‘Differentiation’, the Dependency Syndrome and the ‘Begging Bowl’ Revisited

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..our relationship with Europe is becoming even more and more “one sided” with Europe seemingly having its way at every turn, on every occasion. Europe had its way with bananas, sugar and the EPA. Now, it is about to have its way with “differentiation.”
---Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, at the Caricom Summit February 18 2013
The EU decision to apply ‘Differentiation’ in its aid programme has caused consternation in the Caribbean. Simply put, Differentiation means that most EU aid will go to the world’s poorest countries. Together with the cut in the EU budget agreed earlier this year, Differentiation will likely lead to a steep decline in EU aid flows to Caricom countries, most of which are not among the world’s poorest. It comes hard on the heels of severe fiscal stresses due to unsustainable debt burdens and budget-crunching IMF programmes St Lucan Prime Minister Dr Kenny Anthony, columnist David Jessop and Sir Ronald Sanders are among those that foresee the possibility of a major change in Caribbean-EU relations from this development.
But is this such a bad thing? Could it not be a blessing in disguise? Another way to look at aid is that is a mechanism of buying off the political and technocratic elites of the region, of promoting their participation in a dysfunctional system mis-characterised as ‘development’. Endless studies, meetings, conferences, and training programmes are generated that all add up to ‘spinning top in mud’. Who is fooling whom by this charade?
African economist and former head of the South Centre, Yash Tandon, in his book Ending Aid Dependencecautions countries of the South against falling into the aid trap and endorsing the collective colonialism of the OECD – the club of rich donor countries”. He further asserts that “An exit strategy from aid dependence requires a radical shift in both the mindset and the development strategy of countries dependent on aid, and a deeper and direct involvement of people in their own development”.  Could Differentiation be an opportunity to effect—or a means of enforcing—the ‘radical shift in mindset’ and the ‘deeper and direct involvement’ of Caribbean people in their own development of which Tandon speaks?
Some years ago Havelock Brewster wrote a provocative piece titled “Time to Take in the Begging Bowl”. In it he stated what most people who have had experience of the aid game well know, “..the truth seems to be that the financial benefits (of EU aid) are mostly EU citizens and companies. So, does this, has this, become a self-sustaining vicious circle of generous grants-in-aid, fat contracts for the nationals of EU countries, and continuing ‘recipient country’ dependency?
He continued
“So, dear friends and colleagues, is it not “time to take in the begging bowl”?  Time to set up a modest CARICOM external development aid fund for poor countries? Time for the donors, especially the European Commission, to engage in a less self-serving partnership, in a way that strengthens, rather than undermines, the very qualities on which sustainable, self-reliant development is built?” (http://goo.gl/AKSwN)
Brewster’s comments were largely  ignored at the time. But they are ringing in Caribbean ears today. They seem to me be well worth revisiting.  What do you think?
5 March 2013
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