On the eve of the summit…

Amy Barry who is reporting back for us waits for the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, in Busan, South Korea to begin.
Amy Barry
28 November 2011

To misquote Tolstoy, all international summits are alike, be they G8s, G20s, World Trade Organisation ministerials, UNCTAD meetings or this week’s 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness.

They are generally held in soulless convention centres whose utilitarian architecture is barely softened by the temporary addition of poor-quality carpets and laminated banners bearing garish logos.

They are characterised by brief moments of high excitement and many hours of boredom. They foreground pomp and ceremony in large plenary sessions, but the real negotiations happen in the weeks and months beforehand, and then on the sidelines of the main event.

For the campaigning organisations I work with (and probably for many of the politicians too) the events are a necessary evil. They are the moment when the world’s attention turns briefly to an issue – such as climate change, trade rules or aid. And for this reason they can’t be missed.

But most people I know doubt their efficacy, and wonder if they can really justify the vast amounts of money and carbon expended on attendance.  

At the very least these events can concentrate minds by providing a deadline and a political moment. This seems to have been the case this time around. In the last few weeks a number of donors have published information about their aid spending to a new common standard, which could make a big difference to how well aid works.

Currently the fact that donors don’t publish up to date information on aid in a comparable format undermines their ability to coordinate with each other and disempowers countries that receive aid by leaving them in semi-darkness about what is coming their way, from whom and for what.

Efforts to improve governance in developing countries and reduce corruption are impeded by the lack of easily accessible and relevant information about aid – not least because civil society and parliaments can’t hold their governments to account or track whether the aid is reaching the intended beneficiaries.

The increased transparency ahead of the Busan meeting is therefore significant (and if the rumours we’re hearing that more major donors will begin publishing their aid data to the common standard before the end of the week are true then this really will be worth celebrating).

Overall, however, the fact remains that traditional aid donors have largely failed to keep their promises to make aid more effective, which means money has been wasted, or worse still, has actually exacerbated or entrenched some of the problems it was meant to solve.

Improving coordination, reducing overlap, giving poor countries more of a say, and making aid more predictable and less political are all valid aims that donors have signed up to and should continue to pursue.

This week’s summit – like all international summits - has high expectations to live up to. It won’t meet them all.

But momentum can be maintained – if donor countries keep an eye on the very valid promises they’ve made and don’t let the ambition be watered down too far.

The political barriers to these reforms are not so high that they cannot and should not be overcome. And the gains would be significant – especially at a time when aid is under pressure and budgets are being slashed.

Let’s hope this summit marks itself out from the others by delivering some concrete changes that make a difference on the ground, to real people living in poverty.

Can there be a green populist project on the Left?

Many on the Left want to return to a politics based on class, not populism. They point to Left populist parties not reaching their goals. But Chantal Mouffe argues that as the COVID-19 pandemic has put the need for protection from harm at the top of the agenda, a Left populist strategy is now more relevant than ever.

Is this an opportunity for a realignment around a green democratic transformation?

Join us for a free live discussion on Thursday 22 October, 5pm UK time/12pm EDT.

Hear from:

Paolo Gerbaudo Sociologist and political theorist, director of the Centre for Digital Culture at King’s College London and author of ‘The Mask and the Flag: Populism and Global Protest’ and ‘The Digital Party: Political Organisation and Online Democracy’, and of the forthcoming ‘The Great Recoil: Politics After Populism and Pandemic’.

Chantal Mouffe Emeritus Professor of Political Theory at the University of Westminster in London. Her most recent books are ‘Agonistics. Thinking the World Politically’, ‘Podemos. In the Name of the People’ and ‘For a Left Populism’.

Spyros A. Sofos Researcher and research coordinator at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, Lund University and author of ‘Nation and Identity in Contemporary Europe’, ‘Tormented by History’ and ‘Islam in Europe: Public Spaces and Civic Networks'.

Chair: Walid el Houri Researcher, journalist and filmmaker based between Berlin and Beirut. He is partnerships editor at openDemocracy and lead editor of its North Africa, West Asia project.

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