IEMed Mediterranean Yearbook 2003


Panorama : The Mediterranean Year

Mediterranean Politics

Economy and territory

Culture and Society


New Tasks Concerning Development and Development Cooperation in the Mediterranean

Rafael Grasa

Universitat Autònoma
de Barcelona

In the last 15 years, the study and practice of development and development cooperation have changed substantially in three directions: a) the studies on development have been «de-economized», attributing a growing importance to sociology, anthropology and political science, and comprehensive approaches based on promoting capacities and achieving people’s wellbeing; b) development has been understood as a goal and process that must be driven primarily by the countries, sectors and communities targeted by the development, with the result that the involvement, assistance or cooperation of outside players is viewed solely as an obstacle or adjuvant; and c) in a context of significant curtailing of total funds (little more than 50 billion dollars worldwide), the effectiveness and efficiency of aid and cooperation development have been brought into question, with a critical scrutiny of its highly fungible nature, and, in spite of this, new goals and purposes have been added to those habitually proclaimed during many decades (strengthening of civil society, governance and strengthening of democratisation and the institutions, fight against corruption and promotion of good government, restoration and reconstruction after armed conflicts, empowerment, etc.).

In short, uncertainties and changes regarding the goal (development), the instruments (development and cooperation policies) and the agents (combination of private and public, state and market, the role of the organisations of civil society). These changes, as we shall see further on, have taken place on both a general level and also within the context of the Mediterranean. As regards development, a new «doctrine » has emerged that is broadly accepted in international forums and official documents but still rarely seen in actual practice. According to this doctrine, development is conceived as a multidimensional process (where the social dimension sets the goals; the environmental dimension establishes the baseline constraints and the contextual conditions; and the economic dimension provides the instruments, tools and certain interim goals), with plural models and the right to choose, not necessarily conceived for the South, and where the results do not justify all the means (empowerment, strengthening of capacities, etc.).

In short, development is seen as a right and as a global public good. All of this has been given a framework of expression and commitment within the United Nations, as the Declaration on the right to development (Resolution 41/128 of 4 December 1986 shows), which provides that the right to development is a right by virtue of which all subjects of the international order must respect –and cause others to respect– the right of peoples and individuals to development. Specifically, Article 1 of the Declaration states that

«1. The right to development is an inalienable human right by virtue of which every human person and all peoples are entitled to participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development, in which all human rights and fundamental freedoms can be fully realized.

2. The human right to development also implies the full realization of the right of peoples to self-determination, which includes, subject to the relevant provisions of both international Covenants on Human Rights, the exercise of their inalienable right to full sovereignty over all their natural wealth and resources.»

This is fully in tune with the conception of development and cooperation pointed out at the beginning: 1) multidimensional and focused on human beings, seen both as individuals and as groups/peoples; 2) progressive execution, as a process of improvement and fulfilment of needs that is never fully completed; 3) which integrates and strengthens other rights of individuals and peoples; 4) which must be carried out at both national and international level and therefore entails rights and duties; and 5) which includes as a crucial component involvement both in its attainment («constant improvement») and in the benefits achieved in each stage or phase. All of this is also seen in the context of the Mediterranean.

After all, the sea that bathes both shores is, after the three thousand kilometres that separate Mexico from the United States, the second major line of fracture and division between North and South. In other words, the Mediterranean too shows all the changes and uncertainties mentioned previously, including the curtailing of funds for development aid. However, it is possible to identify, in my opinion, three distinctive features that should be used to establish the priority tasks over the next few years for the various parties involved in development cooperation in the Mediterranean. First of all, in the Mediterranean context, one observes an excess of economicism in the conception and practice of development and development cooperation, related to a great extent to the approaches currently in vogue in the European Union and the overriding emphasis given to the creation of free trade areas.

Although this is a vital goal for the medium and long term, the present insistence on it has led to a divorce between the official line which, in line with the «new doctrine», stresses the role of human and social development and the need to take into consideration the environment and the protection of ecosystems, and the actual practice of almost all the players involved. Social goals, including those incorporated since almost a decade in the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, are often non-existent outside of the speeches or, at most, the documents. And the same thing happens with environmental protection practices, particularly the most innovative (protect ecosystems and the social practices and groups that have kept them relatively intact until now). One has only to look at the impact of many of the stabilisation policies implemented in recent years. Second, conceptual, translation and cultural understanding difficulties, often rooted in the Western centralism of the prevailing conceptions of development and cooperation, in a cultural «colonialism ».

To put it bluntly, the effectiveness of the strategies and policies aimed at strengthening civil society, governance and good government, co-development or shared responsibility, empowerment ….. find themselves significantly hampered by the fact that they have not taken adequately into account the connotations and denotations of concepts such as civil society on the southern shores of the Mediterranean or widely followed practices of a religious origin such as the zakkat. This is to be attributed not only to the official agents –governments, states and intergovernmental organisations– but also, to a great extent, to private agents, including the organisations of civil society in the North.

Hence the vital necessity to increase mutual knowledge, to dialogue and to establish shared meanings, not only to prevent cultural impositions but also to promote efficiency and effectiveness, the achievement of goals, moreover with a reasonable cost-benefit ratio. Third and lastly, I would like to stress an aspect that is linked in part to the cultural «colonialism» I have just mentioned: the lack of attention paid to the impact of the resurgence of cultural and identifying factors, a phenomenon that is closely tied to the advance of globalisation and the world system in the post-Cold War period, and which is visible on both shores and, in particular, in the relationship between the two.

One sign of this –not the only one but the most visible because of its impact on the communication media– is the increase in the number of events with violent and often fatal consequences in the name of identity. I allude, in particular, to what Amin Maalouf has called «murderous identities », those that, being unable to compatibilise the idea of multiple allegiances with an unique identity (unrepeatable, special, for each individual or small group) strengthen the perception of incompatibility –including physical incompatibility– between the identity considered to be exclusively one’s own and that of others. The outcome, as Maalouf points out, is that by reducing identity to a single allegiance, human beings adopt a «partial, sectarian, intolerant, dominating, sometimes suicidal attitude, often becoming murderers or the supporters of murderers.

Thus, their vision of the world is biased and twisted. The people who belong to the same community are “our people”; regarding them, we are concerned about their fate but tyrannical in our treatment of them: if they are considered “soft”, they are persecuted, terrorised, punished as “traitors” and “renegades”. Regarding the others, those who are on the other side, no attempt is ever made to see things through their eyes (…) The only viewpoint that matters is “ours”, a viewpoint that is often expressed by the community’s most militant members, the most demagogic, the fiercest and most impassioned ».2 Development cooperation should work to overcome the inability to accept multiple allegiances within identities which, although they continue to be unique in their individuality, are increasingly multifaceted.

However, it is common to see the opposite direction being taken, at least by omission: the proliferation of manichaeisms and uncompromising dualities, the recourse to the existence of «natural laws» or historic events to justify episodes of mass-scale, organised violence. No doubt it would exaggerating –because it would be overgeneralising– to say that certain conceptions and practices of development cooperation have encouraged the formation of murderous identities, but they have certainly facilitated the appearance of sectarian offshoots and conceptions. To conclude, these specific features set –or should set–, within the context of the new conception and practice of development, the priorities for cooperation for agents in the North. In short, the aim is to move away from paternalism and an excessively asymmetrical relationship marked by the absolute inferiority of the recipients of the development programmes in the South. To not do so would be to perpetuate a situation exemplified by the African proverb, «the hand that receives is always below».