data basis was very sparse and unevenly distributed. There were no data points for Angola, Congo, Comoros, Cape Verde, D.R. Congo, Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea, Seychelles, Togo, Sao Tome and Principe, Chad, Liberia, and Sudan. In addition, six countries only have one survey. The database included no observations since 2004 – so the trend in poverty was based entirely on conjecture. Famously you need at least two data points to draw a line. Yet the study included a graph of poverty lines in the Democratic Republic of Congo from 1970 to 2006 – based on zero data points.

A result of doubts about the accuracy of the official evidence, and a dearth of evidence on income distributions, scholars have turned to other measurements. Data on access to education and ownership of goods such as television sets from Demographic and Health Surveys were used to compile new asset indices. In turn, these data were used to proxy economic growth and in place of having a measure of the middle class. In both cases the data may paint a misleadingly positive picture. While claiming to describe all of Africa over the past two decades, these surveys are only available for some countries sometimes.

***

The statement ‘seven out of ten fastest growing economies are in Africa’ carries no real meaning. To utter it is merely stating that you subscribe to the hype. It is particularly frustrating, and it surely stands in way of objective evaluation, that the narratives in African Economic Development switches from one extreme to the other so swiftly. The truth lies somewhere between the ‘miracles’ and ‘tragedies’. It is nothing short of stunning that in a matter of 3-4 years the most famous phrase relating to African economies has turned from ‘Bottom Billion’ to ‘Africa Rising’.

Because of a lack of awareness on historical data on economic growth it was long claimed that Africa was suffering “a chronic failure of growth”, but growth is not new to the African economies, growth has been recurring. There is no doubt that there are more goods leaving and entering the African continent today than fifteen years ago. More roads and hotels are being built and more capital is flowing in and out of the African continent than before. But what is the real pace of economic growth? Does the increase in the volume of transaction result in a sustained increase in living standards? The evidence does not yet readily provide us with an answer. It is the job of scholars to give tempered assessments that navigate between what is make-believe and what passes as plausible evidence.

Morten Jerven is Associate Professor at the Simon Fraser University, School for International Studies. His book Poor Numbers: how we are misled by African development statistics and what to do about it is published by Cornell University Press. @MJerven

http://africanarguments.org/2014/08/26/why-saying-seven-out-of-ten-fastest-growing-economies-are-in-africa-carries-no-real-meaning-by-morten-jerven/

Related References:

 

Why Africa needs a data revolution

 

Since the term “data revolution” was introduced, there has been a flurry of activity to define, develop, and implement an agenda to transform the collection, use, and distribution of development statistics. That makes sense. Assessing the international community’s next development agenda, regardless of its details, will be impossible without accurate data.

Yet, in Sub-Saharan Africa – the region with the most potential for progress under the forthcoming Sustainable Development Goals – accurate data are severely lacking. From 1990 to 2009, only one Sub-Saharan country had data on all 12 indicators established in 2000 by the Millennium Development Goals. Indeed, of the 60 countries with complete vital statistics, not one is in Africa. While most African countries have likely experienced economic growth during the last decade, the accuracy of the data on which growth estimates are based – not to mention data on inflation, food production, education, and vaccination rates – remains far from adequate.

Inaccurate data can have serious consequences. Consider Nigeria’s experience earlier this year, when GDP rebasing showed that the economy was nearly 90% larger than previously thought. The distorted picture of Nigeria’s economy provided by the previous statistics likely led to misguided decisions regarding private investment, credit ratings, and taxation. Moreover, it meant that Nigeria was allocated more international aid than it merited – aid that could have gone to needier countries.

Contrary to popular belief, the constraints on the production and use of basic data stem not from a shortage of technical capacity and knowhow, but from underlying political and systemic challenges. For starters, national statistical offices often lack the institutional autonomy needed to protect the integrity of data, production of which thus tends to be influenced by political forces and special interest groups.

Poorly designed policies also undermine the accuracy of data. For example, governments and donors sometimes tie funding to self-reported measures, which creates incentives for recipients to over-report key data like vaccination or school-enrollment rates. Without effective oversight, these well-intentioned efforts to reward progress can go awry.

Despite these failings, national governments and international donors continue to devote far too few resources to ensuring the collection of adequate data. Only 2% of official development aid is earmarked for improving the quality of statistics – an amount wholly insufficient to assess accurately the impact of the other 98% of aid. And governments’ dependency on donors to fund and gather their core statistics is unsustainable.

In fact, stronger national statistical systems are the first step toward improving the accuracy, timeliness, and availability of the data that are essential to calculating almost any major economic or social-welfare indicator. These include statistics on births and deaths; growth and poverty; tax and trade; health, education, and safety; and land and the environment.

Developing such systems is an ambitious but achievable goal. All that is needed is a willingness to experiment with new approaches to collecting, using, and sharing data.

This is where the public comes in. If private firms, media, and civil-society organizations identify specific problems and call publicly for change, their governments will feel pressure to take the steps needed to produce accurate, unbiased data – for example, by enhancing the autonomy of national statistical offices or providing sufficient funds to hire more qualified personnel. While it may be tempting to bypass government and hope for an easy technology-based solution, sustainable, credible progress will be difficult without public-sector involvement.

The recognition by governments and external donors of the need for more – and more efficient – funding, particularly to national statistical systems, will be integral to such a shift. Establishing stronger incentives for agencies to produce good data – that is, data that are accurate, timely, relevant, and readily available – would also help, with clearly delineated metrics defining what qualifies as “good.” In fact, tying progress on those metrics to funding via pay-for-performance agreements could improve development outcomes considerably.

One concrete strategy to achieve these goals would be to create a country-donor compact for better data.

Read more @ http://forumblog.org/2014/08/africas-necessary-data-revolution/?utm_content=buffer4f4fd&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

 

False accounting & the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie August 21, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, Africa and debt, Africa Rising, African Poor, Colonizing Structure, Development & Change, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Free development vs authoritarian model, Oromia, Poverty, The extents and dimensions of poverty in Ethiopia, UN's New Sustainable Development Goals, Youth Unemployment.
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Poverty

Exposing the great ‘poverty reduction’ lie

Jason Hickel* @ Aljazeera Opinion

 

The UN claims that its Millennium Development Campaign has reduced poverty globally, an assertion that is far from true.

 

 

The received wisdom comes to us from all directions: Poverty rates are declining and extreme poverty will soon be eradicated. The World Bank, the governments of wealthy countries, and – most importantly – the United Nations Millennium Campaign all agree on this narrative. Relax, they tell us. The world is getting better, thanks to the spread of free market capitalism and western aid. Development is working, and soon, one day in the very near future, poverty will be no more.

It is a comforting story, but unfortunately it is just not true. Poverty is not disappearing as quickly as they say. In fact, according to some measures, poverty has been getting significantly worse. If we are to be serious about eradicating poverty, we need to cut through the sugarcoating and face up to some hard facts.

False accounting

The most powerful expression of the poverty reduction narrative comes from the UN’s Millennium Campaign. Building on the Millennium Declaration of 2000, the Campaign’s main goal has been to reduce global poverty by half by 2015 – an objective that it proudly claims to have achieved ahead of schedule. But if we look beyond the celebratory rhetoric, it becomes clear that this assertion is deeply misleading.

The world’s governments first pledged to end extreme poverty during the World Food Summit in Rome in 1996. They committed to reducing the number of undernourished people by half before 2015, which, given the population at the time, meant slashing the poverty headcount by 836 million. Many critics claimed that this goal was inadequate given that, with the right redistributive policies, extreme poverty could be ended much more quickly.

But instead of making the goals more robust, global leaders surreptitiously diluted it. Yale professor and development watchdog Thomas Pogge points out that when the Millennium Declaration was signed, the goal was rewritten as “Millennium Developmental Goal 1” (MDG-1) and was altered to halve the proportion (as opposed to the absolute number) of the world’s people living on less than a dollar a day. By shifting the focus to income levels and switching from absolute numbers to proportional ones, the target became much easier to achieve. Given the rate of population growth, the new goal was effectively reduced by 167 million. And that was just the beginning.

After the UN General Assembly adopted MDG-1, the goal was diluted two more times. First, they changed it from halving the proportion of impoverished people in the world to halving the proportion of impoverished people in developing countries, thus taking advantage of an even faster-growing demographic denominator. Second, they moved the baseline of analysis from 2000 back to 1990, thus retroactively including all poverty reduction accomplished by China throughout the 1990s, due in no part whatsoever to the Millennium Campaign.

This statistical sleight-of-hand narrowed the target by a further 324 million. So what started as a goal to reduce the poverty headcount by 836 million has magically become only 345 million – less than half the original number. Having dramatically redefined the goal, the Millennium Campaign can claim that poverty has been halved when in fact it has not. The triumphalist narrative hailing the death of poverty rests on an illusion of deceitful accounting.

Poor numbers

But there’s more. Not only have the goalposts been moved, the definition of poverty itself has been massaged in a way that serves the poverty reduction narrative. What is considered the threshold for poverty – the “poverty line” – is normally calculated by each nation for itself, and is supposed to reflect what an average human adult needs to subsist. In 1990, Martin Ravallion, an Australian economist at the World Bank, noticed that the poverty lines of a group of the world’s poorest countries clustered around $1 per day. On Ravallion’s recommendation, the World Bank adopted this as the first-ever International Poverty Line (IPL).

But the IPL proved to be somewhat troublesome. Using this threshold, the World Bank announced in its 2000 annual report that “the absolute number of those living on $1 per day or less continues to increase. The worldwide total rose from 1.2 billion in 1987 to 1.5 billion today and, if recent trends persist, will reach 1.9 billion by 2015.” This was alarming news, especially because it suggested that the free-market reforms imposed by the World Bank and the IMF on Global South countries during the 1980s and 1990s in the name of “development” were actually making things worse.

This amounted to a PR nightmare for the World Bank. Not long after the report was released, however, their story changed dramatically and they announced the exact opposite news: While poverty had been increasing steadily for some two centuries, they said, the introduction of free-market policies had actually reduced the number of impoverished people by 400 million between 1981 and 2001.

This new story was possible because the Bank shifted the IPL from the original $1.02 (at 1985 PPP) to $1.08 (at 1993 PPP), which, given inflation, was lower in real terms. With this tiny change – a flick of an economist’s wrist – the world was magically getting better, and the Bank’s PR problem was instantly averted. This new IPL is the one that the Millennium Campaign chose to adopt.

The IPL was changed a second time in 2008, to $1.25 (at 2005 PPP). And once again the story improved overnight. The $1.08 IPL made it seem as though the poverty headcount had been reduced by 316 million people between 1990 and 2005. But the new IPL – even lower than the last, in real terms – inflated the number to 437 million, creating the illusion that an additional 121 million souls had been “saved” from the jaws of debilitating poverty. Not surprisingly, the Millennium Campaign adopted the new IPL, which allowed it to claim yet further chimerical gains.

A more honest view of poverty

We need to seriously rethink these poverty metrics. The dollar-a-day IPL is based on the national poverty lines of the 15 poorest countries, but these lines provide a poor foundation given that many are set by bureaucrats with very little data. More importantly, they tell us nothing about what poverty is like in wealthier countries. A 1990 survey in Sri Lanka found that 35 percent of the population fell under the national poverty line. But the World Bank, using the IPL, reported only 4 percent in the same year. In other words, the IPL makes poverty seem much less serious than it actually is.

The present IPL theoretically reflects what $1.25 could buy in the United States in 2005. But people who live in the US know it is impossible to survive on this amount. The prospect is laughable. In fact, the US government itself calculated that in 2005 the average person needed at least $4.50 per day simply to meet minimum nutritional requirements. The same story can be told in many other countries, where a dollar a day is inadequate for human existence. In India, for example, children living just above the IPL still have a 60 percent chance of being malnourished.

According to Peter Edwards of Newcastle University, if people are to achieve normal life expectancy, they need roughly double the current IPL, or a minimum of $2.50 per day. But adopting this higher standard would seriously undermine the poverty reduction narrative. An IPL of $2.50 shows a poverty headcount of around 3.1 billion, almost triple what the World Bank and the Millennium Campaign would have us believe. It also shows that poverty is getting worse, not better, with nearly 353 million more people impoverished today than in 1981. With China taken out of the equation, that number shoots up to 852 million.

Some economists go further and advocate for an IPL of $5 or even $10 – the upper boundary suggested by the World Bank. At this standard, we see that some 5.1 billion people – nearly 80 percent of the world’s population – are living in poverty today. And the number is rising.

These more accurate parameters suggest that the story of global poverty is much worse than the spin doctored versions we are accustomed to hearing. The $1.25 threshold is absurdly low, but it remains in favour because it is the only baseline that shows any progress in the fight against poverty, and therefore justifies the present economic order. Every other line tells the opposite story. In fact, even the $1.25 line shows that, without factoring China, the poverty headcount is worsening, with 108 million people added to the ranks of the poor since 1981. All of this calls the triumphalist narrative into question.

A call for change

This is a pressing concern; the UN is currently negotiating the new Sustainable Development Goals that will replace the Millennium Campaign in 2015, and they are set to use the same dishonest poverty metrics as before. They will leverage the “poverty reduction” story to argue for business as usual: stick with the status quo and things will keep getting better. We need to demand more. If the Sustainable Development Goals are to have any real value, they need to begin with a more honest poverty line – at least $2.50 per day – and instate rules to preclude the kind of deceit that the World Bank and the Millennium Campaign have practised to date.

Eradicating poverty in this more meaningful sense will require more than just using aid to tinker around the edges of the problem. It will require changing the rules of the global economy to make it fairer for the world’s majority. Rich country governments will resist such changes with all their might. But epic problems require courageous solutions, and, with 2015 fast approaching, the moment to act is now. Read more @original source http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/08/exposing-great-poverty-reductio-201481211590729809.html

*Dr Jason Hickel lectures at the London School of Economics and serves as an adviser to /The Rules. 

Is Poverty the fault, crime, of the poor? August 7, 2014

Posted by OromianEconomist in Africa, African Poor, Colonizing Structure, Corruption, Development, Development & Change, Economics: Development Theory and Policy applications, Ethiopia's Colonizing Structure and the Development Problems of People of Oromia, Afar, Ogaden, Sidama, Southern Ethiopia and the Omo Valley, Poverty, UN's New Sustainable Development Goals, Youth Unemployment.
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Odaa OromooPoverty

 

 

 

The truth is that humanity must now confront, not just poverty, but a convergence of mega crises, all of which are deeply interconnected: Government corruption; ecological destabilization; structural debt; and hyper-consumerism established in the west and rapidly expanding worldwide.

Martin Kirk & Joe Brewer

 

 

 

 

Right now, a long and complicated process is underway to replace the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expire in 2015, with new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These will set the parameters for international development for the next 15 years and every government, UN agency, large corporation and NGO, not to mention billions of citizens on the planet have a stake.

Judging by what’s being produced, though, we have a serious problem. The best way to describe it is with an old joke: There’s a man driving through the countryside, trying to find a nearby town. He’s desperately lost and so when he sees a woman by the side of the road he pulls over and asks for directions. The woman scratches her head and says, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here.”

The best evidence of where the SDGs are starting from is the so-called “Zero Draft” document, first released on 3 June and currently undergoing exhaustive consultation.

First things to note are the big differences with the MDGs. Most strikingly, the SDGs suggest an end to poverty is possible in the next 15 years, whereas the MDGs aimed at halving it. The implication is that we’ve made amazing progress and are now on the home stretch. Secondly, the SDGs get serious about climate change. This is a major paradigm shift and, what’s more, they aim squarely at the heart of the problem: patterns of production and consumption. Impressive. Thirdly, reducing inequality “within and between” countries is included, with a goal of its own. This suggests another paradigm shift, and a controversial one because it opens the door, just a crack, to the idea that the extremely rich might be making an undue amount of their money off the backs of the extremely poor.

Of these three goals, it is fairly certain that two will disappear before the process concludes. There is no way the world’s rich governments and corporations will allow a meaningful challenge to production and consumption patterns, or a focus on reducing inequality. This is a given.

However, there is an even more important problem in the Zero Draft document which is that the very starting point of the issue is profoundly misconceived. How do we know? Because of the language. Language is a code that contains a lot more than its literal meaning, and an analysis of semantic frames in the Zero Draft exposes the logic upon which it is built.

Let’s take the opening paragraph:

“Poverty eradication is the greatest global challenge facing the world today and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development. We are therefore committed to freeing humanity from poverty and hunger as a matter of urgency.”

Poverty can be conceptualised in many ways and in this passage it is presented as both a preventable disease (“to be eradicated”) and as a prison (“to free humanity from”). In both, the framing reveals the framers’ view, conscious or otherwise, on causation. Diseases are just part of the natural world, so if poverty is a disease, it suggest that it is something for which no-one is to blame. The logic of a prison meanwhile is that people are in it for committing a crime. The former denies the idea that human actions may be a cause of inequality and poverty; the latter invokes the idea that poverty is the fault – the crime – of the poor.

Also note the phrase: “the greatest global challenge.” This asserts a logic in which there is a hierarchy of individual issues based on relative importance, with poverty at the top. The truth, however, is that humanity must confront a convergence of mega-crises all of which are deeply interconnected. Government corruption, ecological destabilisation, structural debt, hyper-consumerism established in the West and rapidly expanding in the east and south, for example, are all closely linked. But framing poverty as “the greatest global challenge” conceals the web of interconnected systems and removes them from consideration. The result: No systemic solutions can arise from a logic that denies systemic problems.

There is a good reason for this: it protects the status quo. This logic validates the current system and ordering of power by excusing it of blame and says it can, indeed must, continue business as usual. This is the logic of the corporate capitalist system.

There’s no denying that some excellent progress has been made since 1990 – the year the MDGs measure from – but you don’t need to deny that to know there is something fundamentally wrong with a global economy in which, at a time when wealth grew by 66%, the ratio of average incomes of the richest 5% and the poorest 20% rose from 202:1 to 275:1. Or that the reality masked by the ratios is that one third of all deaths since 1990 (432 million) have been poverty-related. Using UN figures, that’s more than double the combined deaths from the Two World Wars, Mao’s Great Leap Forward, Stalin’s purges, and all military and civilian deaths from the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. What’s more, even though we are now seeing around 400,000 deaths every year from climate change, we are pumping 61% more greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere annually than we were in 1990.

The point is that, in light of the logic the language exposes – and we have mentioned just two of many possible examples telling the same story – any glorification of the SDGs we hear over the next year must be seen as reinforcing the logic their language contains.

To really tackle poverty, inequality and climate change, we would need to change that logic to one that is built on an acceptance of how much these problems are the result of human actions. And that the fact of living in poverty makes no inherent comment whatsoever on the person or people concerned, other than that they live in poverty. This in turn would make a wholly different type and scale of change feel like common sense. For example, it would feel obvious to work towards taxing carbon emissions at source and putting in place sanctions against those responsible for hoardingat least $26 trillion in tax havens. We would instinctively reach to introduce laws that give local authorities everywhere the right to revoke corporate charters for serious social or environmental misdeeds anywhere. And the big one: money. Ridiculous though it may sound, right now we allow private banks to control the supply of US dollars, euros and other major currencies that surge through the global economy. These banks charge everyone, including governments, interest on every note, thereby guaranteeing that a constant river of money flows into their coffers, along with immense power. But unfortunately, none of these issues will make it into the SDGs because they contradict the current, dominant logic, and what’s more, because they might actually work and redistribute power and wealth more equitably.

We compound our problems when we allow ourselves to be drawn into processes like the SDG-design are turning out to be. Every ounce of credence given to their frames helps weigh down the center of debate far from where it needs to be. Until the UN can use its powers, resources and privileges to promote policies that grow from the logic of its highest ideals, we may help it, the planet and each other best by divesting our attention from it and finding avenues for change that can.

This article was originally published by Common Dreams.

Read more @ http://commondreams.org/views/2014/08/06/hidden-shallows-global-poverty-eradication-efforts