This article was published in This Week in Palestine, January 2012 and is available at: http://www.thisweekinpalestine.com/details.php?id=3603&ed=202&edid=202
Is Palestine Included in the Busan Partnership?
Or Was the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Just the Usual Haky Faady?
By Nora Lester Murad, PhD
I arrived in Busan, Korea, on November 25, awed by the neon lights and by thepossibilities. Global leaders were holding the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) organised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and I was an official delegate! It was the most important global meeting on aid policy since the Accra Agenda for Action was endorsed in 2008 and the Paris Declaration in 2005. Both were game changers in their own ways, although Palestine, distinguished as “most aid dependent” by many measures, reaped only negligible benefits.
But the HLF4 in Busan was much more promising. Civil society, excluded from previous high-level fora, had succeeded in 2008 in getting recognition in the Accra Agenda for Action that civil society organisations are “…independent development actors in their own right….” And boy did civil society take advantage of that line! They used it to secure 300 spots for civil society at the HLF4 and to win support for two parallel processes to prepare civil society to play productive roles there: the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness and the Better Aid platform.
Since its founding in 2008, the Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness has consulted with more than 20,000 civil society organisations including trade unions, women’s groups, youth groups, faith-based organisations, and other social movements in 90 countries. Together they produced “The Siem Reap Consensus on the International Framework for CSO Development Effectiveness,” featuring eight “Istanbul Principles,” including human rights and social justice; gender equity and equality; people’s empowerment, democratic ownership and participation; environmental sustainability; transparency and accountability; equitable partnerships and solidarity; knowledge sharing and mutual learning; and positive, sustainable change.
The experiences of Open Forum and Better Aid are significant for at least four reasons. First, they represent an articulated movement to transform the “aid effectiveness” discourse to a focus on “development effectiveness.” This means moving away from a technical focus on how aid money is used to a values-based engagement that respects human rights, social justice, equity, inclusion, and sustainable social change. This is a major global movement not widely known about in Palestine.
Second, they demonstrate a proactive initiative by civil society to offer standards by which we can be held accountable by our donors, our partners, our governments, and most importantly, by the people whom we claim to serve. Third, we have made the case that governments must ensure an enabling environment in which civil society can thrive. In other words, when civil society is attacked or repressed, undermined and under-resourced, it cannot play its role as an independent development actor in its own right. Fourth, we have gone far toward creating a global civil society identity, even as we work out some of the schisms, for example, between international NGOs and local NGOs.
I was extremely fortunate to have taken part in the Open Forum Global Assembly in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where the International Framework was finalised and endorsed. This helped me understand how to apply to Better Aid for accreditation as a delegate to the Fourth High Level Forum in Busan, Korea. Learning about this new world of civil society activism has been a great adventure for me, presenting many opportunities to learn and contribute.
In Korea, as I draped my embroidered Palestinian scarf over my business suit, I wondered if we would succeed in turning the tables on the power brokers by using their concepts of “local ownership” and “mutual accountability. And would I, a volunteer for Dalia Association, a small, Palestinian NGO long-concerned with aid reform actually have the honour of being part of this revolution?
Unfortunately, Dalia Association was one of only eight civil society organisations from the Arab world accredited to take part in the official meeting. Solidarity was high among the group that included a Palestinian, a Lebanese, a Moroccan, a Tunisian, and a Mauritanian (all men), but there is no question that Asia, Africa, and Latin America dominated the group of 300 civil society activists who, in any case, were small potatoes in relation to the over 3,000 delegates representing donor agencies, recipient governments, and multilateral agencies.
Fortunately, the Busan Civil Society Forum met for three fruitful days prior to the official High Level Forum. This enabled civil society activists to review the efforts that brought us to Busan, agree on a strategy to influence the official negotiations, and decide how to move forward to implement our agenda post-Busan.
At the Busan Civil Society Forum, I spoke on a panel called, “Aid Effectiveness in Conflict Affected and Fragile States: A ‘New Deal’ for Whom?” My talk focused on the incongruence between US/European foreign policy and aid policy towards Palestine, and the ways that US aid is used as a weapon to maintain conflict rather than to resolve it. My co-speakers were an impressive, committed, and smart group of people who work, day in and day out, on what they call “the conflict and fragility agenda.” These are issues of great concern to Palestine – yet most of us in Palestine are neither involved in nor aware of what’s developing around the world.
One of these important developments is the “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States.” It is a brand new agreement that resulted from a series of meetings and negotiations about conflict and fragile states that ran parallel to preparations for the HLF4. The meetings were organised by the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, which produced the Dili Declaration, then the Monrovia Roadmap, and finally the “New Deal.”
The New Deal lays out five peace-building and state-building goals that should guide the identification of priorities for development at the country level.
Legitimate Politics - Foster inclusive political settlements and conflict resolution
Security - Establish and strengthen people’s security
Justice - Address injustices and increase people’s access to justice
Economic Foundations - Generate employment and improve livelihoods
Revenues and Services - Manage revenue and build capacity for accountable and fair service delivery
These are fabulous goals! If these goals guided the identification of priorities for aid-funded development in Palestine, outcomes and impact would surely improve. Perhaps the Palestinian Authority should endorse the New Deal and we could hold it accountable for delivering on these principles. And perhaps the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian civil society should work together to hold donor agencies and governments accountable for delivering on these principles.
There was no moment to breathe between the Busan Civil Society Forum and the official High Level Forum. Officials from all over the world spoke at the opening and closing ceremonies. (Queen Rania was without a doubt the best of them all. Inspirational!) The plenaries were huge, and there were concurrent side events and knowledge and information sessions. Important discussions were held in the coffee line and on the escalator.
I tried to take advantage of every opportunity at the official HLF to promote Palestine. Dalia Association had an ePoster running on a loop in the exhibit hall, and a video of Palestinian grassroots civil society voices talking about their experiences with aid. I also ran a workshop about reforming aid to Palestinian civil society. But at the end I realised that none of these were very effective strategies. There are so very many issues – disability, environment, children, procurement, conditionality, predictability – and they are all important. People don’t have the mental space to get involved in one more issue, even if they do support Palestine. I myself found it hard to grasp the specificities of issues in Nepal, Tanzania, Venezuela, and so many other places. From this experience, I learned that rather than push attention towards Palestine, it sometimes makes more sense to align with broader agendas that incorporate Palestine, like the conflict and fragility agenda.
It is estimated that more than 30 percent of aid is spent in conflict-affected and fragile situations (CAFs), though not one low-income CAF state has achieved even one Millennium Development Goal. For this reason, donors and recipient countries and their civil societies should be concerned about the unique challenges of development in conflict-affected and fragile situations, regardless of whether the recipient country has self-identified as fragile.
The conflict and fragility group at the HLF4 was brilliant in pushing its agenda. I learned so much by watching the process of negotiation unfold. We took our messages to our thematic leaders, like the conflict and fragility leader, who took them to the civil society “Sherpa” – the messenger who negotiated on behalf of civil society with the other 17 Sherpas on the specific wording of the Busan Partnership document. Several times a day we had briefings to tell us what had been agreed and what had been refused so that we could identify people to lobby on certain messages. The real action was in these negotiations, not in the official meeting sessions.
One surprise was how strong a force the g7+ had become by leading and influencing these negotiations. The g7+ is a group of countries, led by Timor Leste, who define themselves as fragile. Palestine should consider joining the g7+. The g7+ is active in lobbying for the New Deal, which has already been endorsed by 34 governments, donors, and international organisations. It is even referenced in the “Busan Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation.”
But some of us are disappointed by the Busan Partnership and for good reason. First, the “inclusive partnership” language that we used to ensure that civil society got a place at the table also opened the door for big business to get recognition as a development partner, and that’s surely bad news. Moreover, in the effort to recruit big business to the table, some powerful people started using the term “economic growth” interchangeably with “development.” But real development, in my view, depends on peoples’ own opinions about what constitutes real development for them. We must keep fighting for the right of the grassroots to lead their own development agenda.
Second, while civil society spoke the language of human rights throughout the negotiations, the partnership document itself uses the watered down language of “international rights” – a reasonable trade off, proponents say, for China’s endorsement, but women’s rights advocates are understandably sceptical. Also, in the wee hours of the negotiations, some strong language calling for donors to be transparent was also watered down and made voluntary for some players and in some contexts. Lastly, there are no reporting and accountability mechanisms, despite the broad consensus that previous commitments have not been met. Somehow we are expected to believe that the very same actors who reneged before will miraculously follow through this time!
Eight days later, on the 18+ hour trip back home to Jerusalem, I was still not clear exactly what we accomplished at the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness and what influence, if any, I might have had. Perhaps the question, “Is Palestine included in the Busan Partership or was the HLF4 just the usual haky faadi?” isn’t one that will be answered in Busan or Washington or Brussels or Oslo. We need to decide, here in Palestine, how we want to align ourselves in relation to these major world developments.
Anyone who wants to continue this discussion is invited to contact Dalia Association at [email protected] or +970-2-298-9121.
Nora Lester Murad is a writer, civil society activist, and mother. She lives in Jerusalem, Palestine. Nora is a dedicated volunteer for Dalia Association (www.dalia.ps), a Palestinian NGO that empowers Palestinians to claim their right to self-determination in development by advocating for reform of the international aid system, promoting philanthropy to reduce dependence on aid, and supporting NGOs to be more accountable to local communities.