Stefan Löfven, Peter Eriksson and Margot Wallström

In the agreement with the Center Party and the Liberals, the new government has, among other things, promised a feminist foreign policy. Photo: Collage / Kristian Pohl, Government Offices


Dare to give smart aid, new government

Happily, the new government retains the one percent target, continues with a feminist foreign policy and makes a democracy offensive in development aid. But it is important not to start from simplified analyzes. Diakonia's Magnus Walan writes about how the new government should navigate development aid and development policy in 2019.

We have finally got a new government. From Diakonia's side, we are pleased that the four-party agreement maintains that one percent of GNI will go to development aid and that the government declaration makes it clear that Sweden will be at the forefront of Agenda 2030. It is also gratifying that the new government continues its feminist foreign policy, emphasizes its global responsibility and promises a democracy offensive.

But for Sweden's development and development policy to be effective in the future, it is required that it is not based on simplified starting points, and that the promise of a coherent policy based on human rights actually has a concrete impact. The promise to stop the export of munitions to the non-democratic states participating in the Yemeni conflict is an important step in the right direction.

Do not simplify the debate

Sometimes the debate on development aid becomes quite superficial. Let me take the example of Zimbabwe. If you ask the question: "How come our efforts do not lead to greater democracy in Zimbabwe?" or say that billions of aid go to the Zimbabwean government, which oppresses the population, giving the impression that aid goes unconditionally to authoritarian regimes.

It is true that aid to Zimbabwe previously went to the Treasury in the form of budget support and that Sweden was late in understanding the Mugabe regime's extensive and gross abuses in the mid-1980s. But that is not the case today. In recent years, aid to Zimbabwe has instead contributed to abuses being documented. It has also given people the opportunity to organize on their own terms and has meant that women's organizations have been able to challenge patriarchal structures. It is about giving hope and courage to people - even in periods where the development of democracy goes backwards and abuse takes place.

Because when developments in a country go in the wrong direction, development aid can strengthen the counter-forces. It is important that Sweden's decision-makers in the Riksdag and government do not adapt to the simplified analyzes that call for stopping all aid to countries where the political process goes backwards and authoritarian and populist leaders increase their power. On the contrary, it is perhaps then that Swedish development assistance provides the most added value.

Maintain the high quality requirements

Sweden should not give in when other countries focus on development assistance in their geographical area - where the purpose is often to prevent refugees from reaching the EU. Or when they focus their assistance on business cooperation with the underlying interest of benefiting their own companies. Instead, Sweden needs to maintain its high quality requirements, because it is perhaps in the countries where many other donors have withdrawn that Swedish development assistance is most useful. Countries such as Guatemala, Colombia, Burkina Faso and Cambodia.

Even in countries with strong authoritarian features, assistance to state or public institutions can contribute to increased democratic space. In the spring of 2018, for example, the Cambodian opposition politician Mu Sochua stated that Swedish aid for state reforms and institutions had contributed to the democratic opposition being able to strengthen its positions. Thousands of election workers were trained. When the opposition was completely banned in November 2017, she said that it was no longer reasonable to continue aid through state institutions, but until then it was a wise way to go. This is an example of how courage, flexibility and local adaptation in development assistance can make a big difference.

It is gratifying that the new political orientation in the Swedish Parliament wants to strengthen aid for democracy work. But it is important that this focus is not based on simplified analyzes or to save on management costs. The democracy offensive must be based on a serious analysis of Swedish added value. As more and more countries use development assistance for their own short-term interests, it is increasingly important that the Riksdag and the government adhere to important principles of development assistance efficiency, such as local ownership, openness and demanding accountability.

New ways of working are required

An increased focus of development assistance on democratic development may require new working methods. In 2018, the Concord network produced the report Take a Place, an important review of how development aid and foreign policy can counteract the reduced democratic space in the world. The report pointed to a number of concrete and constructive proposals for how aid can strengthen democracy work.

Among other things, it was proposed that the Swedish embassies should be given a clearer task to contribute in an active and flexible way to increased democratic space. This may mean that the embassies cooperate to a greater extent with the local civil society and human rights organizations and see them as a resource in the work. In the same way that embassies have special staff with the task of helping to promote Swedish exports, all embassies should have staff with the task of contributing to increased respect for human rights. The embassies should also to an increased extent contribute to ensuring that human rights are the starting point in the promotion of Swedish exports. Here we have seen countless shortcomings over the years. For example, embassies have contributed to the export of munitions to regimes responsible for serious human rights violations.

Now we hope that the government will live up to its commitments in the foreign declaration in a couple of weeks, and dare to be smart in development aid.

This is a debate article. The author is responsible for analysis and opinions in the text.

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