Sweden's development assistance needs a new strategy

Despite the fact that Sweden has long provided aid to states, it has led to little democratic progress in the countries. Now we need to rethink and create a new strategy. Investing in migration and non-governmental organizations can be a way to go, write development assistance consultants Lars Rylander and Jan Rudengren.

In recent years, three major works based on development theory and practice have been published[1]. All of them contain discussions and conclusions that have hardly so far left any mark in the international or Swedish discussion on development aid and development. This article is an attempt to see how these conclusions can and should affect the strategy behind Swedish development assistance, primarily bilateral government assistance through Sida.

According to accepted political science expertise, three basic conditions are set for a long-term and sustainable national development to be realized: an independent legal system, an efficient state administration and popular control through a democratically elected parliament. It is also important that a generally accepted legal system is established before the democratic breakthrough and before the development of state administration, in order to function as a legal framework for state and democracy.

In addition, historical developments show that it can be crucial that an apolitical state administration is established before the democratic breakthrough. The risk is otherwise great that the administration will be cut off by the political elite and that a system based on clientelism will emerge. This means that the political winner rewards his electorate with roads, schools, jobs, career opportunities, other services so that a mutual interest arises, often at the expense of the population as a whole.

Aid countries have weak capacity

Today's aid countries in East and South Africa, Southeast Asia and Latin America have weak capacity in all areas: The judicial system is often politicized or generally weak, as is the administration - with some exceptions for South Asia where British colonialism left behind some structure and framework. The democratic process, mainly the existence of elected parliaments, which increasingly characterize the development of society in most partner countries, is mainly ethnic rather than socially rooted. The political and economic institutions are weak and therefore unsurprisingly seldom inclusive, more often exclusive or extractive, which is the term Acemoglu / Robinson uses.

One can, of course, blame the lack of clear democratic progress on a backward colonial legacy, which still casts its shadow over today's political and economic reality. But this argument is increasingly rare in the global discussion. Rather, it is emphasized that the political elite in former colonies has taken over the elitist view of the colonial power on how to achieve development, where it is governed by a clientelistic culture and advice from so-called experts - while the individual's economic and political rights come into play.

Lack of analysis of the effects of development assistance

Evaluations show that Swedish development assistance has been significant in the tailwind, ie when national policy has focused on reforms for poverty reduction. Despite this, it is an inevitable conclusion that the development results have not in a decisive way entailed a paradigm shift. The basic preconditions for continuous development towards democracy and a market economy have not changed.

The possibilities of changing a corrupt social order based on clientelism and political monopolies with aid have not been sufficiently analyzed. These possibilities have seldom even been part of the considerations of which states Sweden should provide assistance to. In cases where critical analyzes have been made within Sida, there have rarely been political consequences regarding the scope or focus of development assistance. One can of course object that aid resources have been too limited to be able to have such effects, but the political rhetoric continues to claim that Swedish bilateral aid leads to democracy and poverty reduction.

After more than 50 years of aid without a consistent policy for democracy and political and economic rights and the creation of inclusive institutions can be read among Sweden's partner countries, one may ask whether it is not time to consider alternative strategies to make “more of the same ”in bilateral aid? Why does Sweden stick to state-to-state aid, such as with Swedish partner countries, when these offer so little room for individuals to exercise their own rights? Have the options for improving the conditions for poor people through state cooperation been sufficiently analyzed? And why do we not see the needs of the poor who want to migrate and vote with their feet as motives for aid? Studies by the World Bank, among others, show that migration is an important instrument for poverty reduction, and for global and individual development.

Focus on people instead of states

A new focus should then be to abandon the policy of seeking to achieve the poverty target in Swedish development assistance through development assistance to corrupt regimes and instead invest in development assistance that prioritises people's needs and desire for development. The conclusion is thus that the bilateral agreements between Sweden and the priority partner countries should be abandoned in favor of initiatives that have as a clear ambition to change the living conditions of poor people on their own terms.

One track in such a change is to focus aid on non-governmental organizations. Experiences from Bangladesh are worth building on and the recently adopted focus of aid to Ethiopia seems to be a step in a similar direction. The guidelines for performance strategies should be designed so that the possibilities of achieving the poverty target were first examined on the basis of considerations of the relevance and effectiveness of alternative and state-independent channels. Such analyzes should be carried out in collaboration with independent researchers and non-governmental organizations.

Another track in a new direction is to stop seeing migration as a "brain drain" but rather as a "brain gain". The concept includes not only the large financial resources that are returned to the families of migrant workers but also and above all the opportunities for qualified education and employment that a life outside the home country can offer. Sida's international training program (ITP) is an established business with the potential to be reformulated and scaled up as an instrument for "brain gain".

We believe that these ways of achieving Swedish goals for development assistance have not been sufficiently evaluated and that it is time to build knowledge and concepts about how such a focus can be formulated in a political direction.

Lars Rylander and Jan Rudengren

[1] Acemoglu, Robinson: "Why Nations Fail", Fukuyama: "Political Order and Political Decay" and Easterly: "The Tyranny of Experts"

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