50 years of Swedish development assistance

Aid cannot or should not take on all the successes and failures in the development of poor countries over the past 50 years. But the study "Swedish development cooperation 50 years" (2012) shows that development assistance can be significant if there is a will for development in the recipient country, writes Lennart Wohlgemuth, professor at the University of Gothenburg

It is today 50 years since Swedish development assistance began. It was this year that the government and parliament made a decision on official assistance based on Proposition 1962: 100 and as the first public institution for development assistance - the International Assistance Committee (NIB) - began its activities. It is therefore interesting to study about the original goals for development assistance as they were set up in the bill that can be said to define what Sweden wanted with development assistance, ie. Bill 100 of 1962 has been fulfilled or not.

I am of the firm opinion that the effects of development assistance cannot be measured on the basis of short-term results but must be seen over a longer period of time. Development is about so much more than the fulfillment of immediate goals, but more about structural and attitude changes that take a long time to be realized. And this is what I want to study in more detail in this publication.

The main motive for the stock presented in the Bill from 1962 was solidarity. The overall goal was to raise the standard of living of the poor people and the means to achieve this goal was that development assistance would constitute help for self-help, thereby emphasizing the recipient country's responsibility for its own development. The nature of development assistance in terms of mutual cooperation rather than unilateral assistance was emphasized.

It is these motives, goals and means against which I have assessed the development over 50 years - the motive solidarity, the goal of poverty reduction and the six sub-goals developed during the 50-year period and the means of emphasizing that the responsibility for development rests with the recipient countries themselves.

A lot has happened during this 50-year period. Many countries have gone from belonging to the category of "poor countries" to becoming middle-income countries. A number have during periods had strong growth and a policy that has led to a reduction in poverty, while others have lagged far behind. But most countries, even in the last category, have nevertheless experienced an improvement in certain key issues such as child mortality and life expectancy, which has been faster than Sweden had at the corresponding time in its development history. With regard to the sub-goal of increasing political and economic independence, a significant change can be seen during the period, both in the case of Africa (both in terms of liberation from previous colonial powers and the fight against Apartheid in South Africa), Latin America and Asia. Many good examples can also be seen when it comes to the development of democracy.

Is all this due to aid? The political developments in the world at large, such as the end of the Cold War, the fight against terrorism and the emergence of new strong players on the international stage, such as China, are clearly an important factor in all development. Other factors such as trade, environmental degradation, natural disasters, etc. are also crucial, as are other policy decisions taken by the international community or by rich countries working against the interests of developing countries. It is quite clear that aid cannot or should not take on all the progress or failures in the development of the poor world. But as I show, if there is a will for development in the recipient country, development aid can mean a lot. And it can above all contribute to building a knowledge base that will be useful if and when this will and this commitment exists. However, this requires both long-term perspective and trust between the parties.

This is something to consider now when discussing what will follow the millennium goals after 2015 and the new platform that will shape Swedish development assistance in the future.

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