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!