According to the Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, French official development assistance (ODA) will reach €15.6 billion in 2022, roughly the size of the deficit that would be reduced by the pension reform that has roiled the French political landscape for several months. However, this public spending is not subject to any basic discussion, while it should be in light of the rapid and profound changes in the international context, which are reflected in the lack of tangible progress in the recent Paris summit. Global Financial Compact.
The inaugural address of US President Harry S. Truman in 1949 widely moment of founding development assistance. During the Cold War, aid was seen above all as a tool for consolidating the then dominant Western camp, and was based mainly on the idea that the development of the poor South was in the interest of the rich North, for economic reasons. and politics. Although this international public policy has evolved in its content, especially taking into account global public goods, its founding idea and its main principles (aid granted mainly to governments and the target of 0.7% of GDP to donors, in particular) have not been questioned. .
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Enacted in August 2021, the French programming law on development aid testifies to this. He is innovating a bit and increasing resources for official development assistance while calls for austerity are growing after “whatever the cost”. Even more amazing, it was adopted unanimously by the French parliament, from La France insoumise to the national assembly. This unprecedented consensus is due to the fact that development assistance is indeed a perfect example of operational misunderstanding (“misunderstanding”) in the sense of the American anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, that is, the use of the same idea for their interests by actors with different concepts of it.
In parliament, the motives for aid are very diverse, even contradictory: political or cultural influence, export promotion, the fight against immigration, the defense of the environment and, finally, solidarity with the poorest. There is something for everyone, from those who are nostalgic “Grand France” To those who identify with the proletarians, the pass-through advocates of happy globalization, those obsessed with the danger of immigration, the mercantilists, the ecologists, and humanists of all persuasions. Their common point is undoubtedly the belief that, according to an African proverb, the hand that gives is superior to the hand that receives. Added to this, of course, are the interests of the aid industry (public corporations, foundations and NGOs) which have a strong political following.
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However, the world is changing faster than the aid model: accelerating global warming, paralysis of the political and economic mechanisms of global governance, the revival of the arms race between the great powers, the return of war in Europe, the preparation for war in the Pacific, the return of protectionism, the repeated failure to export parliamentary democracy , the spread of kleptocratic authoritarian regimes, and a new debt crisis, all against the backdrop of a growing challenge to Western hegemony. The accumulation of threats accompanies serious disappointments for major donor countries, demonstrating the ineffectiveness of current aid in the face of these major trends.
It is increasingly clear that recipients have not “appropriated” what aid has been trying to promote for decades, to use the language of donors who have long dreamed of a modern form of transformation, “ownership.” The expected solidarity from countries that helped in the Ukrainian question is often lacking, and the time when France secured favorable votes at the United Nations is long gone. Good governance recommendations are trampled upon by predatory elites as the multiple hijackings of Covid aid witness. The French attempt to win hearts and minds by combining military interventions and aid in the Sahel region is a failure. More broadly, in francophone Africa, aid contributes little to anti-French sentiment: it is seen as a manifestation of superiority, as support for hated regimes, or as unpunished for misuse of finance.
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Defending the rights of sexual minorities now comes in front of the opposition, as evidenced by the difficulties encountered during the International Labor Organization (ILO) budget vote. Mechanisms to prevent over-indebtedness in poor countries have not worked, and multilateral debt management is facing the emergence of a new donor, China, which is finding it difficult to adhere to the framework for dealing with over-indebtedness supported by the International Monetary Fund. .
Thanks to coded screen language and considerable oratorical skill, the aid industry has long managed to avoid substantive debates about its supposed efficacy. As the international horizon darkens, it has become imperative to make up for the lost opportunity of adopting the Development Aid Programming Act to organize a genuine debate on ODA.
• Who do we want to help?
Is African preference still desirable, or is it simply possible in the context of growing disapproval? Should we condition our assistance politically on unwavering support on international issues, risking in particular increasing our support for dictatorial and predatory regimes, returning to the logic of the Cold War? In addition to the moral questions raised by the requirement to help return illegal immigrants, as the elected representatives of the right have suggested, is it possible, when certain target countries, such as Algeria and Morocco, are important economic partners? It should help fight global warming in the interests of emerging countries that are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide2 Or countries most affected by the effects of global warming?
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• What are the goals that we aim at?
What is the meaning of helping in the service of combating forced migration when we know that accelerating development is initially translated into accelerating migrations? Shouldn’t the ritualistic invocation of the Millennium Development Goals and the Sustainable Development Goals be questioned as a source of foolish bargaining, when we see how little interest there is in these goals by so many recipient governments who only dream of large, often very expensive infrastructures? Shouldn’t the financing of emerging countries, China in the first place, now be clearly devoted to promoting our exports, is the desire to influence their rulers illusory? What are the prospects for the success of technical and institutional cooperation concerned with spreading norms and values in countries that question or reject our influence?
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What “marine carbon tax” is on the summit agenda for a new global fiscal compact?
• How do we want to help?
Is a continuation of the commitments made in the 2005 Paris Declaration, which calls for helping governments by aligning themselves with their (often dubious) priorities and (often disastrous) budgetary measures, desirable? Shouldn’t we, like the new Chinese and Turkish donors, allow direct service to the population (French hospitals instead of helping to reform the health system, which hardly works)? Shouldn’t we reassess the importance of cultural cooperation (French institutes, French high schools, scholarships), and poor relatives to help?
• How do we want to measure our development efforts?
Shouldn’t we be wondering about the age-old pagan goal of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee member countries to allocate 0.7% of GDP to aid? This serves the purpose politically to rank students who are good at doing aid within the Western camp, while the competition is elsewhere. Dating back to the 1960s, today it is of little economic importance with the advent of private funding and new donors. Above all, it is a payment for crime, for it encourages a preference for quantity at the expense of quality, at the expense of diversions which the French would not accept if they measured them.
The questions asked are not exhaustive, of course, and it is up to the national representation to complete them.
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Francois Geofalucci Scientific advisor at the Catholic University of Madagascar. He worked for the French Development Agency and for the General Directorate of the Treasury.
Thierry Vercoulon Associate Researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), and Coordinator of the Observatory for Central and Southern Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa Center in Ifri. His work focuses on issues of conflict, security, and governance in Africa.