The government's development aid policy platform, which is now being consulted, is strongly ideologised and analytically deficient. That is the opinion of Jonas Ewald, Kajsa Johansson, Anders Nilsson and Gunilla Åkesson at Linnaeus University, who recently submitted their consultation response.
Much wisdom has been written by aid-conscious debaters regarding the aid policy platform. We agree with the criticism and want to develop parts of it.
What the government calls external analysis lacks a deeper analysis of the actual context in which development assistance operates. No analysis is made of the power structures and conflicts of interest that create and maintain poverty, inequality - and oppression. This means that questions about the challenges that globalization, new players and short-term natural resource exploitation pose for redistribution policy, tax-financed welfare and inclusive sustainable development shine through with their absence. The platform lacks perspectives from “recipient / partner countries”, an understanding of the importance of local ownership and a position that demands for transparency and accountability also apply to Swedish development assistance, not just the recipient countries.
The platform's analysis of the underlying causes of the problems on which development assistance intends to contribute to the solution is weak. It focuses on the symptoms, which is not consistent with the rights-based approach that the platform claims to be based on. One of many examples of this is the issue of violent conflicts, where a lack of causal analysis makes conflict prevention work impossible.
Another example where the analysis of causation is unclear is the relationship between economic growth and development. We question the wording that people should have improved opportunities to participate in economic growth, as if growth were an end in themselves and not a means which, in certain circumstances, could contribute to the fulfillment of human social and economic rights;. The platform does not analyze the fact that many of the countries where Swedish development assistance operates are already showing high economic growth, among the highest in the world, but that this does not benefit the poorest part of the population. Rather, the gaps increase drastically. We believe that the platform, with its focus on economic growth and on the interests and rights of poor people, should be clear about how Swedish development assistance intends to address the increased inequality that often results from rapid growth. This includes the issue of institutions and mechanisms that ensure a domestic tax base and its transparent and efficient management. Experience from development aid as well as research shows that legitimate, transparent and well-functioning tax systems not only contribute to the financing of central government expenditure, but also have a positive impact on the democratic contract between the state and citizens.
The absence of an institutional mindset is consistent across the platform. What is emphasized is the oppressive role that the state has in many countries, but it is unclear whether the government believes that the state can also have an important role to play as a development actor? We ask ourselves whether the strategy of Swedish development assistance is to only support those actors who demand responsibility from the state, such as civil society organizations, but not the state's capacity to meet these requirements and deliver a desired service?
In the goal formulation, the government wishes to focus on both poverty and oppression, which may be legitimate. But the letter has a one-sided focus on political repression, in line with the discussion of the state above, which leads to the repression of economic and political rights exercised by economic actors is neglected.
When the letter deals with economic conditions, human rights no longer seem to be in focus and a goal in themselves, rather they are transformed into means to achieve economic growth. One example is the description of sub-goal 2: "The fact that people can educate themselves and work for their own livelihood is not only a prerequisite for growth but is also crucial for the individual's sense of empowerment." From a rights perspective and the government's individual focus, should education be a human individual right that must be fulfilled for everyone, regardless of what this may lead to? According to the rights perspective, according to the same logic, should aid strengthen women's economic rights, primarily because they are important in their own right, not for their possible contribution to economic growth? What other consequences will it have if we conclude that education and gender equality would not lead to economic growth?
At the same time as the platform argues for a stronger focus on individuals, paradoxically enough, these individuals are deprived of their power of action and their ownership in the proposed revision of the goal formulation, where people's own power of action has disappeared. Swedish development assistance must therefore no longer aim to create conditions for people to change their lives themselves, but directly provide the changed situation. If we add this to the fact that there is a total lack of ownership among the recipient countries in the platform, it entails a dramatic change in the objectives of how the assistance is to be designed and implemented.
The platform's relationship to the PGU is unclear, both in terms of the document's status and its content. The letter initially states that the PGU is its starting point. However, this is not reflected in the content of the platform, which is completely devoid of references to the PGU, despite the fact that many of the thematic areas have obvious links to the PGU. We do not see how it is even possible to discuss, for example, agricultural or climate issues in development aid without taking other policy areas into account?
One of the government's slogans has been that development aid in general and the development assistance body Sida have been more specifically politicized; that it has been social democratic. We believe that the absence of an external analysis and a lack of connection to research on development means that the platform is a far more ideologised document than most other development assistance documents we have seen during our more than thirty years in the industry.
The idea of creating a platform for development assistance is commendable. We support the platform's proposal for a closer link between research and development assistance. It is also good that the platform has begun to problematize how the logic of performance management with easily quantifiable goals risks that development assistance does not contribute to necessary long-term structural changes. But for the platform to become a useful document, for guidance and guidance, both better anchoring, analysis of the surrounding world and an understanding of the reasons for today's and tomorrow's development challenges are required.
Jonas Ewald, senior lecturer in peace and development studies
Kajsa Johansson, doctoral student in sociology
Anders Nilsson, senior lecturer in peace and development studies
Gunilla Åkesson, Assistant Professor of Peace and Development Studies.