Andrew Mitchell’s vision of development: what’s missing is rights
The Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, gave what was billed as a major speech on the theme of “Beyond Aid” on Wednesday. Because there is so much else going on – and to be honest because there wasn’t much in it, it hasn’t attracted much comment, but it’s worth studying. Not for what it says, as Alison Evans of the Overseas Development Institute says in her blog, but for what’s missing. And although she cites some very specific omissions in his speech, I think there’s a much bigger one: people’s rights.
Andrew Mitchell is clearly right that development is not just about overseas aid, important though that is. I have expressed scepticism before that we will see the UK government reach the 0.7% of GNI target for overseas aid, and even the coalition pledge to legislate for it in the first Parliamentary term is now almost certain to be broken. But his vision of what lies beyond aid is not much more than economic voluntarism: support for the private sector, cheering charities on in their efforts, and joined up governmental efforts on security and climate change. Alison Evans identifies the following omissions: arms trading, research and technology and migration. She could easily have added illicit tax flows, for example, as specific gaps in DFID’s work.
But there’s a bigger problem, which is that Andrew Mitchell’s vision of development doesn’t involve providing people with rights.
Take the Government’s much-vaunted joined-up security policy. The DFID response to the Iraq war was indeed disastrous. Immediately after the invasion, DFID money flowed into Iraq on the back of the tanks (leaving gaps in DFID’s capacity elsewhere in the world), and while some of it created lasting benefit (eg rebuilding schools), much of it was simply wasted effort, as civil conflict dragged on much longer than the Government expected, and as the ill-executed de-Baathification project stripped capacity from the Iraqi state. But all too often, all DFID does in post-conflict states is rebuild the infrastructure of the state, which in post-dictatorships like Libya is not what was missing. What was missing, and such countries desperately needed, was democracy, rights, and an active and challenging civil society. Compared for instance to the money the USA is pouring into North Africa for civil society promotion, DFID’s commitment is a drop in the ocean.
And that’s true also of Andrew Mitchell’s promotion of the private sector. Again, he is absolutely right – and we have supported him in saying this – that the best route out of poverty is growth (er, could you tell George Osborne that, Andrew?) But simply shovelling money at the private sector, which is hardly a very ‘beyond aid’ thing to do in the first place, is not going to create the sort of sustainable, resilient, job-rich growth that he has said he wants to see. What is needed, alongside the promotion of private enterprise, is support for the rights at work that are needed to make sure that money doesn’t simply flow straight through developing economies into offshore tax havens and millionaires’ pockets (even if they’re new millionaires!) That’s why DFID’s decision to slash UK discretionary funding to the ILO was so wrong.