RISING POWERS AND DEVELOPMENT POLITICS!


To say I expected this session to be emotional will be an understatement. For ten weeks we have had this stormy journey. Raising questions and attempting to answer them – only to realise the answers are questions in themselves. Many people had thrown in the towel and considered the question of ‘development’ one with a forgone conclusion – failure. Nothing seems to have changed since the so much talk about development. Was it worth all the trouble? This is surely what happens when a discipline spends so much time reflecting on itself rather than on the world. It happened with philosophy as it got caught in the ‘fly bottle of linguistic analysis’ so it is not surprising that it is happening to Development studies. Fortunately, IDD seems to have sensed this and places emphasis on linking theory and practice; the raison d’être for some of us who thought there was still something worth investigating. I can boldly affirm that these ten weeks have made me realise how lucky I am to have engaged in the quest.

I happened to have been at the Foreign and Common Wealth Office today for a POLSIS Study visit and in the few hours that we spent discussing with Alison Kemp (Joint Head, Policy Unit): FCO foreign policy priorities; Sara Everett (Deputy Head, Afghanistan Group): Afghanistan and  Greg Quinn (Head, UN Political Team, International Organisations Department): UN issues, several things we have discussed in the past few weeks took shape. I was able to put my questions to decision makers and hear their views about some of these issues. and was able to arrive at some conclusions…

First of all, the I came to the conclusion that the importance of understanding theory as a prelude to understanding the whole concept of development cannot be overemphasised. This understanding will leave little doubt that developments and politics are intricately interwoven.

Secondly, I was able to conclude that politics was indeed the most dominant variable in any discussion in development and that a talk on international politics could not go unsustained for long if it is not talking about issues of development. International Politics is inverted international development – was my ultimate conclusion. In the talk about foreign policy priorities – a talk which lasted about 20 minutes – Alison Kemp mentioned the term development (or sustainable development) about 8 times (once every 2.5 mins) a clear indication that issues of development were top on the priorities of the FCO.

Third any talk about ‘pro-poor’ politics is simply a charade. Any politics claiming to be aimed at the poor is simply a part of a bigger complex scheme. The endgame never benefit the poor – rather they suffer more when it goes wrong. The question I asked the Head of the UN political team was a simple one: why does the UN use economic sanctions on people like Mugabe and Abacha when they know very well that these people will not care a hoot if the country suffers, given that they will never go a day without their sumptuous meals no matter how harsh the sanction? Who suffers more from an economic sanction? If we can all answer that it is  THE POOR… then the soul-searching question will be if the UN in its politics is not pro-poor, where do we begin a discussion on pro-poor politics in an international forum?

Fourthly, the issue of ‘failed states’ is one that cannot be wished away easily. The fact that the concept is riddled with controversies, notwithstanding, the deputy head of the Afghan group used it several times in his description of Afghanistan. When he acknowledged the fact that 1979 arming of the Taliban was a great mistake, I could not help pointing to the fact that its result (Taliban support of Al Qaeda and the failure of the Afghan state) was being replicated in Libya.

Finally, the last conclusion I arrived at is that the nature of international politics was changing and it was going to take many by surprise.  The unprecedented rise of the Asian Tigers which challenged most of the conventional theories of development was simply the antiphon to a new era. Of course we should not have expected anything different if we recalled Marx stating in 1959 that “all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided.”

We have had the surprising rise of the BRICs but what should not surprise us is how China and India replay history in a refined manner. It was fascinating to see how Tom captured the concept of China’s trade relations to Africa… The many layered question is… Is it a dependency relationship or is it the flip side to modernisation? Difficult questions to answer but certainly thought-provoking.

One thing that stands out though is that China rose to power on the wings of communism and a ‘closed’ state and is now seeking to expand that power through Capitalist means. Maintaining communism at the home front and capitalism at the international level is a strategy that only time can tell its outcome. It however points to something… China is being flexible and to me that is ‘politics’ or better still ‘development politics’. Their recent neutrality in the resolution over Libya is yet another pointer of her cautious nature. China is avoiding any form of conflict while at the same time building an empire outside China.

In the final analysis, we can all begin anew by asking ourselves what actually is new in development. Is there something intrinsically new? Or are we simply filling new wine into old wineskins? Can they hold the new wine? Whatever the case it will do some good to remember Duncan’s words

… a focus on ‘what’s new’ runs the risk of ignoring ‘what isn’t new’, such as the bread and butter issues of development: reducing poverty; supporting active citizens and their efforts to build effective, accountable states; fighting for universal health care, education, access to water and food; and equal rights for all women and men.

The onus however lies in knowing the difference… and this I guess is what I have been able to learn from this module.

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