Interview with Edna Keeble, PhD, Associate Professor at Saint Mary’s University in Canada, former member of Advisory board for the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Canada.
To Have and to Have Not
In September this year the international community will evaluate its achievements of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). What in your opinion are the most pressing development problems today in the world?
This is a big question! Quite clearly MDGs demonstrate that there has to be special emphasis with regards to HIV/AIDS in the specific region of Africa and that coincides also with Canada’s priorities for development cooperation. I also see mass migration and labour migration as a development challenge that is happening between South and North having impact on refugee and immigrant policies. But reduction of poverty and dealing with infant mortality are quite evident problems as 2015 [as the benchmark year for achieving MDGs] is pinching!
The reason I like MDGs is that they admit the importance of trying to deal with what I consider to be basic human needs of addressing economic disparity that exists globally. But the problem with the MDGs is that just like with all the other development goals that have been articulated in the past, not much has happened. Declaratory statements are made, but whether in fact they follow through to action becomes very problematic.
What do you understand by “development cooperation”?
It is all about dealing with the relations between Canada as a donor state and recipient states in the developing world. It is interesting, what I have noticed that in Baltic states there is distinction made between development cooperation, official development assistance and foreign aid. We in Canada tend to blend it all together.
Also humanitarian aid?
Yes, because what you consider humanitarian aid we in Canada call disaster relief, which is part of our foreign aid policy. And how can it not be? The government has to set aside money for participation in natural disaster relief.
So, how does development cooperation contribute to development? In this respect, do you see development cooperation as a tool to achieve these goals?
Foreign aid policy is but one tool that can be utilized by the government to try to deal with development issues. Obviously there has to be a sense of responsibility of donor states to be able to give in an untied way recognizing the kinds of needs articulated or seen within the Southern context that could be a way to address the development goals addressed by the United Nations.
So as I said, I find value in MDGs, but as a researcher I think it is critical that the governments use them as a point of reference. Governments then can always be held accountable. If they state outright, that the only reason we have foreign aid is to serve our economic interests, it has no added value. But if the government says ‘We believe in the development goals’ you can then look at the specific programs undertaken by the government to reach these goals.
Can a small country contribute to global development? Is there a role and a place?
I believe in multilateralism. Before I came here I thought that one of the avenues or ways in which Latvia can develop its development cooperation policy, is the way to work with the other two Baltic states or the Nordic-Baltic Aid, or maybe within the context of EU. I have been told that bilateral aid might take some part of your development cooperation, but the reality is that given the amount of money Latvia has, it would be very important to do some kind of multilateral cooperation in the disbursement of aid to be able to achieve greater impact.
Does a state gain anything by becoming a donor?
To me it is grounded in political realities. Gone are the days where we can talk of foreign distinctions. What happens on the other side of the world is going to impact what happens in Latvia. Whether we call it migration, transnational criminal organizations, it is going to impact all of the societies in the world. Globalization and porous nature of borders, particularly in the context of information communication technology revolution, means that no state is precluded from feeling the impact of what happens internationally. So from there what development cooperation offers is an opportunity for the state to participate within the international community in a particular way.
What about a moral imperative?
From a Canadian perspective, it is the ‘feel-good’ or what I call the ‘guilt complex’ of Canadians for meeting basic human needs. There is a humanitarian component to Canada’s foreign aid, because Canadians have within them an understanding of what it means to be a global citizen. Poll after poll demonstrates that Canadians are not so cynical to say “Oh, what’ in it for us?’ but rather the case of thinking about the responsibility for the poorest in the world.
Having said that, meeting basic human needs represents only one third of Canada’s official development aid (ODA) of .8 billion, the rest goes to administration, scholarships, research, multilateral instruments which do address human needs, but do not have direct impact.
But why is it so hard for governments to follow EU and UN requirements for increasing development assistance? Could there be reverse tendencies of diminishing aid numbers?
If you look at the last decade, Canada has had its aid reduced both in absolute numbers and percentage of GDP. It was in part trying to deal with our fiscal problems, but it influenced all sectors of our economy, including defence and health care budget. But if at one point Canada would decide not to give aid, it would be considered a pariah in the international community. Because there is structural consideration of the way that we understand global politics. The world is divided between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. And for those who believe that they are in the “haves”, and that is what Latvia did by joining the EU, it becomes a responsibility. How this responsibility translates into prestige, economic interests, maybe trying to deal with basic human needs – whatever it translates into - the reality is, if you are part of the EU and the developed world, you have to have a pattern to give aid.
How much is Canadian development policy influenced by public opinion on where, whom and how to give aid? What does the public think, how supportive is it of Canada’s policies?
Even three decades ago there was great public support with regard to giving aid. I have always seen a similarity between the sense of charity that Canadians have in giving abroad and the sense for giving at home. At the beginning of 1980s there was a change in the way that individuals began to think about why other individuals in their society and outside it were in a situation of poverty.
What caused these changes?
It is the rise of individualism, part of Americanization of ideas, part of liberal. The polls began to feel less generous. They began to blame the people themselves – why are you poor? Because you are not getting education. Because you are not helping yourself. Because your governments are corrupt. All this resulted in decline of public support.
Part of why development education, global outreach has become important within Canadian International Development Agency is to try to create values of social responsibility again. It is also about how people relate with each other. Citizenship has become all about rights and not about responsibilities. The question is how do you create that sense of responsibility?
Having seen Latvian public opinion poll results on attitudes towards giving aid to poorer countries, how do you think Latvia needs to address the public opinion to gain support for development cooperation?
What struck me is that a clear majority of Latvians (82%) believe that rich countries should give aid to poor countries. To me that is a moral imperative. You don’t have to give, you can just say – well, too bad, poor countries are poor, lets leave them to it.
But the other fact that 50% of Latvians see themselves as poor people means that it is not illogical. So what it means is they think - if we were rich, we would give, but we are not.
But again, it is a relative term. It is not to say that Latvia, compared to Canada, doesn’t have more economic challenges, because that wouldn’t be true. But it does mean that Latvia, relative to Tanzania or Srilanka, is in a better position. So I would try to deal with the whole conception of Latvia as a poor country, to put it in a relative context, how Latvia finds itself in a better position. In the long run it would take a generation to create those changed values.
Who would then be responsible for changing these values, who could actually have an impact?
I think NGOs in particular should provide service and advocacy for development cooperation, engage in global education, but also do research because they are on the ground. For academics, I think that we serve a role of research and both the production and dissemination of knowledge by doing policy relevant research, also dissemination of knowledge through our students. And that in itself bares a certain responsibility. Academics are good at systematic examination, asking the right questions in order to get correct solutions.
Given the international political context with war in Iraq and presence of Allied troops in Iraq, do you believe provision of aid can be seen as intervention?
Well, there may be humanitarian, economic and politically-strategic motivation for giving aid to certain countries. US actions during Cold War and now in post-9/11 in Iraq was clearly strategic. They also give money to Israel, which is actually a rich state, but still receives money from US. But I could say that Canada is mostly operating by economic interests.
An important question is aid efficiency and the ultimate goal that development cooperation is seeking. Therefore, would you think that if states increase their aid budgets as committed, will there at some point be a situation of no poverty?
To betray my liberal, cosmopolitan ideological underpinnings, from a neo-Marxist structuralist perspective I should say ‘no’. Foreign aid just simply perpetuates the existing economic structure, the “haves” versus the “have-nots”.
However, I would argue that there is value in a capitalist system that does not have excesses. I am not anti-capitalist, but I do see in the extension of markets the possibilities for states to get themselves out of a particular economic situation they are in. The problem is with regards to structural impediments when it comes to trading arrangements. Unless they are first addressed, the kind of aid that is given now could never redress the fundamental inequalities that exist between North and South.
Having said that, I believe that it is important that a state like Canada continues to give its 0.23% of GDP or meets 0.33% of GDP in 2010. I still do not think it is enough. I think, whether the Nordic states do it for prestige or economic interests, they remain a model of being able to give aid, usually unconditional, but exceeding the 0.7% of GDP target of UN. So do I think Canada can do more? Absolutely! Can Canada give more? Yes, indeed!
The interview took place in Valmiera on 21 April 2004