Without radical rethinking, the new project of setting a post-2015 agenda is in danger of suffering the same fate as its forerunners. Development in its classical understanding is of no use now. What is needed are real changes corresponding to the various local and national necessities.
In contrast to the practice in African traditional religions, where a change of name of a person or community always indicates a change of character, development aid has been generating new programs consistently without changing any essentials. The history of development policy is a history of the replacement of slogans without any noteworthy consequences for development practices. Whether it was called modernization or social change, trade instead of aid, support focused on basic needs, sustainability or debt initiative, good governance, human rights or even auto-centrism and dissociation – the reference frame always remained the growth-oriented, resource and energy intensive economic and social model of the Northern hemisphere. The model of catching-up-development, whereby the countries categorized as “underdeveloped” (have to) strive after the Western model, was maintained and constantly re-justified. The Millennium project presents the last chapter of this misleading exercise so far.
THE PATH TO THE MDGs
The path leading to the Millennium project has been long. It has to be seen mainly in relation to the so-called world conferences of 1990s (Rio, Johannesburg, Beijing …). Under the auspices of the United Nations, the international community agreed on precise common development goals in 2000. During the so-called Millennium Summit, global heads of state and government took stock of the unequal stand of human development throughout the world and admitted their shared responsibility to preserve the two basic principles of human dignity and equality worldwide (UN development program 2002). They announced their support for liberty, democracy and human rights, and in addition formulated eight goals in order to achieve development and eliminate poverty; the latter being meant to be reached by 2015. Meanwhile, 14 years have passed – and the balance is sobering.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) rapidly established themselves as the normative reference frame for international development cooperation worldwide. In the aftermath of drafting the MDGs, poverty reduction and development were once again seen as global common tasks. For the first time, the international community was able to agree on an expanding, shared catalogue of goals. Thus, a result-orientated objective was established. Bolstered by the symbolism of the rising new millennium, the protagonists elevated their project to the starting-point for a new era. The MDGs proved immensely suitable for campaigning.
My personal experience in Germany, however, showed that the reactions to the Millennium project were very diverse in regard to different groups – depending above all on the degree of their politicization. While many groups felt affirmed by the MDGs’ orientation towards basic needs, others asked why politicians try to make the Millennium Development Goals appealing for the work of one-world-groups - as the German Government did in the context of the 2015 action program. The reaction of groups opposing the Millennium project proved to be even more problematic: they restricted their involvement to holding politicians liable to their admitted responsibility with regard to the goals, but meanwhile not believing in the feasibility of the project.
NURTURING A HARMFUL ILLUSION
Although the goals are selective and hardly ambitious, their failure cannot be denied anymore . After 14 years, the results look embarrassing. Despite large regional differences, it is certain that not a single country will reach all the goals. Interestingly, whenever successes are mentioned at the moment, they can be mainly traced back to China and India which have always been very skeptical when it comes to recommendations of international development agencies. This actually seems to point to the importance of independent national economic policies as a road to success in a globalized economy.
From the start, financing of the measures wasn’t ensured, putting the authenticity of the project at stake. The necessity to transfer the financing of the MDGs from voluntary and fluctuating public payments of foreign aid to new sources of funding like international taxes (transaction taxes, taxes on plane tickets) was indeed recognized, but insufficiently put into practice. Furthermore, it has to be underlined that the complex issue of mass poverty shall not be reduced to the task of mobilizing financial resources in order to merely cure the symptoms of poverty. Most important are questions of structural causes of poverty on a national as well as on a global basis: Through which mechanisms are the poor excluded from existing wealth within their countries? Do the dominating structures of international trade enable poor countries to realize their potential?
Here, the focus on foreign aid and the mobilization of greater financial resources obscures the roots of the problem. It is supposed to make one forget that the fight against poverty and its sources is far too rarely placed in the center of international efforts. Instead, the economic and geostrategic interests of donors and of the poor countries’ elites dominate. Particular and short-term interests prevent an effective debate about the necessity of a peace-oriented global policy. The goals formulated in the Millennium Declaration could not be reached because they do not challenge the prevailing general economic conditions at all. The MDGs were only cosmetically fighting against symptoms which are caused by an economic system which is structurally producing poverty. A limited comprehension of poverty and development underlies the MDGs. Human rights, democracy, good governance and peace are not even considered in the MDGs and the ecological dimension is neglected.
The problem of mass poverty has increased dramatically, especially since the beginning of the 3rd Development Decade. By now it is widely acknowledged that measures linked to structural adjustment programs (like liberalization, deregulation, and privatization) in fact resulted in very doubtful economic success, coming with enormous social and ecological costs. However, the world has not learned anything from this experience: “Under the guise of the MDG discourse, a neoliberal consensus has hardened, which takes trade liberalization and the participation of the private sector as central instruments in the fight against poverty – entirely in line with the interests of the global players (…). The Millennium Development Goals still impose economic measures upon countries that have failed everywhere where they have been established in order to reduce poverty.” Northern politics as well as the elites in the concerned countries are in no way trustworthy: Coherence is missing and many guiding principles of applied policies are strikingly at odds with the achieving the UN development goals. This is exemplified by the TRIPS agreement which endangers the right to healthcare, or by fishing agreements which contradict food sovereignty. Contradictions between the development goals on the one hand and economic, foreign and security policy targets on the other hand endanger the current SDG project further.
THE IMMINENT DANGER: LIP SERVICE
After the Earth Summit of Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the term “sustainability” became known to wider circles. 178 states agreed upon an environmental and development policy standard which was supposed to open up the same possibilities of development to all countries and people, and at the same time consider the interests of the next generation. The central issue was to protect the global ecosystem on the one hand and on the other hand to guarantee economic development. The compromise formula was the guiding principle of “sustainable development”, consisting of the triangle of economy, ecology and society. It relies on the recognition that environmental problems and social questions cannot be viewed as isolated from one another.
Twenty years past Rio, we have failed to orient development trajectories in a way that respects ecological boundaries. Against this background, it is necessary to develop an alternative to the current global growth model, a model of society which no longer ignores material limitations, but draws corresponding consequences. How could one harmonize this kind of sustainability with the dominating development policies including EPAs, CETA, TTIP etc. which are supposed to create ever more free trade, or with the observation that the cultivation of soy and biofuel together with intensive livestock farming are destroying African markets?
Although new potentials are opened up by resource efficiency and technical innovation, nobody can seriously believe that the chosen path of constant economic growth can lead to a fair reconciliation of interests between rich and poor or present and future generations in a sustainable way.
A Much Needed New Perspective
The questions of how to create a good life for everyone in society and which is the right socio-political order are crucial from a civil society perspective. The Nigerian writer Ben Okri wrote in 2008: “We must bring back into society a deeper sense of the purpose of living. The unhappiness in so many lives ought to tell us that success alone is not enough. Material success has brought us to a strange spiritual and moral bankruptcy“ .
Sustainability cannot simply be implemented politically. Preconditions have to be met which relate to the inner development of the individual human being. Mind and reason can help to describe these problems and to find solutions, but the appropriate behavior requires the whole individual, her or his sentiments, morals, and heart. Empathy and attentiveness for fellow human beings as well as for nature are two elements in this process. In Africa, there are spaces in which those values are lived in spite of external pressure. These spaces should present the African contribution to the discussion about a global future.
However, for civil society in Africa there is also the need to articulate how, up to today, the African continent has been solely an object of others’ histories. To become subject of one’s own history means to articulate a twofold “enough”: Enough of external orientation. African elites have been submitting themselves to the illusion that foreign direct investments would solve all their problems. Even in the Western hemisphere, political and social forces are losing ground against the power of companies and the “bankocracy”.
In this context, it is particularly important to direct one’s attention to the role of foreign aid – it is either completely misinterpreted or deliberately communicated incorrectly. Foreign aid is corruption, because it corrupts government policy. As compensatory measures for foreign aid, African governments are forced to open up their scope of action to donors. In effect, that is a form of corruption. Africa’s elites are generally profiting from this system and therefore like to believe in the humanitarian rhetoric of development discourses instead of deconstructing its obscuring effects. That’s why civil society organizations like Alternatives to Neoliberalism in Southern Africa (ANSA) are counting on change from below. ANSA defines development more comprehensively; in this understanding, it implies human rights, the rights of local communities and the right to national and regional self-determination. It is this self-determination that enables people to insist that fundamental rights (to water, electricity, health care, and education) may not be privatized and left to the free market. The market is not a neutral agent for the equal distribution of resources. Therefore, it is the state’s duty to enable redistribution, and to enable it in conformity with ethical principles. The state is responsible – and can, after all, be held accountable.
At the moment, self-determination is immensely important because there is no African handwriting identifiable in the programs implemented so far (ASAP , HIPC, PRSP …). Where the declaration of Paris talks about “ownership”, it is bound to the dominant discourse on development and the neoliberal consensus. Opposing this, ANSA understands ownership as the capacity to take one’s fate into one’s own hands, not the ability to define a developmental program that enables external protagonists to intervene. It means to determine a concept of oneself without any instructions – based on an analysis on what is meaningful in life and what is needed for its realization.
A reorientation is necessary and will only be reached by constructive cooperation. Without a radical rethinking, the new project of setting a post-2015 agenda is once again in danger of suffering the same fate as its forerunners. The new agenda must take into consideration that there simply is no need for development in its classical understanding, but a demand for real changes which correspond to the various local and national necessities. These cannot come from above, but as described in regard to ANSA’s approach, have to come from the people themselves and through new kinds of solidarity between North and South.
I am hoping for more awareness that despite existing differences between North and South, they share many common problems. On a global scale, we are dealing with an ever-increasing power of enterprises and the players who are attempting to take control of the world in order to push through their short-term interests. They are exactly the same in the North and South. Together, we will be able to change this. This is why the perspective on Africa has to change.
* Dr. Boniface Mabanza is an experienced expert for development studies. He studied philosophy, literature and theology in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Congo and received his PhD at the University of Münster. Currently, he is engaged as coordinator at the “Kirchliche Arbeitsstelle Südliches Afrika” (KASA) in Heidelberg, which initiates lobbying and campaigning concerning issues connected to socio-economic justice in southern Africa. Until 2013, he taught development politics at the German Academy for International Cooperation (AIZ.
 Eric Toussaint, Millenniumsziele – die schädliche Illusion, in: Le Monde diplomatique (Hg.), Atlas der Globalisierung. Die neuen Daten und Fakten zur Lage der Welt, Berlin 2006, S. 104-105
 Joshua Cooper Ramo (2004) formulates three basic rules for countries of the Global South in his book "The Beijing Consensus": To facilitate innovations, not to concentrate only on the growth of the gross domestic product, but rather on quality of life improvement, which means striving towards a certain form of equality as a condition for social peace; to protect national independence and self-determination in combination with not allowing other counties to determine national politics.
 Mabanza, Boniface (2010): UN-Millenniumsziele: Fortführung einer schädlichen Illusion? In Werkstatt Ökonomie Rundbrief Nr. 52 (own translation)
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