The current political turmoil in the UK is just a display of the failure of the winner takes all approach that marks most of the UK's political debate. The only road ahead for Prime Minister May is to make it work with a deal that both sides of the house of commons can live with. But this is certainly not a done deal.
While the whole world is watching the Brits themselves have already turned away from government undertakings, having no interest in any live broadcast nor summaries in newspapers as I discovered during my visit to our UK office last week. Most of the people have no confidence in their MPs, who have shown not to be able to make the right choices on their behalf. This disability was best demonstrated by the Referendum that was held almost two and a half years ago by the then Prime Minister David Cameron. It was an election promise easily made, winning him the popular vote, but not having counted todays losses. May is adament that there are only two options: revoking article 50 and remain EU member (which would not respect the outcome of the referendum) or have a deal and leave the EU in an orderly fashion. However, just as much as the speaker of the house fails to restore order, May is unable to build bridges across the aisle, with Jeremy Corbyn refusing to speak to her about a deal as he wants to see her go. There is just one consensus across the ailse: Leaving without a deal is not an option. May has to produce a real 'bloody Mary' to break the deadlock in British politics.
Just like this most favored drink in the UK, a mix of tomato juice and vodka, May aims to deliver a compromise to the British people, mixing Brexiteers' desires with Remainers' wish lists into a new deal with the European Union. On both sides of this political divide are uneasy marriages of Tories and Whigs. Labor remainers frantically calling for a second referendum trying to confirm the desire of the younger generation to remain in the EU and May refusing to give in, wanting to respect the will of the British people (even if that will is dated two and a half years back), as asking the British people again would present a failure of her government to deliver on the will of the people. At the same time populists amongst the conservatives playing their constituencies hoping for the British Empire to raise from the ashes with trade deals around the world, but not willing to consider a deal with the European Union that would prolong EU regulations to govern their actions. In the meantime white collars in neighbouring offices of financial firms and global corporates are waiting in the shadows to see how this dog-fight plays out. Some are already choosing with their feet opting for the Netherlands, where their liberal friend Prime Minister Mark Rutte is still in charge and has been navigating a lot of complexity in Dutch politics over the last decade, while keeping a good steer on the tax climate for multinationals.
Reasons for many brexiteers to escape the EU are linked to the desire for less regulation and more sovereignty. However, paradoxically a departure from Europe will require a spike in regulations in the UK to stay competitive in the global market. Hence, the British politicians are advised to be at the right side of the table when the terms of trade are being negotiated between the UK and the EU. As it turns out such is definitely not a done deal yet and could result in a real "bloody" Ma(r)y marking the end of her political career.
May would do well in taking an example in her Ethiopian colleague Abiy Ahmed, who has been able to bring opposites together in a rather hostile political environment in Ethiopia. With his own political party dominating Ethiopian politics for decades, he met with 81 opposition parties over the past week. Dealing with strong undercurrents in his own party he started to reach out to former enemies both domestically as internationally and aims to reconcile Ethiopians with each other and their neighbours while opening up to foreign investment and influence. Likewise, instead of delivering a Bloody Mary, Therese May could change course and become the 'Mother Theresa' of British politics. She could reach out to the Labor constituency in aiming to serve not just the British people but especially the poor Brits as well as those seeking refuge. That could change the discourse from a what is best for Britain to a what is best for the world and therefore benefits Britain. It could make people favour Britain again, not just as a destination for asylum seekers, but also for companies and economic migrants, filling holes in the social fabric while providing highly needed labour force for key-service delivery.
A lot of changes can take place in three months time. During the past couple of months I personally have been busy with the humanitarian innovation agenda of the Dutch Relief Alliance, a collaborative of 16 Dutch humanitarian agencies. The process has been highly collaborative and involved engagement with the various member agencies and companies or research bodies willing to partner in developing, piloting or scaling innovations for the humanitarian sector. This has been made possible by the Dutch government intentionally allocating 3 million a year to the humanitarian innovation through the Dutch Relief Alliance. However, will it be timely and effective enough to achieve the kind of system change that is required to tackle tomorrow's challenges?
Irregular migration flows seem on the increase around Bangladesh as governments of Myanmar and India choose radical approaches to redefine national identity, leaving Muslim minority groups uncatered for both in Myanmar and Assam regional state of India. Parties in the Middle-East seem to play each other for political influence in countries like Syria and Yemen, plunging them into civil wars. Both regions have seen massive displacement of people as a result, who no longer have a secure place to live with humanitarian agencies trying to respond and relieve the suffering while attempting to strategize ways forward with local communities and governments.
At the same time, one of the other source regions for migration (the Horn of Africa) seems to witness a major shift in the political landscape with the new Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Dr. Abiy reaching out to all Ethiopians and neighbouring countries in a strive to restore order after years of instability, emphasizing unity and a shared future. In just a few months visits were made to Egypt, Eritrea and the US, reducing tensions with Egypt and Eritrea substantially. Also at home opposition leaders and other political prisoners were released and a year of Jubilee seems to have been embraced by the new leadership, who also turned to the Ethiopian diaspora in the United States calling on His Holiness Patriarch Abune Merkorios of Ethiopia to return from exile. The schism that split the Ehiopian Orthodox Church in 1991, was undone in an unprecedented way. The sitting Patriarch, His Holiness Abune Patriarch Mathias, has agreed to co-lead the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedu (reunited) Church in an administrative role. It only goes to show how Abiy manages to inspire other leaders to deal with the past, face the present and have a vision for the future while calling on everyone to contribute.
It made me wonder what the world needs most: innovation by humanitarian aid agencies to detect deterriorating situations better or invoke appropriate responses in a timely manner, or radical change through transformative leadership. Possibly both are needed in a world that is gradually getting to her senses, realising that the challenges ahead are way too complex and therefore require different strategies to be co-developed. In his very name Abiy Ahmed (as a child called Abiyut, which means "revolution") carries the promise of a shared future for people of different faith and ethnic backgrounds. His inaugural speech back in April already carried the notion of an inclusive future.
In these three months Dr. Abiy turned to all sectors of society, including the aid agencies, the private sector and the church, asking for unity and appreciation of diversity and differences of opinion in ways that remind us of the days of Mandela in South-Africa. His education in peace and reconciliation studies seems to pay off domestically as well as internationally. On the diplomatic front he reached out to Eritrean and Egyptian Presidents emphasizing the need for a shared future.
From sustainable development to inclusive investment
In April Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with the private sector. During the meeting, the Prime Minister called upon the private sector & investors to partner with the government in addressing youth unemployment and fighting corruption. In June Abiy announced the establishment of an Ethiopian stock exchange along with the privatization of state-owned enterprises, thereby acknowledging the need for a level playing field for a healthy private sector development.
I must say, while dealing with displacement crises in Asia and the Middle-East, it is a great relief to hear a Prime Minister put the interest of the people first, valuing diversity and the contributions of countervailing power to arriving at solutions. In a very much narrowed civil society space and an almost completely contracted NGO operational space focussing on humanitarian aid and service delivery and almost fully aligned with government planning, it is exactly the sort of inclusive thinking that the world needs and for which possibly local, home-grown community based organizations are best placed to carry the flame. Northern NGOs, rather than focussing on their specific technical abilities, should increasingly broker between local interests and macro-economic ambitions of national governments supported by Foreign Direct Investment and help people to defend their case. Abiy showed this during his career while mediating religious conflicts in his home district and addressing land-grabbing practice by higher administrations towards his home region. The vision of his mother instilled in him the desire to reconcile different faith identities in himself and in society. His education provided him with the means to be a transformational leader. The love for the peoples of his country provided him the passion and energy to take on the challenge.
May God bless him and the people of Ethiopia, and may they examplify to the rest of the world the kind of peace that will guide them in taking wise decisions on natural resource management, population growth and sustainable economic development, making all humanitarian aid redundant.
Update 7-8-2018: Hostilities flared up in Somali region, following the deposing of the regional president by Abiy, with federal forces trying to establish order again. Some say this is the first litmustest of his rule, others say the first political mistake after some bold moves during the first 100 days. For those believing in the power of prayer, please pray for Ethiopia, and Somali region in particular, that peace may be restored and reforms may be successful with equal opportunity for all.
Several references to a glas of dry white whine were made during the recent debate on migration at Pakhuis de Zwijger in Amsterdam. Outside temperatures soaring to records high for april and people mushrooming the embankments of the old Port of Amsterdam. Still quite a bunch of people preferred to be at the great migration debate , co-organized by Oxfam and ViceVersa.
After two rounds with the usual suspects, including Farah Karimi of Oxfam and Jelte van Wieren from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the usual mud slinging, it was obvious that a real debate would not take place. The only politician that showed up was the always positive Joel Voordewind from the ChristenUnion, celebrating some political achievements in his strive to arrive at a convenient level of ambition with the liberals, increasing the number of legal migrants with one thousand to reduce levels of illegal migrants. Still it could not be avoided that the new policy was widely perceived as a negative frame designed to keep people out rather than having them contribute to Dutch society. This frame was challenged by the audience that witnessed to positive experiences at the local level in Ede and Lunteren, who had their communities ready to receive even higher numbers of refugees that finally never arrived.
It was the Syrian Music that offered the break away from this highly sophisiticated political game that is merely about numbers (making a difference for many individual by the way) to a more principled discussion initiated by Darawsha Adham, who once fled as a Palestinian refugee from Nazareth and ended up as a citizen of Italy in the City of Palermo. There as a Chair of the Board of Culture, he witnessed the welcoming of a boat of refugees arriving at the port of Palermo by the Mayor of the city, sending a political message to his population. That was just one day after which another city refused to welcome a boat into their port. According to Mr. Adham it was civil society in the end making the difference, churches, rotary clubs, etc. Exchange of cultural festivals, attending each other's religious celebrations, was key to successful integration. Make refugees meet the people of the city and make the city know what the Muslims and Bhuddist celebrations look like. We made Bangladeshi and Pakistani meet. We organized exchanges between Tamil and Sri Lankees. It is not money that creates integration, it is culture.
The optimistic voice of this Nazarener was followed up by Leo Lucassen, Professor of Global Labour and MIgration History. The latter turned the numbers into relative numbers, showing how small the actual number of migrants actually is and that the numbers have been relative steady. He underlined the positive attitude that exists at the local level with a much more nuanced debate (echoing the example from Ede from before the break) which is largely ignored and needs to receive a renewed focus. His plea was supported by Albertha Opoku, a freelance diaspora journalist. However, Leo also pointed to the practice of paying corrupt regimes for containing migrants causing people to die in the desert rather than drowning in the Mediterranean.
Josh Maiyo, assistant lecturer International Development at the VU University in Amsterdam, pointed to a number of inconsistencies in the new Dutch policy. "If you make it the responsibility of migrants to integrate while making it very difficult to be part of society, this is an inconsistency. Secondly, closing first irregular migration in order to open up for legal migration does not make sense. Thirdly, nobody tells us how pathways for regular migration are actually achieved. Labour shortage does not match the wish to increase the rate of return." And so on. Josh Maiyo suggested to invest in work permits, as examplified by East-African countries who have opened their borders to free movement of people goods and services (a rather liberal viewpoint!). Admitting to some of these inconsistencies, Jelte van Wieren explained that we are dealing with some remnants from the past, and that these inconsistencies were a result of the various Ministries involved, thereby undermining the much praised comprehensiveness of the policy document.
The timing of the new migration policy brief may be exemplaric in the way it is dealt with by Dutch civll society. A cabinet that manages to bring together five reponsible Ministers and their respective departments, arriving at six pillars for a new integrated policy on migration within four months after installation. I would say, that is rather impressive and shows the urgency this cabinet has in addressing unsafe migration that cost so many lives in recent years. The six pillars are:
Rather than repeating their critique I would like to express my gratitude to this cabinet to give this policy area such a high priority while acknowledging the complexity of it. The five departments that were involved generated a shared agenda that signifies the various interests that are at play and the fact that the Netherlands is part of the European Union, enabling them to work together with their European counterparts in a cohesive and predictable manner, not offering each other any surprises.
The real proof of the pudding will be in the eating. As no budget allocations are made yet to show from where this agenda is financed leaves much leverage for humanitarian and development agencies to influence the budget discussions positively. In the old days, the implementation of this agenda would have been easily charged to the development budget (ODA), whereas the agenda is predominantly a protection and security agenda, to which the Dutch have an international obligation to contribute as well as a domestic obligation in terms of providing security to its citizens. Hence, it is clear that budget allocations to other Ministries will also need to cater for this agenda.
Hence, let us allow the many civil servants who have spent much extra time to put this ambitious plan together some time to rest and be relieved of the stress of having to deliver on this important promise in the coalition agreement. Giving them some peace and quiet on this Silent Saturday may help them contemplate what foreigners could actually bring to the further welfare of our society and to the world's peace and security. Just like that 'foreigner' who some two-thousand years ago intruded his self-created earthly space with a message of peace and reconciliation... only to be crucified and burried by the people he tried to identify with.
Nevertheless, as the story goes that Jesus' very death and resurrection sparked the most successful global movement that challenged the religious clergy and political power houses of his time, exposing their hunger for power, spreading a message of love instead and bringing good news to the poor and oppressed. I gather we could extend the same message to migrants who may have similar stories to share that could help us overcome anxiety and redefine our humanity.
As a common citizen blogging about events at home and around the globe, I cannot deny that Bitcoin fever is showing epidemic features. You only need to google Bitcoin and its actual value in any currency appears. The next North-American Bitcoin Conference in Miami will probably be looking at the past month as the craziest month since the 'revolution' started.
The very connection between the Bitcoin and the rest of the monetary system to me actually exposes the Bitcoin and spoils the party of the egalitarian utopians that were already embracing the currency as the most powerful redistribution mechanism that would provide for equal chances to everyone. Ironically while the underlying block-chain technology was designed to do away with transaction costs of the current financial system benefiting very few people excessively, its connectivity to other official currencies has caused the Bitcoin to do exactly the same: making a few people extremely rich in a very short time span.
Regulators in the US have tried to bring Bitcoin out of the shady uncontrolled market where it paid for drugs and other illegal trade. They started issuing licenses for trading companies that meet criteria around transparency and due diligence. However, it is not the regulatory environment that can change the climate. You don't need to be an economist to see that the real value of Bitcoins is null (which is the case for most currencies, since the gold standard has been replaced by consumer confidence). It is scary to know that the same geeks who have invented the Bitcoin also know how to play public opinion using their algorithms.
Wealth and impact
So, what to expect from this wave that venture capitalists seem to be able to ride to the next level of wealth accumulation, undoubtedly leaving many small investors behind in tatters. If this new market only could capture the wealth of all capital investors and put it to use for the poor and marginalised, it would make the Bitcoin-rush the best Robin Hood action ever.
I remember the time I shared my office space with two colleagues who invested heavily in the internet bubble in the nineties and were spending at least an hour a day to see how their shares were doing, finally to find themselves a lot less wealthy than they had imagined when starting the adventure. I also recall Didi Taihuttu and his family, who sold everything they had earlier this year to buy Bitcoins. He has not been cashing yet, though the nominal value of the bitcoins must have tripled by now. Will he still sleep at night?
From what I gathered reading about the Bitcoin movement it seems intentions of many of the digital currencies that have been introduced was to provide an alternative to the financial system following the financial crisis in 2008. However, as we may learn from the recent Bitcoin rush, a number of unintended effects may show. Intentions are not the only thing that matters as also Prof. dr. Dirk-Jan Koch pointed to in his inaugural speech last Friday at the Radboud University. Prof. Koch is the newly appointed Professor of International Trade and Development Assistance in the Netherlands, partly funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Koch distinguishes three types of unintended effects of international cooperation: invented, ignored and invisible, which for the sake of this exercise I will try to apply to the Bitcoin industry.
As already mentioned, the paradise of egalitarianism and equal chances, that was predicted by the early days developers of the Bitcoin, seems to have imploded already. The Bitcoin became as much an object of greed as it could be a game changer. So the question is: does it really solve the problem of wealth accumulation or will it in the end be doing exactly that.
It is clear that some of the potential uses of the new currencies were ignored at the beginnning. Like the fact that Bitcoin has been instrumental to the success of Silk Route, an online drugs market that has used the Bitcoin for its transactions, sending drugs all over the world. Due to its untracability a nightmare for the law-enforcement agencies trying to control the illegal drug trade. What is also ignored but gradually comes to the surface is the power supply needed to dig Bitcoins by getting so many computers to run code which will finally supply you the Bitcoin you need, the so-called mining. Like with mining of minerals there is severe environmental impact of mining bitcoins.
What cannot be measured but what is undoubtedly there is the impact the currency had on people, seeing opportunities for quick wins and becoming greedy of others (having sold their own bitcoins way too early). Also invisible is what profit made from trade in Bitcoins will be invested in. LIkewise the impact of massive losses should the bubble burst, won't be easy to fathom.
Many proverbs already point to the fact that the possession of material wealth is rather a concern than a comfort. It is what you do with it that defines you. It seems a lot easier to accumulate wealth than spending it properly. To the ones cashing in time and benefiting of upward market trends I would say: acknowledge that wealth comes with strings attached. The efforts of big philanthropic foundations like Rockefeller and Bill and Melinda Gates should be applauded in that regard. But also in aid unintended effects are at play as Prof. Koch will confirm My advise to Didi and all other Bitcoin investors would be: Have you taken a bite? Don't let it into your system! Spit it out before it swallows you.
The Immigrant Apostles' creed
In this time of advent, with many people wandering in search of warmth and shelter, I came across the following creed written by José Luis Calan, which I would like to share with the readers of this blog. I am sincerely hoping that the narrative of the nativity story will provide for a new narrative around the many small and bigger refugee crises around the world :
I believe in Almighty God,
who guided the people in exile and in exodus,
the God of Joseph in Egypt and Daniel in Babylon,
the God of foreigners and immigrants.
I believe in Jesus Christ, a displaced Galilean,
who was born away from his people and his home,
who fled his country with his parents
when his life was in danger.
When he returned to his own country
he suffered under the oppression of Pontius Pilate,
the servant of a foreign power.
Jesus was persecuted, beaten, tortured,
and unjustly condemned to death.
But on the third day Jesus rose from the dead,
not as a scorned foreigner
but to offer us citizenship in God’s kingdom.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the eternal immigrant
from God’s kingdom among us,
who speaks all languages,
lives in all countries,
and reunites all races.
I believe that the Church
is the secure home
for foreigners and for all believers.
I believe that the communion of saints
begins when we embrace all God’s people
in all their diversity.
I believe in forgiveness,
which makes us all equal before God,
and in reconciliation,
which heals our brokenness.
I believe that in the Resurrection
God will unite us as one people
in which all are distinct
and all are alike at the same time.
I believe in life eternal,
in which no one will be foreigner
but all will be citizens of the kingdom
where God reigns forever and ever.
If the world would be ranked along a resilience index, European countries would rank very low. The British have shown their ignorance by tackling migration full-front as a threat and are currently even sacrificing their own economic participation in Europe for the sake of "keeping them out".
Currently the British have massive budgets available to 'curb migration'. By the way, they could as well have stayed in Europe as also the European Union has framed quite a number of their 'development efforts' as ways to reduce migration.
This frame has now been copied by the Dutch in the coalition agreement that was signed of in the past week by four political parties (including my own). Investment in development cooperation to address root causes of migration. I must say, I feel ashamed that we have not been able to undo this framing in a timely manner, despite support from scientists and media who have challenged this causal link and even supported the opposite. Increase in welfare will at first be reason for more migration.
It is clear that the number of people trying to reach Europe has increased over the last couple of years. It is also clear that this partly results from poor economic opportunities at home. It is however forgotten that the majority of these masses have just escaped from brutal regimes in countries where human rights are not respected. Having trumped the human rights agenda in the eighties and nineties, European powers should have been the first to welcome people escaping these regimes (like Syrians and Eritreans). A two pronged approach should have been followed in which international pressure on those regimes would be mounting to change their behaviour, with a clear threat of military intervention to restore law and order and the potential removal of lawless regimes.
Voting with their feet
Instead, once gain the golden egg is considered to be development assistance. During the last decade of neo-liberal rule, the silent objective it served was to improve trade relations. Developed nations with stable governments would provide for better trade partners. Economic diplomacy was the buzz-word, with the state in the lead role. Although Europeans were deeply involved in democratisation processes before, in recent years European attention and investment in good governance was mainly geared to generate an enabling business environment. This lack of attention for democratization and good governance lead to big resentment with groups excluded from the political and economic system. No longer committed to a government that did not serve their interests, they voted with their feet. Can you blame young African men for trying their luck in Europe if staying at home would mean a lifelong military service, like in Eritrea? But also can we blame Senegalese youngsters for trying their luck in Paris, if at home economic opportunities are bleak?
The dead bodies washing up our shores in Europe have done two things. It brought the plight of various people groups back to the political centre in Europe. At the same time this claim making power has been contested by excluded groups in Western societies. They fear that others will eat into their social service provision or compete for jobs in the labour market. Hence the political response has been to provide for jobs and protection at home or near to home. Though this narrative may be fully understood from a political point of view, it does not sit well with a development school of thought which has learnt over many years that it requires people to fight poverty and injustice themselves, but would be greatly helped with international solidarity. We should stand with the poor rather than provide for the poor with attention to human dignity and self-worth.
For the time being it looks like security concerns are dominating the discourse and treating the ring of instability around Europe will be prioritised over and above addressing human rights concerns in countries a little bit further away. This won't help much in addressing political and social instability on the long run. A more positive frame would have greatly helped. Also migrants leave a large part of their identity at home and stay connected to situations at home. But they also bring part of their identity with them, offering us an opportunity to connect. This connection could be leveraged to build better understanding and improve relations between societies. It is up to international civil society organizations to support the voice of the voiceless when political deals are being made and facilitate the exchange between civil societies across the world. This should remain their focus, without being distracted by slightly higher budgets. Increased investment in development cooperation should be evaluated in terms of impact on poverty eradication, even if this would result in more migrants aiming for Europe. Hope we can still turn the tide, though the waves seem overwhelming.
Ten Tweaks to Turn the Tide
While the Dutch have just resumed talks for the formation of a new coalition government, the crises in various parts of the world have deepened. The presence of a lunatic in the White House may turn out to be a blessing in disguise as it requires the rest of the world to show moral leadership. I would hope the various parties realise the stakes are way too high for ignoring global trends of increasing immorality in leadership. The Netherlands is just a very tiny country in this 'rest of the world'. But political momentum builds to forge new global alliances against unethical behaviour in politics and economics.
Four political parties have taken up the challenge to form a new coalition government with the least majority possible (76 out of 150 seats). Unfortunately the green left (GroenLinks) opted out just before the summer, as there were insufficient guarantees on protection for refugees and their safe passage to Europe. A missed opportunity in my view. My own political party the ChristenUnie has joined the three others that previously tried to close the deal with the Green Left. I hope they will do a better job by being both principled and pragmatic. When campaigning for my party during the previous elections five years ago, I formulated 10 suggestions for change in Dutch foreign policy on my Dutch political blog "De Politieke Wereld": Ten tweaks to turn the tide. I would say they still hold. Hence I updated them and translated them for those readers not mastering Dutch.
Tweak 1: From Investment back to Aid
In recent years two successive liberal cabinets have turned the development agenda into an investment agenda. That sounds good, but basically means departing from international solidarity and embracing vested interest as a leading principle in foreign policy. I would favour a return to aid without conditions and expectations. With just a responsibility to help, without obligations for the recipient to show results in terms of development. Just allowing the other party to get back to their feet and allow them treadle the path of self-help without further support.
Tweak 2: From Lecturing to Learning
In the past the Dutch claimed their leading role in development cooperation contributing the agreed 0.7% of GDP to the international development agenda. Since long we have lost this position, with recent ODA figures falling short even below 0,6% of GDP. Instead of emphasizing what we are good at, it may be time to realise we have a few lessons to learn. Proper steps have been taken during recent years in at least allowing space for learning in learning platforms where civil servants, business people, NGO workers and academia meet. However, as much as this type of learning is needed, the object of learning often stays disengaged. Hence recipients of aid should have the lead in reflecting on the aid practice.
Tweak 3: From Giving to Receiving
Often the percentage we want to set aside for international solidarity takes centre stage in our discussions. Often the 'poor' at home competing with the poor abroad. Rather than having the focus on what we donate it may be healthy to value what we receive. There is a lot I gained from my ten years working abroad and I am not too confident I have really helped a lot of people sustainably out of poverty. Likewise after ODA ceilings have been set a lot of narratives try to cover how it is spent, continuously challenging the very existence of the ODA percentage. Instead we could focus on how we spend the other 99,3 percent of our GDP and the impact of this spending on situations of poverty and exclusion both abroad and at home. If we would value better the production costs of flowers we buy, or pair of shoes we wear, would that not bring fairness to the production side of the value chain?
Tweak 4: From Fear of Loss and Damage to Longing for Restoration
A lot of the international discourse around disaster management linked to climate change is fear based. Developed economies are escaping compensations that countries demand in payment for their loss and damage. To the contrary they are demanding poor countries to contribute to achievement of the global goals, helping them to develop a tax base under the banner of domestic resource mobilization. Although aiming for improvement of the social contract may be appreciated, this does not mean western countries can withdraw their support. Especially when disasters strike there are many personal loss and damage stories that take primacy over economic losses. The most important thing aid workers can contribute in such situations is to be near, comforting the afflicted and give them hope for better futures, especially in cases where situations of injustice are aggravating disaster impact. Especially in situations of conflict short-term humanitarian aid should be linked to capacity development to facilitate justice, reconciliation and peace.
Tweak 5: From Project to Context monitoring
With less money to spend on development cooperation, increasing attention is given to effectiveness and efficiency. The tendency is to select areas where the needs are highest. However, especially during humanitarian disasters, access to victims in these areas may be impeded, causing delays in relief distributions. So apart from project monitoring (does relief arrive at the right time at the right place) also context monitoring is important, which will explain at times why resources need to be kept apart till situations have improved. A diversity of actors is crucial as at some point aid may not be delivered through one channel but could still reach through other channels. That means that increased efficiencies do not always lead to increased effectiveness. NGOs often function as eyes and ears of the international community to ensure governments and multilateral agencies do their work properly.
Tweak 6: From Competition to Co-creation
The old economic model driven by competition may need a reboot, based on complementarity and co-creation. Not only between businesses, but also between NGOs, governments and the private sector. The challenges require radical different approaches where people acknowledge each other's strength and are willing to allow others to do the job, when it is done better. I take it that this is a very tough one. Nevertheless at micro-scale we see it already happening and also in organizations it is increasingly embraced. Of course this is easier said than done. Especially when preferred solutions are different and interests do not align or are even opposed. Still bringing them together and trying to resolve differences of opinion will in the end have a better result. This is the case in societal and political debates and can be practiced in academic discourse. This will require further investment in education that is geared towards co-creation rather than competition.
Tweak 7: Ideals, Leadership and Faith
Ideals, the world is full with them. And in order not to lose them you have to put them to work. Many politicians started their political career with ideals. They wanted to change something. Development workers are a kind of international politicians. Ideals that require faith to keep them alive. And faith requires someone else who could draw the picture of how the change may look like. Not the first step, but the finish. The ultimate goal. Many people seem to have lost sight of that. For many the goal is to be free, as they feel trapped in situations of injustice.
In the Netherlands we have developed what I would call 'programme politics'. Political parties do not debate but exchange positions. However, some parties still have a number fundamentals that help them taking position when context changes. Rather than having priorities a number of non-negotiables are formulated based on fundamental principles. It helps taking position, or even joining positions of others. This kind of politics requires a different kind of leadership that is grounded in faith. The faith that the challenge ahead of us is never as big as the power behind us. It is faith in the bigger picture, where somewhere at some time everything comes together for the good, despite current circumstances. It is the type of faith that helped Bonhoeffer oppose Hitler and Luther oppose the religious clergy of his time. It helped Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela to fight racial injustice and inspired Ghandi's non-violent opposition. A moral compass that helped them overcome anguish and fear of repercussions. It is this type of leadership that the world is lacking today.
Tweak 8: From Bursting to Bending
Our societies are at the brink of bursting. Some fear this will be the result of foreigners who want to take over. My perceptions is that our own consumption patterns have increased the pressure. We cannot uphold current levels of consumption any longer. They need to align better with what the earth sustainable produces and should be shared by everyone living on it. Unless we manage to control consumption, bringing it down to reasonable levels that allows for prosperity for many more, population growth and migration will continue to challenge the system. In this connected world everyone strives for the best, and many will feel left behind, despite the rhetoric that no one should. If I lived in Syria at present time, for sure I would send my children to Europe or I would go myself if I had a chance. Individual decision-making makes for rational choices that people make. Hence, system change is required. The old order cannot be maintained and should bend towards a new world order, where prospects are given to Africa and the Middle-East for better futures, now that the oil is running out, and few alternatives seem to be available to sustain the wealthy top-tier of our societies that have gradually enslaved the poorer sections of society (like Joseph enslaved the Egyptians at the time of famine). In old-testament times, a year of jubilee was required every 50 years. A year of returning ancestral land. How this can be done will be a matter of bending towards a new world order that acknowledges the primacy of sustainable living.
Tweak 9: From Dooms-Day to D-Day
The current situation in the world today may be compared to the times of Nazi-Germany having the upper hand in Europe implementing its fascist and racist policies. In the end it was Hitler's hunger for power that caused the Soviets to align with the British and American forces which tilted in favour of the allied forces. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor engaging the Americans where the Monroe-doctrine prevented them of doing so for quite some time.
Clear goals have been set with regard to combatting climate change. The sudden change in the American position made the rest of the world realise they needed to join hands. Suddenly China is welcomed as an important ally in the fight against climate change. Will the Russians follow? Or will they join hands with the United States in the end? Time for a D-Day in which all parties work together to make change happen, even if it generates short-term losses.
Tweak 10: From Leading to Following
Though in my tweaks five years ago I already pleaded for better followership amongst politicians, we see a worrying trend in terms of political leadership. Increasingly politicians are portraying themselves as the protectors of their economies and even democracies. The examples are plenty where presidents hold on to power, but also new politicians presenting themselves as the new promise for the nation. Rather than following what is happening in society and trying to bring that together in the political arena which then would lead to the encouragement of initiatives that serve the common good and constraining initiatives that destabilize society. Partly this has to do with laziness of the electorate who want politicians to think for them, and copy them in their dialogues, giving headway to populist forces. The intellectual elite seems to disengage as they observe there is little to gain in politics and many political careers are just a first step for a successful career in the private sector, resulting in closer connections between the public and private sector spheres. No wonder, ordinary citizens no longer feel represented. It is high time that politicians reconnect to their constituencies and listen to their problems, noting the solutions they propose and allow it to inform their policies. High time to turn the tide!
European Consensus on What
While Theresa May and her conservatives are licking their wounds after a not so convincing parliamentarian win, the European leaders came together to build consensus for future foreign aid programming. The win of Macron in France over right-wing populist Marie LePen, and the not-so-convincing win of Wilders in the Netherlands seem to indicate that right-wing populism is on it's retreat and gradually replaced by a European consensus that we are in this together. However, on what specifically consensus can be reached in historically such a divided continent? In answering this question it helps to focus on joint challenges.
As a result, the European consensus is no longer necessarily mostly about a common market as much as it is about a common security policy and policy measures that curb migration flows, though these two seem to be interdependent. This has brought a new realism to the European continent that without investing in their neighbours also Europe's economic future looks grim. Hence the new European Consensus on Development was received with much interest and in the coming week will be further explored during the European Partnership Forum in Brussels, July 6 and 7.
The forum is organized to explore ways in which the Non-State-Actors and Local Authorities (NSA-LA) budget line will take shape in the near future. Though the wording suggests otherwise, the European Consensus shows a lot less agreement on the way forward than suspected. It mostly states that 1) We are all in this together. 2) We need to arrive at solutions with all stakeholders on board. 3) And we need holistic solutions that will last. It is the typical bureaucratic language to say: "We have no clue where we are going, but let us stay together and hopefully arrive safely."
Securitization of aid
The ideas that are ventilated on the Partnership Forum pages rather expose a defensive attitude with most of the attention given to the ring around Europe. It is clear, Europe won't any longer be the care-taker of global stability along with its allies, of which it has lost a few with the British departing from the EU and the Americans further withdrawing from global agreements. Europe's foreign policies are therefore mostly concerned with European stability, currently challenged by influxes of perceived masses of refugees and economic migrants. For a while it looked like it would cause the union to collapse. However, the general public also sensed that wars and humanitarian disaster cannot be tackled by simply ignoring them and closing borders. A new narrative is required that reconnects Europe with the rest of the world.
With the Americans withdrawing from the Paris Agreement Europe realises that it no longer can rely on the US in global policy formulation. It has to show-case a new way for dealing with diversity and multipolarity in facing global challenges. Collaboration with China in implementing the new green deal seems to emerge. The question is how this will play out in their quite different histories in relating to the rest of the world. China has always had the investment lenses on, while Europe only recently discovered these lenses and for many years mainly used rights based approaches to inform foreign policy. Will it be possible for these two paradigms to marry into a responsible investment discourse?
Focusing on the state as the sole protector of rights and provider of basic services is increasingly challenged. When states fail you can go two directions with governance. Either localise it or centralise it even further to the sub-regional or regional level. Both movements are being made. Inter-state complexities that link to humanitarian situations are sorted at regional level. At the same time national policies focus on decentralisation of decision-making, shifting the burden to local level government bodies which in turn need a lot of capacity building to absorb these new responsibilities. Hence, budget-lines like the Non-State-Actors and Local Authorities become an important accelerator to support this movement.
A future with cities
Apart from decentralisation, another trend can be observed while reviewing how the latter budgetline takes shape. The focus shifts from the rural to the urban space with increasing number of people living in cities. In the face of increasing challenges in the rural space, the answer for dealing with these challenges is hoped to be found in responsible urban planning and development with a focus on innovation and youth employment. Cities of the future challenges pop-up everywhere as well as innovation centres around mobility challenges. 'Engineering the crowd' in ways that support new economies seems the way forward.
How will this urban bias serve those in the rural space? Will they be 'left to themselves' to sort out their own vulnerabilities while having to deal with many demands that arise from cities? Cities need water and food supply as well as power supply. The surrounding rural space may see this as an opportunity. More often city development is considered a threat. The rural space for years has been utilized to provide for its own inhabitants. Will rural areas be able and willing to meet the needs of the towns? Customary rights over the use of natural resources often clashes with national policies that support land acquisition for commercial enterprising. Often there is a fine line between consensus and conflict. In the end solutions are to be found that everyone can live with. These solutions have to provide perspectives on sustainable futures for both urban and rural populations. Local rights and realities, domestic policies and foreign direct investment should be balanced. If only this could be the consensus!
We in the Netherlands have often looked at our neighbours as stiff, bureaucratic and a bit distant and noisy holiday guests at our shores. In development cooperation we thought we were doing much better in terms of being entrepreneurial and innovative. We had two subsequent governments massively investing in our innovation power. However, in the same period we have managed to turn a blind eye to the development partners that have helped us shaping our ideas. The Dutch connectedness to the world has given them great comparative advantage over other nations both in trade and investment policies. However, we lost our moral high-ground to our opportunistic trade spirit, which caused many multinational companies to virtually locate their head-offices in the tax haven we created for them.
In the meantime our German neighbours did a much better job in learning from history creating safe havens for migrants who were escaping war or economic exploitation. Germany realised that only economic development would bring the required changes that could curb migration. Hence, like the US invested heavily in Europe following the World War II, Federal Minister Gerd Müller organized a highly participative process in which 10 starting points were formulated that should guide future German investment in Africa. The Broker picked up on this development and also this week it featured at various gatherings in the Netherlands discussing the way forward towards inclusive global development, emphasizing the need to invest in Africa's next generation.
African ambitions come with African resources
Whereas the world did not attempt to look beyond 2030 while developing the SDGs, Africa adopted a much more long-term vision in Africa Agenda 2063 that also forms the basis of their negotiations with Europe and other international parties. You may think that 2063 is a bit far-fetched for a continent where the majority still lives from hand to mouth, leave alone thinking about tomorrow. Nevertheless, the educated class, the elite if you wish, has become more confident about their future prospects, also in view of the seemingly decline of the Western world and an upcoming Eastern dominance in world matters. Despite of a few dictators still clinging on to power, a middle-class has been formed that demands more from their government than clientilism and systems of patronage.
Some of these traditional migration routes are now blocked as wars are ravaging in countries like Yemen. It caused many to return home and others to choose other destinations. Now that Europe has become one of those destinations, the welfare state has clearly been unable to absorb these influxes of labour. A well regulated labour market also minimizes chances of employment for these groups, certainly as Brittain is closing its borders. However, the young generation does not seem to have the patience to wait for this middle-class to fix things. Desillusioned about their chances in the near future in their own country and enlightened about chances elsewhere they try their luck abroad. For years already labour migration has been common place in Africa, primarily to countries in the Middle-East.
Current investment policies still ignore to a large extend the enormous potential of welcoming people, training them for jobs where there is currently shortage of (like health workers and technicians). Rather than investing in Africa for the sake of Europe, Europe could try investing in Africans for the sake of Europe ánd Africa. Welcoming people now and offering save passage and proper employment schemes, while agreeing with African governments on return migration after say 5 years of service would do good to both Europe and Africa. Not only in terms of increased welfare but also in terms of people getting to know each other within the safe conditions of a temporary situation. After return many will take those friendships along with them, establishing strong connectors between geographically, economically and culturally distant societies. On the medium to longer term this will be extremely beneficial to European-African relations.
What I like about the German Marshall Plan is that it embraces the reality of a rich Africa that has resources on offer. And what I also like is its inclination towards proper diplomatic relationships between Europe and Africa that embody mutual respect while upholding standards of good governance both in Europe and Africa. Germans, like no other people group in Europe, know what can go wrong when nationalism takes over and populism creates a dictator. It may be best positioned to support some of the African governments in dealing with autarchies and lack of countervailing power within their societies. It would be good if the Dutch would help further EU-Africa relationships and share their experience with farmer cooperatives, water boards, etc. Terms of trade could include circulation of human capital building an EU-African knowledge economy that would focus on developing strong local markets while paying due attention to labour conditions and impact on the environment. This would have a great potential towards inclusive global development. It would indeed need to exclude countries not living up to these standards, like the United States today. China and Europe have shown this week that agreeing to work together on the implementation of the Paris climate agreement will have the best chance to produce solid results that last. If good EU-Africa relations are added to the equation, Triangular cooperation takes shape and Project South-East may become more than just a thought experiment. The current flaw in Europe's domestic policies inspired by fear for the unknown and fuelled by extremism both at home and abroad, should be countered by a daring foreign policy that is willing to invest in the human dimension and balances African, Asian and European interests and aspirations towards a sustainable future.
At a personal level I am excited that I may be part of a whole different connectedness around the globe, encouraging churches globally to take up their role in transforming communities at the local level. While contemplating global relationships, we are constantly reminded that at a very local level people already have difficulties living at peace with one another and seeking the common good. It is nice to see how faith communities, rather than caring about personal salvation, seek the well-being of the communities they are part of through church and community transformation.
This Sunday churches world-wide recall the day of Pentecost, the day that transformed fearful followers of Christ into men and women fearlessly professing their faith. Last week 26 people did the same in Egypt and they were shot dead by terrorists. Contemplating the level of violence originating from the Middle-East with so many people on the move, I just hope it will find itself embraced in the midst of a triangle of improved relations between Asia, Africa and Europe that will feel a joint responsibility to pray for peace for the most contested area of the world and warmheartedly welcome those fleeing from violence or persecution.
My name is Reinier van Hoffen.
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Also find the text of a lecture Dr. Achterhuis held at the 2012 Bilderberg conference.
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