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writing for godot


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Tuesday, 21 November 2017 22:40


-In the post-truth era, it is not pessimism that is called-for, realism is. Perhaps truth will ultimately survive and there will be a renaissance. It will take a long time though, but valuable things always do take time. (Nathan Stone)

-These days, the discourse about progress has stopped being a discourse about improving the quality of life of the many to become a discourse dealing with their mere survival. (cited by Albino Gomez)


In human rights work we constantly battle the technocratic development mindset


1. We battle this mindset, because it approaches every problem with a five-point plan designed to produce ‘evidence-based deliverables’. This clearly leaves human rights (HR) vulnerable or rather marginalized. Unfortunately, technocratic experts have come to symbolize even what democracy is supposed to be all about. Technocrats have always shown little interest in fights over fundamental values. Their line of thought proceeds from the assumption that everyone --or at least all ‘the people who truly matter’-- already share the same enlightened commitment to development values (OK, but also to HR values?). The only debate they are concerned about is over evidence on ‘what works’ among the policy inputs they propose to produce the desired measurable outputs. So, when technocrats are all we have to defend democracy and HR, arguments over fundamental values become predictably one-sided. Technocrats do not even have a good answer for technocratic-sounding attacks on development. Technocrats’ defense of development on the basis of ‘what works’ makes HR values become hostage. But, furthermore, these self-proclaimed experts often cannot agree on what this ‘what works’ is --or even rightly interpret what has already happened. (William Easterly)


The principal defense of fundamental values (HR included) must be that they are desirable in themselves as values. Period!


2. Technocrats are not trained to duly criticize their infatuation with evidence-based policy. This is why equal rights proponents need to mount more eloquent defenses capable of building broad resistance alliances on behalf of HR. But the long reign of technocracy has deprived-us-of proactively using the needed moral and political weapons to defend the core values that are the foundation of democracy. We will not be able to fight back against HR violations unless we, once again, find the capacity (and courage) for moral and political outrage and for actively claiming for non-negotiable democratic and HR values. (adapted from W. Easterly)


In human rights work we also constantly confront the main ideological divide


3. As the Third World freed itself from colonialism, it gradually became clear that reformism would never lead to socialism --it might, at the very best, have led to capitalism-with-a-human-face (not a-HR-face). Eventually, both models of social transformation collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall. The revolution became a discredited, obsolete fundamentalism that collapsed down into its very foundations. On the other hand, democratic reformism gradually lost its reformist drive and with it its democratic practices. Reformism became a byword for the desperate struggle to maintain the rights of the popular classes (to public goods, such as public education, health and water) that had been gained during struggles in the previous period. Reformism thus slowly languished until it has become a squalid, disfigured entity shamelessly reconfigured around neoliberal fundamentalism by means of a facelift that has then been transformed into the sole model of ‘exporting democracy’, i.e., liberal democracy converted into an instrument of imperialism. (Boaventura de Sousa Santos)


The term International Community should never be used. It simply cannot be defined and has become an easy reference to avoid the needed ideological discussion (Urban Jonsson)


4. The development aid agenda of rich countries has evaporated. This leaves development agencies (both bilateral and multilateral) with the challenge to take up a meaningful role in the broader mainstream socio-economic, political and HR discourse. This will require new alliances, not those vaguely-defined with members of ‘the international community’, but concretely with public interest civil society organizations, with social movements, with political parties, with women’s and trade unions. What is needed is for these groups to develop a new narrative for their respective constituencies (members, supporters, funders…). Inequality and HR will definitely have to be part of this narrative as the two main drivers of the required system change. (Rene Grotenhuis)


Important note


5. As evidence indicates that there is a net outflow of funds/resources from low income Southern countries to high income Northern countries, we ought not talk about the latter as ‘donors’ (under this optic, Africa is actually an important donor*), but must refer to them as ‘external funders. The use of the term donor obscures this and is perhaps part of the fallacious worldview propagated by those interested. (Rene Lowenson)

*: After decades of development, aid has failed to carry Africa significantly forward. Critics even consider it partly to blame for the continent’s underdevelopment. Foreign aid has failed to spell out that measures to ensure the rights to food, to health or to social protection, among other, truly serve ‘legitimate policy goals’. (Armin Paasch)


6. Let us also remind ourselves that, whereas the World Bank, as a key external funder (mostly of loans rather than grants!), claims to contribute to the eradication of poverty, it continues to finance projects that jeopardize those people and groups that for generations have been rendered vulnerable and poor. [There comes a point when help becomes overly manipulative, and violates the dignity of those who are supposed to benefit. (George Kent)].


Bottom line


7. The more we become aware that the goal to be pursued by external funding is not really to attaint ‘aid effectiveness’, we must replace this concept by the concept of ‘development effectiveness’. (Urban Jonsson) This means that foreign-aid-funding nations must not primarily strive for security and stability, but for fulfilling the HR and protecting the dignity of those they purport to be helping. (Robert Fisk) And for us, this further means that we have to take the initiative to challenge external funders and must be bold to make room for new forms of activism and virtual and de-facto engagement that ultimately mobilize people to innovate, claim, demand, and yes, if needed, confront. (H. Wolf)


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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