Harriet’s first speech outlines some critical areas for international development

Harriet Harman speaking at ActionAid

This article was originally posted on Left Foot Forward.

This morning, shadow international development secretary Harriet Harman gave a speech at ActionAid headquarters in London. Marking International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Ms Harman outlined six key priorities for the future of international development:

1. Realising the 0.7 per cent GNP pledge for aid;

2. Strengthening women’s rights around the world;

3. Support for remittances (money sent by people in developed countries to their family members in their country of origin);

4. Trade, tax and global growth;

5. The role of development in conflict prevention; and

6. Meeting the needs of developing countries in the fight against climate change.

It was that first point that Ms Harman concentrated on to make a direct call to the government:

“We cannot have succeeded in the struggle to have a new UN women’s agency only to discover that its governing board is men. That would be to contradict everything that it stands for.

“And the executive board should reach out beyond women in the UN missions and women in governments and include women in civil society organisations.”

In order to achieve this and to ensure the UK’s position as a world leader in women’s rights, Ms Harman decried the fact that among the Department for International Development and Foreign and Commonwealth Office ministerial teams, there was not a single woman.

She said:

“We [Labour] are calling on the Government to make a ministerial appointment of a woman to carry on the work that Glenys Kinnock was doing when we were in government – a role you campaigned for. She led the UK’s work on tackling violence against women overseas and she did a great job.

“The first time such an appointment had been made in the UK. That was important leadership and the government must continue it.”

Well, the government must have been half listening as Home Office minister Lynne Featherstone has, just today, had ‘International Violence Against Women Champion’ added to her brief. Potentially stopping well short of what Ms Harman called for, there is little indication as yet as to what authority Ms Featherstone will have, nor what resources she will have at hand to make a difference to the lives of women across the world.

On remittances, Ms Harman drew on the experiences of many in her constituency, including a report she compiled in 2007:

“I call them the ‘hidden heroes of international development’. People living in my constituency who come from Sierra Leone, Nigeria or Ghana who are living here and working hard bringing up their families. Sometimes doing more than one job, like office cleaning.

“As well as paying their taxes and providing for their family, they also send money back to their home country… But I think we can and should do much more to support remittances.”

It was clear from the passion in her speech that Ms Harman looks determined to make a difference in her new role. Before the election, there was cross-party consensus on the enshrining of the 0.7 per cent law; it was now Labour’s role, she said, to press the coalition to ensure that this Bill is put before Parliament. In a time where the government seems to turn with the tide, Labour:

“… doesn’t want to risk this being the next promise abandoned.”

Left Foot Forward has previously written about a worrying lack of ambition, ideas or leadership emanating from the coalition on international development. With these six points, Harriet Harman has once again demonstrated that Labour is providing leadership on this issue – the focus on trade, tax and global growth is therefore particularly welcome, and LCID looks forward to hearing more on the shadow team’s proposals.

You can read ActionAid’s news from International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women here.

By Tim Nicholls

Could the Government be about to destroy the International Development Act?

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Some of the UK’s biggest charities, Oxfam, CAFOD, and Save the Children, have publically raised concerns about the growing threat of securitisation of the aid budget. The use of aid for political reasons would be in direct contravention of the International Development Act 2002.  The act,  explicitly states,

(1)The Secretary of State may provide any person or body with development assistance if he is satisfied that the provision of the assistance is likely to contribute to a reduction in poverty.
(2)In this Act “development assistance” means assistance provided for the purpose of—
(a)furthering sustainable development in one or more countries outside the United Kingdom, or
(b)improving the welfare of the population of one or more such countries.
(3)For the purposes of subsection (2)(a) “sustainable development” includes any development that is, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, prudent having regard to the likelihood of its generating lasting benefits for the population of the country or countries in relation to which it is provided.

On DFID’s website an explanation is provided of the act which states, “The 2002 Act is drafted in such a way that a policy such as “tied aid” (and the Aid and Trade Provision), in which assistance is given for the purpose of promoting UK trade or for other commercial or political reasons, would now be challengeable in the courts.”

The International Development Act was drafted following consultations with the NGO community.  Now fears are being raised by the NGO community that the government is freezing them out of crucial decisions.   In a public letter to the Guardian they stated,

“Last week the secretary of state, Andrew Mitchell, gave assurances that there would be comprehensive consultation about the future direction of development policy. These documents seem to suggest to some extent this direction has already been set. We urge him to immediately clarify the purpose of these documents and reassure the public that aid will continue to be used to reduce poverty where the needs are greatest. Reducing global poverty will contribute more to long-term stability than focusing on short-term security interests.”

DfID has a stellar international reputation and brings the UK considerable soft power.  Moving away from the International Development Act would have serious repercussions on how the UK is viewed by international community..  There is increasing pressure on Andrew Mitchell and the Tory government to divulge publically their plans for DfID and to open discussion up to the wider public and NGO community.

Is economic success masking political fault lines in Rwanda?

By Lee Butcher

Lee Butcher is a Researcher in the House of Commons for a Labour MP – all points expressed are done so in a personal capacity. In this post, Lee explores whether economic reform is outpacing political reform in Rwanda.

The concerns raised by the recent re-election of President Kagame in Rwanda and the report by the UN that Rwanda’s national army may have committed acts of genocide across the border in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) highlights the problem of economic development outpacing political development in the country.

The administration of Paul Kagame, formerly military leader of the Tutsi Rwandans People’s Front (RPF), has been held up since 1994 has an African development success story. Economic development in Rwanda has indeed far outstripped many of its neighbours, and Rwandans can legitimately claim to live in one of the more prosperous Sub-Saharan Africa countries.

However, all is not so rosy in the post-genocide nation. Reports of harassment of political rivals, oppression of opposition voices from within Kagame’s own party and the media have lead to growing concerns about the direction Rwanda is heading in. President Paul Kagame was re-elected three weeks ago, with over 90% of the vote, in an election where the only opposition allowed were candidates that belonged to his own party, the RPF.

The international community takes the view that so long as Kagame continues to produce economic results, the rest remains an internal issue for the Rwandans. However, the troubles that have plagued Rwanda since the end of the genocide has crossed borders and have since then caused a bloody and disastrous war and that has feed into the chronic underdevelopment of the DRC.

What has gone on in the Eastern DRC since 1994 is directly the result of what occurred immediately after the 1994 genocide in Rwanda; to understand the fate of the Eastern DRC, one must understand the fate of Rwanda.

The victims of the potential genocide in the DRC are ethnic Hutus living in the Eastern provinces that border Rwanda. The end of the 1994 genocide, which saw the Tutsi RPF rebel group occupying the capital Kigali, lead to the flight of thousands of Rwanda’s Hutus, including leading fighters of the Intrahamwe – the Hutu foot-soldiers of the genocide. Setting up camp in the Eastern provinces of the DRC the Rwandan military gave chase, and have since been involved in a damaging and bloody conflict across the border. It is the ethnic Hutus of the DRC, innocent of the crimes of their ethnic kin in Rwanda, who have faced the brunt of this fighting.

This conflict and the resulting human rights abuses are indicative of a problem that exists within Rwandan society; reconciliation and national repair that been a secondary objective compared to economic development. This may not have been an unreasonable policy for Kigali to follow, but by ignoring the wounds of genocide, the government and society are storing up problems that have plagued the DRC and threaten to damage the progress made within Rwanda since 1994.

Whilst fear of the Hutus, discrimination and violence persist, the extent that development can reach will be limited, and what has already been achieved could be put at risk.

The wise option for the Rwandan government would be to seek political reconciliation with the Hutu majority; the crimes of the genocide are for many unforgivable, and a real fear exists that if Hutu domination were to return so to would the killing. This needs addressing before Rwanda can move on to long term, sustainable, prosperity and a better relationship with its neighbours.

Economic development, checking the HIV/AIDs infection rate, building schools and hospitals could all be put at risk by further conflict; a new political ‘game’ must be established where each side knows the rules and knows that whatever an election result, harsh sacrifices will not have to be made, whether in economic terms, or in lives. Trust must be rebuilt if development is to lead to long term success for Rwanda, and a less bloody relationship with its neighbours.

Conservatives plan foreign office raid on DfID

By Margaret Dantas Araujo

Poverty reduction in the world’s poorest and most vulnerable countries is best achieved when DfID is directing the deployment of our aid budget. However, yet another leaked memo has shed light on Tory intentions to bring Dfid cash under the control of the Foreign Office by requesting that UK security be considered in all aid proposals.

The National Security Council, which now overseas all foreign policy, urges that overseas aid be used to maximise UK security, a ruling that may be in direct breach of the International Development Act of 2002.  The memo sent to staff responsible for drawing up aid proposals states, “the ODA budget should make the maximum possible contribution to national security consistent with ODA rules.  Although the NSC will not in most cases direct DfID spend in country, we need to be able to make the case for how our work contributes to national security.”  The document goes on to state, “We need to explain how DfID’s work in fragile states contributes to national security through ‘upstream’ prevention that helps to stop potential threats to the UK developing (including work to improve health and education, provide water build roads, improve governance and security).”

NGOs argue that the use of aid as an arm of foreign policy will divert aid from humanitarian goals focused on improving health and education to defence projects and tying aid to the purchase of British products.
The shadow international development minister, Gareth Thomas, agrees stating, “This document is deeply worrying, as it confirms the fears of many in the international development and humanitarian community that the government plans to securitise the aid budget, and weaken its focus in prioritising resources on the poorest people and countries.”

A previous leaked document showed DfID cutting 80% of its budget commitments including free healthcare. Thomas said: “It is now becoming clearer why the Tories have abandoned over 80 of our key international commitments – including the pledge to put millions more children into school – as less resources will be available, with money being diverted to security priorities.”  It will also allow Tories to continue to claim DfID is ring fenced by shifting funding from the Ministry of Defence and DECC (for climate change adaptation and mitigation) to DfID.

The UN has recently criticised countries for spending the bulk of their aid on post-conflict states.  “The distribution of development assistance remains highly skewed. Although the share of ODA flows allocated to the poorer countries increased somewhat between 2000 and 2007 … most of the increase in ODA since 2000 has been limited to a few post-conflict countries, including Iraq and Afghanistan. Together, these two countries received about a sixth of country allocations from DAC [Development Assistance Committee of OECD] countries, even though they account for less than 2 per cent of the total population of the developing countries. African aid lags far behind commitments and far behind needs.”

The use of aid for geopolitical and commercial interests is in-step with the previous Thatcher/Major Governments which saw aid drop to its lowest levels and oversaw the infamous Pergau Dam scandal.  The Cameron administration looks set to follow suit.  It is now vital to make the case to the Coalition Government that aid should be used for poverty reduction is the world’s poorest countries and not for own selfish motives.

Guardian Editorial on the Tories plans on DfID and the MOD

Good editorial piece in The Guardian on the questions surrounding the concerns the Tories will divert the aid budget to the MoD…

“International development: Coming to the aid of the party

The Disasters Emergency Committee launched its appeal for Haiti yesterday. The earthquake death toll may never be known precisely. But the terrible cost of politically motivated aid is revealed by the desperate lack of resilience that has exposed Haitians to serial crises at an unnecessarily heavy cost. The dystopia unfolding on our TV screens is a salutary backdrop to yesterday’s launch by David Cameron of a new Conservative approach to foreign affairs in general and aid policy in particular.

The Tory shadow international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, has worked hard to reposition the party’s aid policy, not least because it was seen as an important part of the quest to change voters’ perceptions. At its height, Mr Cameron even put visiting a development project in Rwanda above placating his damp constituents during the Witney floods of 2007. But the prospect of power has hardened Tory hearts. The Foreign Office never liked the independent approach of the Department for International Development, and the Treasury approvedLabour‘s commitment to spending 0.7% of GDP on aid by 2013 through gritted teeth. Close observers of the process of drawing up the Tories’ aid policy describe a slow recapturing of lost ground by the foreign affairs team. By the time Mr Cameron unveiled his new approach to foreign affairs at Chatham House yesterday morning, it was clear. The pledge on 0.7% remains. But there is plenty of room for flexibility.

Mr Cameron proposes a stabilisation unit that would move in to secure peace and start essential development work. It makes good sense. Such good sense, indeed, that there is one already. It is based in DfID, but its personnel also come from the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. It has been at work in Afghanistan in the aftermath of last summer’s Operation Panther’s Claw in Helmand, where it has started a school in tents supplied by the military. It is engaged on security matters in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo too. Its budget is separate from the official aid budget.

There are potential problems to bringing aid and security too close together, as the development secretary, Douglas Alexander, admitted in a discussion organised by the New Statesman recently. No one would question the connection between insecurity and poverty: conflict resolution, peacekeeping and something approaching the rule of law are indispensable preconditions for sustainable development. It is also true that insecurity in other countries can threaten security here. But in the US, the Pentagon spends nearly a fifth of the aid budget, and American soldiers in the Africa Command initiative in Kenya, it is proposed, may build wells one day and pick up suspects the next.

And if the idea is challenging, the context in which it was made has alarm bells ringing. It began with an interview for the Guardian a fortnight ago in which Mr Mitchell suggested that the trouble with DfID was that it looked a bit too much like an NGO – a kind of Oxfam transplanted into Whitehall. He suggested that it needed to be wired into the centre of government rather more tightly, and to operate more like the civil service and less (to paraphrase) like a bunch of do-gooders. Last week it was confirmed that William Hague and Liam Fox were rolling their tanks on to DfID’s lawn. And yesterday Mr Cameron stitched it up with his description of “a tight, tied-up, progressive approach” between the department and the Foreign Office.

It is a familiar pattern in the postwar history of Whitehall and international development. Labour sets up a department that is focused on overseas poverty alleviation; officials in the Treasury and the Foreign Office fight a war of attrition against it, and the Conservatives come in and dismantle it. Yet, as the Haitian tragedy illustrates, to be effective, aid has to be shaped not by what the donors want but by what its recipients need.”

Development in Afghanistan is paying off, shows new poll

A new poll shows that people in Afghanistan are growing more prosperous and more confident, showing how the hard work of the international development sector is beginning to pay off for citizens on the ground.

The BBC/ABC poll show a 12% increase in the number of people who feel that job prospects are good, while agricultural production rose by 29%. The latter figure is particularly important in showing the move from poppy growing to agriculture and is encouraging for the future. Mobile phone ownership, which can aid development of businesses and regularised banking, was at 60% among the respondents.

This is thanks to the work of the international community, including the Department for International Development, who have been working on the ground in Afghanistan for several years now. Projects, such as the DfID-sponsored micro-finance initiative are helping to make life a great deal better. And the results are promising: nearly two-thirds of respondents said that they support foreign troops and 70% said that the Taliban posed the biggest threat to security. This growing rejection of the brutal Taliban regime is vital to securing Afghanistan’s future prosperity.

Is the work in Afghanistan now done? Absolutely not. Promising as these figures are, they are just a beginning. We need to ensure that funding for development is maintained and that corruption (seen as a problem by the survey respondents) is tackled: action that the Government believes in and will continue to implement. But, with continued aid and the right support to the area, these results show that, despite what critics say, Afghanistan can recover from decades of bloody conflict.

For more information on DfID’s Afghanistan strategy, click here.

By Tim Nicholls

Sierra Leone Christmas Carol Concert

  • What: WAYout Christmas Carol Concert
  • When: 19.00, Thursday 17 December
  • Where: St. Giles Church, 60 St. Giles High Street, London WC2H 8LG
  • Tickets: £12. Buy online.

WAYout , an arts-based social charity working in Sierra Leone, is putting on a carol concert as a fundraiser in London on Thursday 17 December at St. Giles Church. The African Gospel Choir will be special guests.

WAYout help young people affected by conflict or from deprived and disadvantaged communities to have access to and take part in music, film and the arts. They provide facilities, resources and training to allow them to explore their feelings, express themselves through creativity and re-engage with education.

All the money raised going to WAYout projects in Sierra Leone, so please buy tickets and help WAYout this Christmas!

It’s worth noting here that Sierra Leone emerged from a decade of civil war in 2002 with the help of British Forces and a large United Nations peacekeeping mission. Since then, DFID is helping the people of Sierra Leone get back on their feet, and is the largest bilateral development partner in Sierra Leone, providing £91million in the last three years. Read more about this here.