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André Mommen

The Neoliberal Development Agenda or The White Man’a Burden Revisited


In this article the impact of neoliberal development ideologies will be discussed in relation to the role of the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) and the setting of the development agenda. Since the 1990s, NGOs and development ideologues have joined hands by focusing on market liberalization via accelerated privatization, deregulation and trade liberalization. All versions of today’s development strategies are now advocating a process of accelerated integration of capital, production and markets globally driven by the logic of corporate profitability in order to prop economic growth in combination with poverty reduction programs, democratic reforms and emancipation schemes.

In the eyes of the neoliberals, the triumph of democracy and markets over authoritarianism and statist economies was combined with efforts to promote open economies and open policies stressing the necessity of thoroughgoing economic reforms supporting export-led industrialization (ELI) and free trade. Many countries that failed to reform were compelled by the Bretton Woods institutions to conform to Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs). In the wake of this process in which import-substituting industrialization (ISI) and the development state had disappeared, many countries were unable to transform their economies or to reach a higher degree of economic development. Especially African economies were the major victims of trade liberalization and privatizations. Their financial crisis was so deep and their debt burden so heavy, that they could not alter the economic framework in which production took place.(1) Around 1995 a steep economic crisis generating poverty and social instability gained many developing countries. It was in this period that the role of NGOs could gain prominence by taking over entire essential state sectors (education, health care), while the international institutions had to redefine the neoliberal development goals and methods. Small-scale development projects, micro-finance, bottom-up initiatives, institutional reforms, people’s participation, women’s rights, etc. became goals NGOs of all sorts were working on. Ambitious platforms for worldwide action were regularly setting forward humanistic development goals that were never reached.(2) They only created goodwill for easier fund raising. The platforms excluded deliberately liberalization movements as agents of political, social and economic change and included proposals for market reforms, property rights and ELI strategies connecting local economies tighter to the world market. NGOs having gained prominence in the aftermath of the demise of the development state and ISI strategies promoted and carried out this great transformation by mobilizing public opinion in the donor countries and setting up small-scale development projects in the aided countries by stressing the virtues of increased popular participation, gender-specific interventions and poverty-reduction schemes. Since the creation of the World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Allegre social movements are challenging these development strategies by campaigning for popular control on economic reforms and protection against frenzy competition.

The real world of the NGOs

It is an undeniable fact that the NGOs are nowadays playing important roles in global governance in virtually every issue area. The role of the NGOs in the “aid chain” has become crucial in the process of enforcing the neoliberal development agenda on the masses in the developing world as their work rests on a sense of commitment to finding new solutions to old problems. NGOs are recipients of aid money for basic services replacing the post-colonial state as a prime player. Influenced by NGOs and because of growing trade possibilities communities are abandoning former subsistence modes of production and adopting income-maximising modes of production now that accumulation of money wealth is playing a major role in the local economies. In addition, NGOs are gaining importance in the developing world owing to the increasing preference by Western countries to route donor funds through international NGOs rather than national governments, which are perceived as corrupt, bureaucratic or incompetent.

Since the 1990s when neoliberalism became dominant and NGOs were integrated within the framework of international capitalism, NGOs are run like financial enterprises investing in fundraising, marketing and increasing market shares around humanitarian and advisory work. They pay their consultants and managers “world salaries”. Like multinational corporations they establish subsidiaries in many countries and tap money from donor governments and international institutions. Since the 1990s these characteristics were shaped by their donors and their growing interaction with the international institutions and their think tanks.(3)

International NGO support perpetuates nonetheless a dependency syndrome by the state on NGOs and does not help states develop capacity in sectors such as relief or disaster response where NGOs dominate. NGO’s legitimacy, representativeness and accountability are often called into question. In addition, NGOs do not have many checks and balances or are not as accountable as governments to the electorate or private companies to shareholders. That more regulation is needed is thus obvious.(4) Some even denounce the growing influence of NGOs in global governance, insisting on their negative impact on global democracy. Tina Wallace, for instance, insists on the double role NGOs are, perhaps unwittingly, playing. Many NGOs oppose the role of the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but in the mean time they prefer campaigning for human rights and for the environment. It is also noticeable that ‘few lobby around the tight conditionality governing donor aid to governments’.(5)

In the era of neoliberal triumphalism much attention is paid by development ideologues to the development of microfinance and land tenure rights in order to sponsor bottom-up capitalist development. Financialization of all welfare arrangements is seen as a remedy to all kind of rigidities imposed by governments and interest groups in order ‘to put into circulation saved capital, immobilized to such an extent that it could hardly bear fruit.’(6) Neoliberals want to demonstrate that the major stumbling block that keeps the rest of the world from benefiting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital. However, these ideologues (Hernando de Soto, William Easterly and Jeffrey Sachs) here discussed and their NGO counterparts easily forget that there may be legitimate and important reasons why people resist their neoliberal reform proposals or prefer adopting exit practices.

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, NGO’s have become key agents in implementing the neoliberal development agenda because they are understood as dynamic organizations within an open-ended process. In addition, NGOs constitute multiple realities being many things at the same time. However, NGOs are not things but processes. In general, NGOs are considered as being shaped by people and grassroots processes, while others view NGOs primarily as outcomes of historical and political processes. For instance, Yash Tandon (South Centre, Geneva) views NGOs as tools of international neoliberal development policies. In addition, NGOs can be criticized as by-products of transnational interest groups and big corporations advantaging the growing impact of Christian churches and other denominations on local populations.

Due to the influential work of Michel Foucault(7) we can better understand why the present development discourses have excluded history and politics (thiermondisme) from the development agenda. According to Arturo Escobar, a space was created in which only certain things can be said and imagined.(8) The neoliberal development discourse attained hegemony in when NGOs were enabled to provide services to the vested interests by sustaining failed states. Geof Wood (University of Bath) speaks in this respect of a franchise state,(9) where state responsibilities are franchised to NGOs and mediated to a considerable extent by the ideological prescriptions of donors. Although many authors celebrate the role of development NGOs in civil society for its potency to advance human dignity, this has also evoked a critical view of NGOs as advancing the neoliberal project. Yash Tandon calls NGOs the missionaries of the new neoliberal era. But he also noted ‘a growing fatigue among citizens and politicians of OECD countries about Aid and its effectiveness.’(10)

Nowadays, donor governments have created systems and procedures for tighter monitoring of money and management efficiency (see Tabel 1). New donors’ rules to southern governments leave very little space for NGOs and their contributions, except in support of the development plans of southern governments. The new Aid Effectiveness Regime -called Paris Agenda- focuses on direct contributions from donors to the national development plans of developing countries, in particular in Africa.

Logical frameworks

Most works on the rise of the NGOs tell us little about their practical workings and the management techniques they use. They make us believe that NGOs are operating according to a single discursive discourse. Local responses are ignored. Every day development situations in communities are not studied. Moreover, there exist also progressive NGOs combating reactionary ones. Progressive NGOs are usually linked to social or civic movements and oppositional political parties developing their own specific discourses, sometimes packed into a (political) liberalization discourse. Some NGOs are transmitting conservative or Christian values to the developing world. Christian sects in the US sponsor them and under George Bush’s presidency they could play a privileged role in AIDS campaigns.

This indicates that the NGOs development discourse is extremely diverse and flexible. It uses two distinct languages, one of rational management, and the other one of participation. Development discourses are founded on different understandings of how development occurs, who directs it and where accountability lies. While packaging of aid by institutional and NGOs draws heavily on these different languages, the mechanisms of rational management have been systematized, institutionalized and embedded in aid bureaucracies. Critiques of why development fails are always highlighting problems such as poor planning, weak ownership by local stakeholders, lack of beneficiary participation, corruption and the weak capacity of individuals, organizations, and institutions. The push to improve planning and control is reflected in the shift away from loose project formats to the almost universal use of logical frameworks (logframes), the proliferation of project cycle assessment procedures and guidelines, and indicator-based reporting systems designed to show cost-effectiveness and impact. Participation is now promoted as an essential element in local development. However, aid is not disbursed using participatory mechanisms, but logframes (see Table 1). Thus the need for planning and control outweighs the push for participation at the bureaucratic level.

Table 1: Changing development priorities and aid instruments for donors and NGOs

Time period Donor focus Donor instruments NGO focus NGO instruments
1970s Basic needs; household surveys; anti-corruption Projects especially infrastructure; integrated rural development projects; technical experts Solidarity between NGOs north and south; focus on voluntary spirit and voluntary donations Very varied project application forms, individuality develop within each NGO; many NGOs have no centralized uniform documents or policies
1980s Effective projects, donor-controlled; appropriate macro-economic policies; structural adjustment (later with a human face) mandatory for many countries Logframes; technical cooperation; overseas training; social investment funds; structural adjustment programmes upholding IMF requirements for liberalization; projects continue to dominate aid disbursement Reducing role of expatriates, employing national staff; NGOs as pilots and catalysts; identifying good practice: gender, environment, poverty focus, participation and Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA); concern with appropriate images of the south; development education in north; growing use of official aid Some NGOs start to adopt logframes, most still use own frameworks; many NGOs have few organizational policies and uniform procedures, larger ones start to introduce policies on project management and gender; some NGOs focus on evaluation
1990s Projects to focus on the poor, address gender and be environmentally sensitive; democracy, good governance, sound economic policies and national government ownership of poverty agendas; end to poverty Participatory rural appraisal, stakeholder analysis, process projects within Logframe Analysis (LFA). More direct funding of NGOs, less technical cooperation, more consultancies; sector-wide approaches (SWAPs), Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiatives (debt rebates to the poor); different approaches to getting good reports from NGOs (always a problem) Focus on capacity-building for southern NGOs; scaling up successful service delivery projects; sustainability; advocacy work in the north; gender mainstreaming; moving from projects to programmes; massive increase in donor funding Sharp rise in use of logframes as key project management tool; adoption of strategic planning as main organizational tool; concerns with accountability; rise in reporting; significant growth of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E); beginning to assess impact of advocacy work
2000s Reduction of corruption; transparent and accountable governments; decentralization of governments and donors; sound macroeconomics and pro-poor growth; ending poverty through Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); getting voices of the poor into policies; making globalization work for people National programmes and frameworks: Poverty Reduction Strategy Plans (PRSPs) and Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility’s (PRGFs), comprehensive development frameworks; targets and Millennium Development Goals (MDGs); funding to government – budget support. Influencing as important as important as resource transfers; harmonization between donors; decline of projects; contracts Increase in advocacy and lobbying work; focus on rights; shift toward learning organizations; global strategies; growing reliance on donor funding; anxiety about decline of Department for International Development (DFID) funding as it shifts to direct support to governments Focus on learning organizations; almost universal use of logframe analysis (LFA), strategic planning, reporting systems, impact assessment and use of development indicators, from project to global level; focus on Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), impact, efficiency, and effectiveness; rise in evaluation and concerns with cost-effectiveness

Millennium Development Goals

Several United Nations conferences and summits held after the fall of the Berlin Wall framed an unprecedented global consensus on a shared neoliberal vision of development that laid the groundwork for the Millennium Summit in September 2000. At this summit the largest gathering of world leaders in history adopted the UN Millennium Declaration, committing the nations to a new global partnership to reduce extreme poverty and setting out a series of time-bound targets, with a deadline of 2015, that have become known as the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) (see Table 2). A series of targets and other challenging time-bound goals were designed and later brought in into the MDGs providing a compelling programme to address those needs and to pursue the full scope of the United Nations Development Agenda. The MDGs conveyed the hope that extreme poverty, disease, and environmental degradation could be alleviated with the wealth, the new technologies, and the global awareness the neoliberal drive was promoting. The rhetoric of development, especially poverty-focused development, is that it must be locally generated and ‘owned’, that it has to build strong local organizations and ‘civil society’ in order to be effective and sustainable. Governments wanting to receive bilateral aidflows now have to complete Poverty Reduction Strategies (PRSs), in which ‘civil society’ plays its designated participatory role. However, the Bretton Woods institutions and donor countries are not allowing alternative views on fundamental questions of the neoliberal economic policy agenda.

The MDGs became the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions-income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter, and exclusion-while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. The MDGs wisely recognize that poverty has many dimensions, not only low cash income, but also vulnarability to lack of access to education and basic amenities (water, sanitation) or the ongoing process of environmental degradation and diseases (AIDS). Achieving the MDGs would require investments in agricultural inputs (fertilizers, irrigation, seeds, storage facilities, etc.), basic health, education, power, transport, and communication services, safe drinking water and sanitation, etc.

Today, the MDGs are also targeting basic human rights-the rights of each person on the planet to health, education, shelter, and security. Sub-Saharan Africa is the epicentre of crisis, with continuing food insecurity, a rise of extreme poverty, stunningly high child and maternal mortality, and large numbers of people living in slums, and a widespread shortfall for most of the MDGs. Asia is the region with the fastest growth, but even there hundreds of millions of people remain in extreme poverty, and even fast-growing countries fail to achieve some of the non-income goals. Other regions have mixed records: notably Latin America, the transition economies, and the Middle East and North Africa, often with slow or no progress on some of the goals and persistent inequalities undermining progress on others.

Table 2: The Millennium Development Goals

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day
Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.
2. Achieve universal primary education Ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary schooling
3. Promote gender equality and empower women Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and to all levels of education no later than 2015
4. Reduce child mortality Reduce by two thirds, between 1990 and 2015, the under-five mortality rate
5. Improve maternal health Reduce by three quarters, between 1990 and 2015, the maternal mortality ratio
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the spread of HIV/AIDS;
Have halted by 2015 and begun to reverse the incidence of malaria and other major diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability Integrate the principle of sustainable development into country policies and programs and reverse the loss of environmental resources;
Halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation;
By 2020 to have achieved a significant improvement in lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers
8. Develop a global partnership for development Develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system. Includes a commitment to good governance, development, and poverty reduction – both nationally and internationally;
Address the special needs of the least developed countries. This includes: tariff- and quota-free access for least developed countries’ exports; an enhanced program of debt relief for HIPC and cancellation of official bilateral debt; and more generous ODA for countries committed to poverty reduction;
Address the special needs of landlocked countries and small island developing states (through the Program of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States and the outcome of the twenty-second special session of the General Assembly);
Deal comprehensively with the debt problems of developing countries through national and international measures in order to make debt sustainable in the long run;
In cooperation with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth;
In cooperation with pharmaceutical companies, provide access to affordable, essential drugs in developing countries;
In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications.

As part of a larger development agenda encompassing the wider dimensions of human development, these MDGs address problems necessitating long-term approaches. The question of interlinkages between development and conflict and the differential impact of globalization were put on the development agenda. Inequalities among and within developing countries in relationship to global economic governance constituted a vast array of interlinked issues ranging from gender equality, social integration, health, employment, education, the environment and population to human rights, finance and governance were defined and interlinked with the MDGs and the implementation of a general development agenda.(11)

The MDGs are viewed with some cynicism as the eight goals and eighteen targets repeat long held commitments not fulfilled in the past. The first seven goals call for an ambitious program of sharp cuts in poverty, disease, and environmental degradation, while the eighth goal is essentially a commitment of global partnership to achieve the first seven goals. Its critics argue that in the past most projects had failed lamentably because of wide-spread corruption and expanding bureaucracy. Today, development organizations and donor governments try to design monitoring systems to ensure “good governance” and “democratic rule”. Jeffrey Sachs: ‘Our compact, our commitment, in the rich countries should be to help all poor countries where the collective will is present to be responsible partners in endeavor. For the others, where authoritarian or corrupt regimes hold sway, the consequences for the population are likely to be tragic, but the responsabilities of the rich world are also limited.’(12)

The basic problem is, however, capital. The developing world is in high need of investment funds beyond humanitarian intervention. Hence, the idea of a “Marshall Plan” combined with debt reduction for the poorest countries. The Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative launched in 1996 was a recognition that the structural adjustment strategy of the Bretton Woods institutions had failed. The Jubilee 2000 campaign sought to cancel the debts of the poorest countries, but met only the sympathy of religious organizations and NGOs.

De Soto’s Mystery of Capital

The basic argument in de Soto’s book The Mystery of Capital(13) is that it attempts to explain why most countries have not developed by reopening the exploitation of the source of capital and thus explain how to correct the economic failures of poor countries. The main hurdle that prevents dead capital from becoming “live capital” is a sociopolitical system that combines the state’s political and bureaucratic sluggishness, the lack of information, and the absence of a legal property system. The book is based on the thesis that the major stumbling block that keeps the rest of the world from benefiting from capitalism is its inability to produce capital and an array of unused physical assets in developing countries. That “dead capital” if used as an asset, would lead to capitalist development. Hence, the moment is ripe, in the eyes of De Soto, to solve the problems of why capitalism is triumphant in the West and stalling practically everywhere. De Soto: ‘The single most important source of funds for new businesses in the United States is a mortgage on the entrepreneur’s house’ as the basis ‘for the creation of reliable and universal public utilities, and a foundation for the creation of securities (like mortgage-backed bonds) that can then be rediscounted and sold in secondary markets. By this process the West injects life into assets and makes them generate capital’.(14)

The problem of persistent underdevelopment notwithstanding many decades of aid programs has given birth to harsh criticism from authors blaming protagonists like Jeffrey Sachs believing in the virtues of a ‘big push’ in public investments to produce a rapid increase in underlying productivity, both rural and urban. The IMF and the World Bank or aid agencies are identified as the main protagonists of the ‘big push’ strategy implying that the larger the aid is already, the larger the additional growth benefit from an additional injection of aid. This thesis is contested in Easterly’s book The White Man’s Burden in which the author attacks the presumed usefulness and efficiency of foreign aid and related Western efforts to help the world’s most desperate people. The author pleads, just like De Soto, for a bottom-up strategy and institutional reforms in order to make the market work while giving the “searchers” (profit seeking entrepreneurs) an opportunity to deploy economic activities.(15) Easterly believes in the great accomplishment of the markets because ‘they reconcile the choices people make for themselves with the choices other people are making’, without the help of a “planner”.(16) Like all neoliberals, Easterly believes in property rights and legal titles, which means preconditions like a long-standing written tradition and land records. The problem is that in many developing countries land ownership is more often subject to oral traditions, customary arrangements, or informal community agreements than to formal titles. Easterly recognizes it: ‘Common property is subject to the “tragedy of the commons” problem, in which each herdsman overgrazes the pasture because the costs are borne by the community rather than by the herdsman.’(17) Easterly forgets, nonetheless, to analyze the case of Darfur where these armed herdsmen are cleansing with the backing of the Arab world the western part of Sudan from peasants.(18)

Establishing tenure rights has become a corner stone in neoliberal development strategies and refers to the key role of legislators, legal consultants and academics in tenure reform. These players exert their influence by translating the economic and regulatory interests of the World Bank, civil society groups and commercial lenders into questions of law. Land is now more than simply providing a shelter and a means of livelihood. It has become some kind of vehicle for investing, accumulating wealth, and transferring it between generations. For the World Bank land is now fundamental not just to poverty reduction but to economic growth. Property rights give households access to credit and thus to make investments and to develop a rural credit market. ‘The acquisition of secure tenure rights not only increases investment in land, for example in the form of labor inputs, it is also seen as increasing the supply of credit from formal credit institutions using land as collateral.’(19)

Land tenure is always insecure and competition over land intensifies due to population pressure, migration, climatic change or a salariat looking for land in order to improve their food security. Property rights go hand in hand with land grab, illegal appropriation, steeling of valuable resources and the penetration of multinational corporations wanting to accaparate natural resources. The dependence of the poor on the commons increased during the period of structural adjustment programs dictated by the World Bank and the IMF. Emerging rural movements and squatting tried since then to a find an answer to this problem by organizing resistance to the market forces imposing property rights on natural resources such as water.

A former Central Bank President of Peru like De Soto avoids this pressing problem by simply referring to the ‘missing lessons of US history’, or how US law was ‘made to serve popular capital formation and economic growth’ by removing legal obstacles to squatting. In the beginning, migrants who settled the lands were left no alternative but to begin fashioning their own ‘laws’, especially those pertaining to property. Only in 1862 the Congress passed the celebrated Homestead Act giving 160 free acres to any settler willing to live on the land for five years. In De Soto’s discourse, the American way of adapting the law to economic and social needs should be considered as an example to the developing world. ‘In the long and arduous process of integrating extralegal property rights American legislators and jurists created a new system much more conducive to a productive and dynamic market economy. This process constituted a revolution borne out of the normative expectations of ordinary people, which the government developed into a systematized and professional formal structure.’(20) This ‘long and arduous process’ was also accompanied by the systematic extermination of the indigenous Americans, a fact De Soto omits mentioning in his tale of the ‘missing lessons’ in US history.

The item of ethnic violence and cleansing is not absent in the neoliberal development discourse. In many cases authors prefer referring to ‘special cases’ of large-scale violations of human rights (Rwanda or Darfur). Or they prefer focusing on para-economic phenomena not directly related to De Soto’s ‘property rights’. However, ethnic cleansing is closely related to property rights if they refer to barred access to natural resources and/or oligarchic control of state power. In the mean time, millions of ‘displaced persons’ are created, this time not by ‘spontaneous economic processes’ or migratory movements to the big cities, but by militias terrorrising sedentary peasants. In the Middle East and Africa, millions of propertiless individuals are nowadays vegetating in camps for (internally) displaced persons. De Soto prefers analyzing this phenomenon from the point of view of Europe’s industrialization process having started in the 17th century and culminating in the 19th and early 20th century in a massive exodus of beggars, peddlers and thieves to the New World. Then, politicians began adapting the law to the needs of common people, ‘including their expectations about property rights’, because they had understood that ‘the problem was not people but the law, which was discouraging and preventing people from being more productive’.(21) However, this period of European history is also know as the ‘era of mass mobilization’ because of the rise of the (social-democratic) labor parties wanting to regulate wages and consumer prices. Not establishing property rights, but social rights had become the labour movement’s major demand. Voluntary insurance was superseded by a system of comprehensive and universal social insurance covering all social and health risks(22) when social-democratic parties left their political ghetto in the 1930 and allied with peasant - or Christian-democratic - parties mainly based on farmers’ organizations wanting to regulate agricultural production and prices.

Most development organization are nowadays favoring broad-based agricultural growth with a key role played by small-scale farmers in combination with an activation of the potential of landless rural agents in order to re-engineer rural society. Lessons drawn from economic development and poverty reduction strategies implemented in poor and crisis-ridden countries stress the necessity to shift focus away from purely output-led growth towards distribution-oriented rural development policies, thus reconciling efficiency in creating economic growth with equity.(23) Economic growth is always subjected to income (or profit) maximization. However, with the shift to income maximization, as against subsistence, class differentiation created new forms of social and political conflicts. Growth in the size of herds and agriculture led to resource scarcity and military instability. An income maximizing mode of production leading to the formation of a class of prosperous peasants or nomads destroyed the composition of a relatively fixed full belly basket of needs. Competing claims became extremely difficult to be settled in several African countries where herdsmen and agriculturalists are clashing.(24)

In De Soto’s discourse it is assured that much of Marx’s thought ‘is outdated because the situation today is not the same as in Marx’s Europe. Potential capital is no longer the privilege of the few’ because the West managed to set up a ‘legal framework that gave most people access to property and the tools of production. Marx would probably be shocked to find how in developing countries much of the teeming mass does not consist of oppressed legal proletarians but of appressed extralegal small entrepreneurs with a sizeable amount of assets’.(25) Notwithstanding De Soto’s asset-management discourse, actual tendencies are totally different. Proletarianization will not be stopped by the proliferation of property entitlements. Famine breaking traditional relationships are more and more accompanying the growth of the number of landless or assetless persons, thus the number of proletarians unable to survive by selling their labor force. The growth of the number of landless persons is often masked by the denial that they are a part of a broader “community” taking care of them.

The breakdown of traditional forms of redistributive reciprocity and its replacement by individualized access to resources with market-based exchange relationships are, by the way, also sources of inter-ethnic conflicts(26) and migratory movements to the cities. This phenomenon is typical for “primary accumulation”(27) taking place in the developing world. The lack of access by the poor to natural resources constitutes, however, a very pressing problem the neoliberal ideologues refused hitherto to discuss. Nowadays, the indigenous classes in Latin America and Africa are mobilizing against that neoliberal globalization process destroying tropical forests, changing the earth’s climate and putting into question their physical survival.(28) These protests have given birth to social and political movements contesting the supremacy of capital and, especially in Latin America, they could gain some importance among the poor rural and urban populations. This also means that there are no easy solutions to the poverty and famine problems as is mentioned in the MDGs.

New Movements, New Discourses?

The campaigning efforts of the NGOs are hitherto focusing on raising private and public funds and NGOs criticism is usually limited to attacking specific aspects of the neoliberal development agenda without questioning the roots of its paradigm. In the mean time, the ‘real world of NGOs’(29) is challenged both by the world development movement and new global economic players. Especially China’s growing public presence in Africa has captured the world’s imagination because of her deliberate promotion of foreign policy to provide aid and concessionary loans in the country’s global search for untapped resources and new markets.(3) The new global economic architecture has furthermore brought in such players as BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa) who are “flexing” their economic muscles in search of energy, minerals or food resources worldwide. In the developing world, these countries are now acting as “donors”, but outside the OECD framework and the “real world of the NGOs”. Their interventions in many countries (sub-Saharan Africa and central Asia, for example) are having enormous impact on development of those societies and economies looking for new opportunities. In some ways, these shifts in international aid architecture are both inevitable and desirable.

Since the 1990s, globalization, economic growth and institutional maturity in southern societies did begin to create ‘emerging’ countries and regions. Strengthening state regimes and institutions to become capable for service delivery and accountable for democratic governance is an important strategy for development and poverty eradication. However, this shift poses new challenges and dilemmas for many actors involved in development cooperation, including Southern and Northern NGOs. The WSF as an open meeting place for reflecting thinking, democratic debates and interlinking for effective action by groups and movements of civil society that are not only opposed to neoliberalism and capitalist domination, but also striving for a planetary society. This has become a permanent process of seeking and building alternatives by propagating the slogan ‘another world is possible’. The alternatives proposed at the WSF stand in opposition to globalization directed by transnational capital and international institutions.(31) However, not all development forums have broken with neoliberalism. Some are still largely influenced by transnational capital.(32)

Discontent in the developing countries about the functioning of the international institutions inspired a debate on their possible reform. Many proposals for reform are circulating. A new WTO should be established together with a reformed global financial architecture of the World Bank and the IMF. The key points of these proposals and ideas pointed out at the International Forum on Globalization might be synthesized as a double movement of deglobalization of the national economy and the construction of a ‘pluralist system of global economic governance’.(33) The context is the increasing evidence not only of the poverty, inequality and stagnation that have accompanied the spread of globalized systems of production but also of their unsustainability and fragility.(34) In this deglobalization discourse emphasis on production for export has to be reoriented to emphasis on production for the local market and an economy re-embedded in society, rather than having society driven by the economy.(35)


(1) Alex E. Fernández Jilberto and André Mommen, ‘Setting the neoliberal development agenda. Structural adjustment and export-led industrialization’, in Alex E. Fernández Jilberto and André Mommen (eds), Liberalization in the Developing World. Institutional and Economic Changes in Latin America, Africa and Asia, London and New York: Routledge, 1996, pp. 1-27.
(2) The United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Beijing, China - September 1995 - Action for Equality, Development and Peace, called for ‘equality between women and men’ by focusing on ‘human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace. A transformed partnership based on equality between women and men is a condition for people-centered sustainable development. A sustained and long-term commitment is essential, so that women and men can work together for themselves, for their children and for society to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century.’ http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/beijing/platform/plat1.htm#statement
(3) Tina Wallace, ‘NGO Dilemmas: Trojan horses for global neoliberalism’, in Socialist Register 2004, London: The Merlin Press, 2003, pp. 204-205.
(4) Henry Zakumumpa, ‘Foreign aid: NGOs, the new colonial powers in Africa?’, in Daily Monitor (Kampala), 29 December 2008, p. 6.
(5) Tina Wallace, o.c., p. 203.
(6) Antonio Negri in Conversation with Raf Valvola Scelsi, Goodbye Mr. Socialism, New York: Seven Stories Press, 2008, pp. 180
(7) See David Couzens Hoy, Critical Resistance. From Poststructuralism to Post-Critique, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and London: The MIT Press, 2005, pp. 57-100.
(8) Arturo Escobar, Encountering Development. The Making and Unmaking of the Third World, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995, elevated him to the status of post-development icon. For many critics today, development has reached an impasse. Escobar and the post development theorists have built upon the work of many others to expose how ‘…development was shown to be a pervasive cultural discourse with profound consequences for the production of social reality in the so-called Third World.’ A. Escobar, ‘Beyond the search for a paradigm? Post-development and beyond’, in Development, Vol. 43, No. 4, December 2000, pp. 11-14. In his later work, Escobar has begun to look beyond the failures and limitations of state, market and international aid, to a form of social change led by new social movements and progressive non-governmental organizations.
(9) http://www.bath.ac.uk/pip/directory/profile/2964
(10) www.ontwikkelingsverandering.nl/uploaded_files/Theme_5_Tasks_North_and_South_PAPER_and_COMMENT.pdf -
(11) The promoter is Jeffrey Sachs, a well-known economist and neoliberal advisory worker to the post-Communist Polish and Russian governments. Today, he is a special advisor to President Barack Obama and Director of the Earth Institute, Professor at Columbia University, etc.
(12) Jeffrey Sachs, The End of Poverty, London: Penguin Books, 2005, p. 269.
(13) Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital. Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else, London: Black Swann Books, 2001.
(14) Ibidem, p. 7.
(15) William Easterly, The White Man’s Burden. Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good, London: Penguin Books, 2006.
(16) Ibidem, p. 73.
(17) Ibidem, p. 93.
(18) Julie Flint and Alex de Waal, Darfur. A Short History of a Long War, London and New York: Zed Books; Cape Town: David Philip; in association with the International African Institute, 2005.
(19) Ambreena Manji, The Politics of Land Reform in Africa. From Communal Tenure to Free Markets, London and New York: Zed Books, 2006, p. 7.
(20) De Soto, o.c., p. 158.
(21) De Soto, o.c., p. 106.
(22) Gøsta Esping-Andersen, Politics Against Markets. The Social Democratic Road to Power, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985.
(23) Chrystal Hendrikse, ‘Faces of Rural Poverty in Contemporary Rwanda: Linking Livelihood Profiles and Institutional Processes’, Unpublished PhD Antwerp University, 2009.
(24) Dev Nathan, ‘Darfur: Primary accumulation and genocide’, in Economic & Political Weekly, August, 2008, pp. 23-26; David Anderson and Vigdis Broch-Due (eds), The Poor Are Not Us: Poverty and Pastoralism in Eastern Africa, Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000
(25) De Soto, o.c., p. 229.
(26) DN, ‘Darfur. Ethnic cleansing as primary accumulation’, in Economic & Political Weekly, July 9, 2005, pp. 3006-3007.
(27) On this concept see Karl Marx, Das Kapital. Kritik der politischen Ökonomie, Volume 1, Berlin: Dietz Verlag, 1965, pp. 741-791.
(28) François Houtart, Deslegitimar el capitalismo. Reconstruir la esperanza, Caracas: Ministerio del Poder Popular para la Cultura, 2007, pp. 191-199.
(29) Dorothea Hilhorst, The Real World of NGOs. Discourses, Diversity and Development, London and New York: Zed Press, 2003.
(30) Chris Alden, China in Africa, London and New York: Zed Books; Cape Town: David Philip; in association with the International African Institute, Royal African Society, Social Science Research Council, 2007; Dorothy-Grace Guerrero and Firoze Manji (eds), China’s New Role in Africa and the South. A Search for a New Perspective, Cape Town, Nairobi and Oxford: Fahamu and Focus on the Global South, 2008.
(31) See the principles of the WSF, in Jeremy Gilbert, Anticapitalism and Culture. Radical Theory and Popular Politics, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2008, pp. 91-93.
(32) The principal forum for global water policy discussions is not the UN but the World Water Forum, a mostly pro-privatization, tri-annual gathering of government delegations, non-governmental organizations, international financial institutions, and private industry representatives. It is convened by the World Water Council, a French non-profit whose board of governors is dominated by water privateers. Daniel Moss, ‘Managing World Water’, in Foreign Policy in Focus, June 3, 2009. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/6163
(33) Bello, o.c., p. 112.
(34) The International Forum on Globalization declares: ‘We strongly doubt the continued viability of capitalism and its accompanying doctrines such as hyper economic growth. We feel it is crucial to openly discuss this and propose alternative models. IFG has amassed some of the world’s leading thinkers from a wide variety of disciplines and political perspectives and engaged them in an ongoing strategic conversation, leading up to a proposed series of public events and publications addressing the essential issues of the post capitalist era.’ http://www.ifg.org/programs.htm#postcapitalism
(35) See Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation, Boston: Beacon, 1957 (2nd edition).