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The Western Way of Development: A Critical Review



With the rise of the emerging powers of the South as providers of and participants in development assistance, the landscape of what is conventionally understood to be development is changing. The dominant Western paradigm arose in the context of late colonialism and the Cold War, and reached its zenith with the triumphalism of the neo-liberal consensus. Now, however, the Western way is confronted with challenges on multiple fronts. South-South cooperation, ranging from technical assistance and knowledge exchange to more commercial practices like “tied aid”, offers a vision of development based on the recognized success and experiences of countries like China (Fornes & Mendez, 2018). Coupled to this vision are new institutional sources of development finance like the New Development Bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), which are to provide alternatives to established Western-dominated sources (Reisen, 2015).
19© The Author(s) 2020
Y. Jing et al. (eds.), New Development Assistance, Governing China
in the 21st Century,
The Western Way ofDevelopment: ACritical
ChrisAlden, DanielLarge, andAlvaroMendez
With the rise of the emerging powers of the South as providers of and
participants in development assistance, the landscape of what is conven-
tionally understood to be development is changing. The dominant
Western paradigm arose in the context of late colonialism and the Cold
War, and reached its zenith with the triumphalism of the neo-liberal con-
sensus. Now, however, the Western way is confronted with challenges on
multiple fronts. South-South cooperation, ranging from technical assis-
tance and knowledge exchange to more commercial practices like “tied
aid”, offers a vision of development based on the recognized success and
experiences of countries like China (Fornes & Mendez, 2018). Coupled
to this vision are new institutional sources of development nance like the
C. Alden • A. Mendez (*)
London School of Economics, London, UK
D. Large
Central European University, Budapest, Hungary
New Development Bank (NDB) and the Asian Infrastructure Investment
Bank (AIIB), which are to provide alternatives to established Western-
dominated sources (Reisen, 2015).
What is generally never suspected (let alone ever appreciated) is how
much the Western way of development has itself evolved under the “selec-
tion pressures” of world politics. Far from any adherence to a grand strat-
egy, as contemporary debates on “neo-liberalism” or the “Washington
consensus” tacitly assume, Western development policy has undergone
serial changes of position and practice over the last 70years (Wade, 2015).
Understanding the broad trends and drivers of change in the West’s con-
ception of development, especially those which have harmonized donor
practices, will illumine which ideas and interests have shaped development
policy across the West and why. International organizations like
the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s
Development Assistance Committee (OECD-DAC) turn out to have
wielded formative inuence. This should give pause for reection on the
twin assumptions of ideological distance and practical divergence between
OECD-DAC and non-DAC providers which too often cloud analysis of
the conventional approach to development.
This chapter will survey the evolution, in context, of the Western way
of development and its variable policies, critically engaging with the signa-
ture transformations in donor approaches, with special reference to the
OECD-DAC.The rst section that follows offers a short history of the
evolution of Western development aid; the second, a discussion of the dif-
fering approaches of OECD-DAC versus non-DAC providers. Third, and
nally, it reects on the slow death of the very idea of aid.
A Short hIStory ofWeStern development AId
Scientic inquiry into the origins of the wealth of nations began in earnest
with the Enlightenment, but reached a turning point in the twentieth cen-
tury with its massive political as well as economic upheavals. State-led
domestic development propelled the industrialisation of countries like
Germany but it was not until the advent of the Soviet Union and its Five
Year Planning cycles aimed at producing rapid development thatscientic
approaches to development gained widespread acceptance. Turkey and
Japan drew from these examples to produce their own development suc-
cesses while, following World War 1, European colonial administrations
increasingly focused on delivering sectoral improvements to societies under
their suzreignity, a process that intensied under late colonialism (Cooper
2014).By most accounts the idea of development planning that was both
centralized and scientic did not take hold in Washingtonuntil the crisis of
the Great Depression and World War II(Ekbladh 2010). This is the material
context that prompted US President Franklin Roosevelt to proclaim his
Four Freedoms—of speech, of worship, from want, from fear—as dening
what might be called the rst universal development goals (Engel, 2016). In
the darkest days of the War, the Allies issued the Atlantic Charter, which laid
out their ideal of the post-War order: no territorial aggrandizement; no bor-
der changes against the will of peoples; political self-determination; restora-
tion of self-government to those deprived of it; the abolition of trade
barriers; global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions
for all; freedom from terror and hunger; abandonment of the use of force
and the disarmament of aggressor nations (Nolan, 1993). It is notable that
all peoples were to be included in these collective and individual freedoms,
which undermined European colonialism and rang in a consensus against
beggar-thy-neighbour protectionism. Also notable is the earnestness respect-
ing material advancement and social security, which was not necessarily
compatible with the classical exemption of private property from the requisi-
tion of the state. This declaration formed the kernel of the Western way of
development. In the international conferences at Bretton Woods and
Dumbarton Oaks, the institutional framework for implementing the goals
of peace and development were forged—a political suite consisting of the
United Nations, the Security Council and the Economic and Social Council
above all, and a nancial suite consisting of the International Monetary
Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (originally the International Bank for
Reconstruction and Development, or IBRD) (Schild, Woods, & Oaks, 1995).
The immediate post-War conception of “development” was economic
recovery and reconstruction under the Marshall Plan in Europe and the
parallel Dodge Line in Japan: to build a non-militarist Germany andJapan,
and to forestall Communist revolutions in the rest of (Western) Europe
(McCormick, 1995). As Europe’s and Japan’s recoveries became estab-
lished, the parallel challenges of the decolonization of the European empires
and rising competition for inuence between the US and the Soviet Union
came to a head. The US Congress enacted the Agency for International
Development (USAID) in 1955; originally called the International
Cooperation Administration (ICA), it was built on earlier programmes that
had delivered agricultural surpluses and famine relief abroad.1
It was in this time frame that a host of new international institutions
were set up to coordinate the development process, and in which the
IBRD was rebranded as a “World Bank” catering for the newly indepen-
dent countries and for other developing regions. By 1961 the West had
evolved the OECD out of the Organisation for European Economic
Co-operation (OEEC), the body which had managed the Marshall Plan,
and inside that the DAC was erected to normalize and coordinate the
West’s development aid to current and former colonies (Leimgruber &
Schmelzer, 2017).
The conceptual framework of development was reconceived by
American social scientists as “modernization”, understood as a universal
“singular path of progressive change” to help guide US economic aid and
military intervention in post-colonial regions (Gilman, 2003). As articu-
lated by US President John F.Kennedy’s Special Assistant for National
Security Affairs, Walt Rostow, modernization has evolved over ve stages:
(1) Traditional Society: subsistence and primary production; (2) Pre-
conditions to Take-off: external demand for raw materials spurs change;
(3) Take-off: urbanization, industrialization, technology; (4) Drive to
Maturity: industrial base diversied via venture capital; (5) Age of Mass
Consumption: widespread consumption of high-value consumer goods
(Rostow, 1960). Wide-ranging regional programmes based on this para-
digm were formed under Kennedy and his successors, most notably the
Alliance for Progress in Latin America and bilateral aid to countries in
Southeast Asia in the 1960s and onwards (Taffet, 2007).
Given that ascendancy in these regions was being contested by Soviet-
and (increasingly) Chinese-backed “nationalist” movements or militant
insurgencies, the US and its Western allies stepped up their own assistance
to the counter-insurgency level (Freedman, 2000). The oil crisis of the
1970s, coupled with the rise and the fall of commodity cartels in develop-
ing markets, compounded developing-country indebtedness, calling for
the insertion of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) of the
IMF (El-Ojeili & Hayden, 2006). The crisis provided an opportunity for
East Asian economies to develop rapidly, beginning in the 1980s, through
export-oriented manufacturing and targeted access to US and Japanese
markets. This introduced a new “growth-orientation” model (Yeung,
2010). The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of
the Soviet Union ushered in an era of triumphalism in Western develop-
ment circles. An uncritical celebration of the efcacy of market democracy
to deliver development came to dominate the Western aid landscape. This
neo-liberal “Washington Consensus” was reected in the policies pro-
ceeding out of the OECD-DAC countries, focussed broadly on growth-
oriented approaches at the expense of social concerns (Mahon, 2017).
A clASh ofInStItutIonAlIzAtIonS: oecd-dAc
Andnon-dAc ApproAcheS
How is it, then, that the aid industry has become markedly less signicant
as economic lifeblood to all but a small but persistent cluster of mostly
African states? Even in Africa, aid as fallen from 70% of all nancial trans-
fers in the 1970s to less than 30% today. Where once Western institutions
like the IMF and World Bank, US, European and Japanese aid agencies,
and an army of international non-governmental organizations (INGOs)
commanded the economic heights of the African continent—buttressed
by a network of political and military ties dating back to the colonial
period—today entry by China, India, Brazil, South Korea and the like into
what used to be the West’s exclusive domain has seemingly driven a wedge
into that relationship. The newcomers recognized the investment oppor-
tunities created by the economic ruptures caused by the structural adjust-
ment programmes of the 1980s and 1990s, with reference to the
privatization of state assets in particular (Alden & Sidiropoulos, 2012).
The self-styled development partners of the South proved singularly
unconcerned with reshaping the domestic norms of African governance,
forging, instead, new trade ties and gaining market share in sectors once
exclusively Western preserves. It was Chinese relations with war-torn
Sudan and Angola, after its entry into the energy sector in those countries,
whichdrew the rst Western media attention and criticism; in the mean-
time, India, Brazil, South Korea, Malaysia and other emerging powers, big
and small, were ying under the radar into the same ethically problematic
situation. All of them combined prompt allocations of “no conditionali-
ties” nance targeted to Africa’s long-neglected infrastructure with a push
to acquire petroleum equity.2 Refreshingly free of the hypocrisies of
Western aid, these interest-based forms of engagement, formally predi-
cated on mutually benecial win-win processes and outcomes, have been
greeted with enthusiasm by African leaders because of their direct, results-
oriented approach to tackling acute problems in African economies. The
consequent disruption of the hegemony of Western multilateral institu-
tions, government aid agencies and non-governmental cohorts, whose
capacity to dictate the terms of aid seemed to march in tandem with the
relative deterioration of local conditions, has raised concern in Western
capitals over the loss of power to shape the political economy of African
A signal example of this evolution was the Fourth High Level Forum
on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan in 2011, where the senior guidance of
the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness was put at stake. The Paris
Declaration had been a framework for ofcial development assistance
(ODA) by OECD donors, consisting of ve principles or “partnership
commitments” negotiated in 2005 and elaborated at a follow-up meeting
in Accra, Ghana in 2008.3 The principles had been designed to help
achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),
eight targets agreed in 20004 to reduce underdevelopment on points like
income and health, through coordinating donor and recipient countries in
a universal collective effort. The MDGs focussed primarily on alleviating
the conditions of the poorest and most vulnerable, leaving little room for
a more muscular priority of enhancing the productive capacity of poverty-
stricken countries. J. Brian Atwood (2012), the former head of USAID,
has admitted that the Paris Declaration was overly donor driven, and sub-
sequent meetings modied everything from terminology to a commit-
ment to transfer aid directly to developing countries’ ministries of nance
(despite the occasions for corruption which this might enable).
It should be noted that the emerging powers were signatories of the
Paris Declaration, too, but as aid recipients not bound by its principles
(OECD, 2005). For decades they have been economically involved on
their own account with other developing countries under the rubric of
South-South cooperation. Agreements for technical assistance and
exchange of personnel, nancing and construction of infrastructure proj-
ects, and support for what were clearly commercial activities, all counted
as the forms of South-South cooperation thathad enticed the emerging
powers, particularly China, into Africa. These activities were ignored by
Western donors, that is, until it became clear in the last decade, from the
volume of nancial transfers and Africans’ revealed preference for com-
merce, that the emerging powers’ approach was on a path to displace
Western-led initiatives. Now it becomes clear how different the approaches
are, and why African governments prefer the Chinese.
China’s approach to infrastructure abroad mirrors its approach at home.
Projects are evaluated more on their impact than on the specic viability of
the project in question. The Chinese tend to overvalue the benecial eco-
nomic spillover effects of infrastructure projects, while undervaluing the
potential harms [sc. negative externalities], whether economic, social, or envi-
ronmental. The Western approach, by contrast, is more transactional and
focuses on painstaking due diligence concerning the economic, social, and
environmental consequences of a given project. These safeguards are in the
interests of ordinary people in developing countries. But Western institutions
have become so risk averse that the cost and time to implement such projects
have skyrocketed. Western governments and the multilateral institutions over
which they exert inuence, such as the World Bank, must consider making
their safeguarding process more exible if they are not to leave the eld open
to Chinese monopoly. (Bataineh, Bennon, & Fukuyama, 2018, para. 3)
Reacting to the unexpected challenge, Western-led organizations
resorted to deploying strategies of collaboration and convergence in hopes
of enmeshing the emerging powers in their established aid practices. For
instance, at a UN-sponsored high-level meeting in September 2008,
emerging powers were urged to “support current international efforts to
harmonize and coordinate donor policies, to make their aid more effec-
tive” (Mutume, 2008, p.6). This strategy lay behind the Memorandum of
Understanding of the World Bank with China Exim Bank for joint project
funding in three African countries: Ghana, Uganda and Mozambique
(World Bank, 2007). The two institutions, however, were unable to settle
on common terms and now, if anything, it is China which may be “social-
ising” the World Bank to acquiesce in Chinese ways of development (Chin,
2012). Another expression of the collaborative strategy was the
Memorandum of Understanding of February 2011 between Brasilia and
Washington allowing for “peer learning” between the Agencia Brasileira
de Cooperação (ABC) and USAID, including secondment of personnel
and joint projects in Africa and Latin America (MFAN, 2011). Washington
provided US$2 million towards the partnership, funding ABC pro-
grammes in agricultural production and nutrition in Mozambique, while
Brazil’s ABC led cooperation efforts in the agricultural sector, helping
USAID in Honduras (USAID, 2015, 2016).
Convergence is the strategy pursued most persistently by the European
Union, which probed with its Development Directorate how it might
draw China into the established ODA framework, embedding it within
the broader Strategic Partnership between the EU and China. Much time
and resources were expended on this initiative to engage the Chinese and
the Africans in workshops, conferences and related initiatives so as to con-
vince Beijing to bring its nancing and investment policies towards Africa
in line with OECD standards. The China-DAC Study Group report
(2011), though voluminous, makes for thin reading on matters of practi-
cal convergence. Initiatives to join up European technical expertise and
local knowledge of the Africa continent with Chinese nance—echoing
French President Giscard D’Estaing’s trilateral dialogue between France,
Africa and the newly wealthy Arab states in the late 1970s—produced no
concrete outcomes beyond exhibiting Africans’ fears that the prospective
convergence would turn into a “new Berlin conference”, something to be
resisted from their perspective. The only thing demonstrated was the
weaknesses (if not indeed the delusionality) of European efforts at social-
ization, a point underscored at the time by the dismissive remarks of
Chinese ofcials involved in the process (Fox & Godement, 2009).
This gambit of the OECD-DAC countries was received with some
bemusement in Beijing, Delhi and Brasilia. These emerging powers
nonetheless did deign to participate where they could identify tangible gains
from collaborating (or appearing to collaborate) with Western donors—
whether to allay their sensitivities or for compelling technical reasons or
shared interests. This project-based collaboration, called “trilateral coopera-
tion”, was not ofcial aid and sat conveniently outside its strictures. But the
emerging powers dismissed out of hand the normative framework insinu-
ated by the West that their cumulative experience in aid to Africa imbued
their approach and its putative efciencies of practice with a greater claim to
moral authority and to emulation by post-colonial donors (Mawdsley,
2012). In fact, for the latter, the broad range of nancial transfers and proj-
ect activities, which allows tied aid, barter swaps, technical assistance and
conventional investment to qualify, so long as it is deemed to be of “mutual
interest” to the parties involved—which they cheerfully dub South-South
cooperation—had become a crucial element of their strategy to obtain a
position in Africa’s rich resource sector, and became an incentive for con-
serving independence of action. By their robust involvement in Africa, the
emerging powers have demonstrated that they can achieve “real existing
development” (to paraphrase an old Soviet slogan aimed at idealized por-
trayals of socialism), often by ignoring the well- worn advice of Western
experts on such questions as the role of the state; and inspiring an African
search for a new model of development (Breslin, 2011). This has come at a
crucial time for development strategy, when the discourses and policies pro-
moted by traditional donors are being challenged as never before.
the SloW deAth oftheIdeA of“AId”
In 2010 over US$128.7billion was transferred worldwide by traditional
OECD-DAC donors, an increase of US$119billion over the previous year.
During the same period, the leading non-DAC donors were estimated to
have spent US$12 billion and private foundations US$22 billion
(OneWorld, 2012). The World Bank increased its assistance in the same
year, lending US$11.4billion to build hundreds of kilometres of roads and
energy projects; to establish health clinics across the African continent; and
to support the budgets of several African countries (World Bank, 2010).
Britain alone in 2010 provided US$1.8billion in bilateral and multilateral
aid, much of it going to fragile states, many of these in Africa (DfID, 2010).
In a continent seemingly awash in ODA it is difcult to accept that the very
idea of aid has been under assault for some time. Yet amongst donors and
NGOs, the claim of hope that is a feature of all programmes proffering
means of improving life is pockmarked with failure, recalibration and fur-
ther disappointment. More troubling, the recipients themselves have gone
public with scathing critiques of development aid that reect their own
experience, a far cry from the cautious optimism and support they expressed
at the Gleneagles G8 Summit in 2005, where the industrialized countries
pledged to double their aid and Africans agreed to instil measures for bet-
ter governance (BBC, 2005). The consensus on African development
reached by OECD and African government at Gleneagles, and further
elaborated in the Paris Declaration that same year, now seems a dis-
tant memory.
It is no big surprise that aid should come under such withering criticism
from its own beneciaries. Betraying its missionary roots, the develop-
ment industry has devoted over 60years to a drive to exorcize Africans of
various pathologies: tribalism, socialism, corruption, gender inequality
inter alia—and set them on the road to a Western form of modernity. Yet
despite often enthusiastic support for this strategy from major African
leaders like Nkrumah, it is nowadays routinely slammed as “Euro-centric”
(Williams & Young, 2013). The subsequent urry of policy jeremiads sig-
nals imminent shifts in aid fashion of the kind that have supervened in the
sector, from the dawn of “community development” in the mid-1950s
and its deployment in an effort to win hearts and minds in rural popula-
tions to a robotic application of “rigorous” methods of “aid effectiveness”
in recent years. In the manner of Old Testament prophets, senior practi-
tioners periodically castigate this approach or that multilateral institu-
tion—from Michel Camdessus, former head of the IMF, on the abject
failure of structural adjustment programmes, to Robert Wade, former
head of the World Bank’s East Asia department, on that organization’s
deliberate scripting-out of the state in its ofcial account of the East Asian
Miracle, to Joseph Stiglitz, former chief economist of the World Bank, on
the misconduct of the IMF (Stiglitz, 2002; Wade, 1996).
NGOs, wary of the tendency, opaqueness and ineffectiveness of Western
aid, have also joined in the offensive (Glennie, 2008). Even the Millennium
Development Goals have not been spared, one architect of which declaring
that the transformations they require “are seldom triggered by outsiders or
caused by technical advice, let alone by loans and grants from overseas”
(Vandemoortele, 2011, p.2). A sure sign of the aid sector’s loss of faith in its
own shibboleths, and the concomitant fear that the austerity it has imposed
on its taxpaying public will foment resistance to budgetary increases of aid, is
the frenzy for technical reviews that would discover or invent more exacting
ways of measuring those perennial intangibles like inuence and impact.
The dependence of OECD-DAC donors on their legislatures and ulti-
mately the taxpaying public to support their policies is an oft-forgotten
aspect of policy debates on aid. Selling aid to domestic constituencies in
Western democracies has always been a challenge, one that most political
leaders have managed in ways not dissimilar to the mobilization of public
support for the Cold War. The Manichean “othering” of Communists was
necessary to secure public support for permanently high levels of defence
expenditure had its parallel in the politics of foreign aid. Aid recipients
were portrayed as helpless (if not—sotto voce—hopeless) victims of a fatal
cycle of poverty, violence, natural disaster and the Past in its various forms
(colonialism, tribalism, socialism). The growing discontent with aid as an
instrument of national interest has led some in the aid community on a
futile search for perfect altruism that reaches its extreme in non-
governmental organizations’ call for the renunciation of all self-interest on
the part of donors, and the sacralization of the “vulnerable” as the central
rationale for aid provision (Long, 2001).
This derivativeness from the xation on “victims” did mobilize certain
domestic constituencies to throw their support behind certain aid pro-
grammes, but also had the perhaps unintended consequence of reinforc-
ing an image of Africa as a space of dysfunctional governments incapable
of ministering to their own people. Running counter to this view, reect-
ing another facet of developed countries’ domestic debate, were the neo-
liberals, who argued for “trade not aid” as the better route to development
and claimed—based on the East Asian experience—that aid, by distorting
incentives, had actually set back African enterprise. In sum, the founda-
tions of support for aid by Western taxpaying publics have been eroding
for a long time (Watson, 2014).
The rise of a more mercantilist approach from the industrializing coun-
tries of the South, with their unabashed offer of tied aid, has forced a revo-
lution in thinking about aid by developed donors, especially the smaller
ones like the Dutch, who had prided themselves on their commitment to
bridging the gap between rich and poor. As one Dutch critic notes,
In spite of a constant spate of feel-good stories intended to demonstrate that
the [Dutch] money donated was used efciently as well as effectively, the once-
successful lobby of aid protagonists gradually lost ground and came to face a
swelling tide of skepticism. Arguing from the donor perspective, critics at home
could quote sources and voices in receiving countries denying the benign
impact of Dutch largesse. And the spectacle is there for all to see: several coun-
tries that have been well endowed have not made much progress (Suriname,
some African states), while other countries that received less or nothing at all
(in particular China but also India which, under the BJP government decided
to foreclose Dutch funding) have leapt ahead. (Breman, 2011, pp.833–834)
Developing countries’ very successes in reducing poverty have impelled
Dutch politicians to refocus on relative deprivation in their own country,
where one child in ten grows up poor (Breman, 2011). The resulting vig-
orous embrace of nationalism and enterprise has stripped away all but the
thinnest veneer on the transformative discourse of the recent past.5 The
UK, too, has undergone partial refocus, although there remains a core
consensus between the parties to keep aid expenditures at their record
levels for the time being, whilst venturing to include a role for British
commercial interests. The tabloid press’s nose for weakness has yielded
exposés of the scandal of UK aid for competitive emerging markets like
China and India, which is already spilling over into the prestige media: a
sure sign that the consensus will erode further in the future (Gray, 2011).
Across the Atlantic, the US aid sector was already suffering decline after
the Cold War ended, the technical expertise of USAID being hollowed
out in all but a few departments and superseded by “beltway bandit” sub-
contractors. The tawdriness of US Congressional politics produced annual
cuts to the aid budget, sparing only those programmes patronized by
powerful Congressmen, and conning development assistance to a limited
domain (e.g. health). The rise of private foundations, the Gates Foundation
chief among them, as self-styled catalysts and innovators in the develop-
ment aid business has also been contributing to the refocus away from the
social sector (with the notable exception of HIV-AIDS) and towards the
economies of developing countries.
The changing discourse on aid amongst Western policy practitioners
and publics has been echoed by some African publicists, the loudest,
doughtiest of whom is Dambisa Moyo, whose headline-grabbing book
Dead Aid seemed to draw a line under the debate. She tells us in no uncer-
tain terms that “aid is the problem” (Moyo, 2010, p.47). Yash Tandon’s
tome Ending Aid Dependence calls aid, in effect, war by other means
(Tandon, 2008)! Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s celebrated refusal of
aid—despite Rwanda’s critical dependency on donor assistance for bud-
getary support—chimes with the recipients’ chorus of protest crying aid
down. Kagame pointedly stated in a 2009 article in the Financial Times:
Unfortunately, it seems that many still believe they can solve the problems
of the poor with sentimentality and promises of massive infusions of aid,
which often do not materialise … Why should anyone in Rwanda feel com-
fortable that taxpayers in other countries are contributing money for our
well-being or development? (Kagame, 2009, para. 1, 6)
These arresting sentences have contributed to the growing bewilderment
of Western aid workers, as troubling as the rapid embrace of the Chinese by
Africa and the concomitant search for a new development model. As a result,
the effectiveness of aid itself has been challenged, a process that perhaps
reaching its crescendo at the 2011 Fourth High Level Forum on Aid
Effectiveness held in Busan, Korea, which yielded the Global Partnership for
Effective Development. Since then, the shop talk of the development indus-
try has been of a “post-aid world” and the redux of development as modern-
ization at the instance of the South, with industrial- based growth being
recentred back to the heart of development (Mawdsley, Savage, & Kim, 2014).
Risk, Modernity andDevelopment
Development practitioners working to deliver humanitarian aid to conict
zones began to wrestle publicly in the 1990s with some inconvenient
truths about their practice (De Waal, 1997; Macrae & Zwi, 1994; The
Sphere Project, 2004). After its emancipation from the Cold War, devel-
opment humanitarianism ambitiously aspired to redene sovereignty to be
conditional and to justify armed intervention on human rights grounds,
yet this was dogged by controversy over such cardinal NGO operating
tenets as neutrality. First, they came to realize that they were perceived by
recipient communities in cruder terms than their altruistic self-image, as a
signicant source of wealth and power. Recipients took protestations of
neutrality as disingenuous at best. Worse still, their interventions, how be
it carefully weighed, were being observed to cause as many problems as
they solved. Some of the unintended consequences were appalling, such as
sustaining a genocidal militia in the heart of a refugee camp in central
Africa. The double-bind is that “giving no assistance would also have an
impact—often negative [as one report plaintively noted]” (Collaborate
Learning Projects, 2004, p.1). One prescriptive policy corrective to the
various challenges of aid that captured attention was the injunction “Do
no harm” (Anderson, 1999). The ICRC in a seminal 2003 document on
the topic declared:
Although aid can become part of the dynamics of the conict and may even
prolong it, humanitarian organizations must strive to “do no harm” or to
minimize the harm they may be inadvertently doing simply by being present
and providing assistance. (UNICEF, 2003, para. 11)
Before long, the fumigant of caution began to seep through other
niches of the aid sector, especially those operating in the fragile post-
conict context where economic activity is critical to conserving any
momentum away from violence (UNDP, 2008). Even nutritional pro-
grammes serving newborns were not immune: one policy maker from
USAID invented a “nutritional impact assessment tool” as “a way for
organizations designing or reviewing agricultural programs to mitigate
any risks or potential negative effects on nutrition—in other words a ‘do
no harm’ approach” (IRIN, 2011, para. 4).
The adaptation of medicine’s iconic Hippocratic Oath—primum non
nocere—by members of the aid community was a turning-point in the
story of development aid which reects new thinking in Western societies.
Its cousin is the Precautionary Principle, which tries to foresee the remote
harms to the environment and society in developing countries (Beck,
1992). This wariness of prospective threats and unintended consequences
of modernization have, in the minds of Western policy-makers, begun to
take precedence over the single-minded pursuit of modernity’s triumph
over the past—this despite notional delity to “ending poverty” by pro-
moting the “[e]nlightenment objectives of democracy, global security, and
the advance of science” (Sachs, 2005, p.460). All the new values are post-
industrial, if not indeed post-modern, in tenor, expressions of what Ulrich
Beck (1992) calls “the risk society”. Their insertion in the aid lexicon
holds signicant implications for the future of development; they suggest
that the West is no longer capable of or committed to it.
The dilemma of Western aid today fell out of a shift in thinking about
the ontology of society and its relation to modernity and to risk. The
modernization process consists of a growing individuation amongst social
actors in relation to social structures, which in turn induces social actors to
be more reexive about prevailing social structures, like the family, the
workplace and so forth. The “social production of wealth is systematically
accompanied by the social production of risk” (Beck, 1992, p.19). In the
past, the threats to humanity were challenges to survival itself, which
modernity has largely resolved; increasingly, however, Western society
views the process of modernization itself as containing threats which are
an inherent in its attainment (Matunhu, 2011). The central question fac-
ing post-industrial societies is, “[h]ow can the risks and hazards systemati-
cally produced by modernization be prevented, minimized, dramatized or
channelled?” (Beck, 1992, p.19).
By a parallel process the West has lost touch with its own history of
conceiving development aid in globalized and imperial terms. The messi-
ness of its own road to modernity, underpinned by violent Hobbesian
nation-building projects, the social upheaval of industrialization, bounded
by deep corruption, is a matter of record: the emergence of the “robber
barons” was as critical to the economic development of the US in the late
nineteenth century (and Great Britain and Germany) as the much-
criticized corruption of the chaebol magnates has been to the contempo-
rary modernization of Korea (or China or India). By contrast, the belief
that modernization can be achieved by alternative routes that would avoid
its worst features—the “leap-frogging” that IT, for instance, was supposed
to provide impoverished societies—is an expression of post-industrial
risk aversion.
Fabian dreamers who abhor the signature events and revolutionary tur-
moil that enabled modernity—from capitalist enclosures and factory
exploitation to socialist collectivization—for the brutalities that they
wreaked upon the vulnerable—seem to have lost the nerve to unleash the
genie that could change the unhappy situation of many peoples in devel-
oping countries. Rather than to instil the destructively creative policies of
modernization, the Western aid industry prefers to minister to the victims
of the failure to achieve modernity; all while offering no concrete vision of
escape from the cycle of poverty. It is the West’s loss of faith in moderniza-
tion, reected in its changing attitude towards risk, which risks its ability
to act as a partner of any effectuality (other than as a consumer market) in
the developing world’s struggle for development. Christopher Coker’s
adaptation to the eld of international relations of notions of the Risk
Society, specically the hoary problem of war, bears repeating:
Our civilian societies are in the business of managing risks … (d)istributional
conicts over “goods” such as income, jobs and social security (the tradi-
tional agenda of modern politics) have given way to distributional conicts
over “bads”; that is, the risks created by advances in technology (chemical
and nuclear), genetic research, the threat to the environment. Politics is
about the control and prevention of such risks. Society is risk aversive, and
the same is true of how our politicians conduct war. War is no longer used
to advance “goods” (constructing a new world order, putting a new regional
security system in place) but managing “bads” (nuclear proliferation, terror-
ism). Generals are no long asked to produce security, but to manage insecu-
rity. War too has become risk averse. (Coker, 2001, p.56)
Development policy as practised by Western governments is likewise no
longer about advancing African society but offsetting the fallout of mod-
ernization—even while it has yet to take hold fully in the developing coun-
tries. As development policy becomes mired in concerns to avoid all risk,
institutionally focussing on managing modernization’s “bads” rather than
promoting its “goods”, Western governments diminish their capacity to
play a constructive role in development.
Tackling theRisks
The developing countries’ tough-minded realism about their situation,
riding in tandem with their lack of control and daily deprivation, can
entertain no such hesitancy about risk. The monumental undertakings
needed to improve the lives of communities—from clean running water
provision to infant mortality reduction—form a stark agenda measured in
hard, quantiable terms. Pragmatism, experimentation and adapting to
circumstance are all necessary ingredients for success. One can scarcely
imagine a Chinese provincial ofcial, compelled to report annually to
superiors in Beijing on progress in achieving growth targets, lasting a day
in ofce by articulating development—much less implementing policies—
on the basis of “do no harm” as prime directive. The “fetishes” of mod-
ernization—aggregate growth, infrastructure capacity, consumer demand,
standard of living—are for developing countries yardsticks of success, on a
path animated by an ironclad faith in the positive outcomes of modernity.
What is past is past, existing in a kind of darkness in which one inquires
about nothing, and must be escaped by any means possible. The future is,
in this harsh reality, necessarily bright with promise and fullment.
Post-industrial talk of development that is pro-poor and minds vulner-
able communities not only rings hollow in aspiring countries, it also breeds
the suspicion that donor paternalism has a darker purpose. Echoing the
old saw that NATO’s purpose was to keep the US in [Europe], the
Russians out and the Germans down, one might be forgiven for misgiving
that the purpose of Western aid is to keep the donor in, the emerging
powers out and the developing country down. It looks all the worse in
light of the demonstrable achievements of the emerging powers, not least
of which is their very acquisition of power in all its manifestations; and in
light of the fact that it was acquired and achieved not by blindly following
but by resolutely ignoring the faddish canons of Western development
policy on issues such as the role of the state.
concluSIon: After AId or BAck tothefuture?
The Western way of development showed few signs of strategic planning
and design in the earliest years. Rather, the West has at timesbeen reactive,
lurching from turning-point to historical watershed, from World War II to
decolonization to Cold War’s end and beyond, adapting to events ad hoc.
Only with the advent ofthe OECD-DAC, a multilateral forum dedicated
to harmonizing economic practices amongst the Western states, introduced
an element of strategy into development assistance. But the emergence of a
common strategy did not forestall (indeedit may have precipitated) the ris-
ing critique by aid recipients, who have berated the West for its conception
and implementation of development assistance. It is the Western world’s
own loss of nerve and its fetishization of risk aversion that is chiey to blame
for the failure of its many and strenuous efforts to spark development in the
non-Western world so as to “make poverty history”.
1. In 1961, President Kennedy replaced the International Cooperation
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power whales, felt compelled to rebrand its tariff disbursements to Lesotho
and Swaziland under the Southern African Customs Union as a form of
“aid”, thus propelling it into the ranks of non-DAC donors.
3. The ve partnership commitments are: “(1) Ownership: Partner countries
exercise effective leadership over their development policies, and strategies
and co-ordinate development actions. (2) Alignment: Donors base their
overall support on partner countries’ national development strategies,
institutions and procedures. (3) Harmonisation: Donors’ actions are more
harmonised, transparent and collectively effective. (4) Managing for
Results: Managing resources and improving decision-making for results.
(5) Mutual Accountability: Donors and partners are accountable for devel-
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... Incontrovertible proof has arisen since Norgaard's indictment nearly three decades ago, in the form of the sixth largest mass extinction; a desire for recognition that there are different forms of knowledge as well as ways of knowing, valuing and interacting with the environment; a cultural resurgence of supra-nationalism and xenophobia; and the inefficacy of the multilateral international order. Alden et al. (2020) incisively summarise the internal excoriation the industry has put itself through in an effort to evolve, from the advent of community development to more scientific, measurable and rigorous measures of "aid effectiveness" to self-flagellation in the wake of corruption in Western multilateral institutions. In summary, the Western-centric aid model is in a flux and disintegrating quickly, as it can no longer defend "the 'fetishes' of modernization-aggregate growth, infrastructure capacity, consumer demand, standard of living" but ignore the inherently contained threats within the model to the environment and humanity itself (Alden et al. 2020:33). ...
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