M: Hugh Muir
WE: Professor William Easterly
LF: Liz Ford
FS: Female speaker/s
MA: Mark Anderson
HME: Hibo Mohamed Esay
JG: Jayati Ghosh
JE: Jessica Evans
HM Prof William Easterly was for 16 years an economist at the World Bank.
WE I was in the research department, which by World Bank standards actually. I had a lot of intellectual freedom, but not quite enough.
HM And the World Bank has for many years had a problem with human rights; it didn’t discuss them. Was there a point at which the World Bank you thought: ‘I’m on the wrong side here, I’ve got to leave and maybe have the freedom to speak differently and to do this differently?’
WE Well, one thing I remember is some time in the mid ’90s going to an Africa region meeting and everyone around the table were going hey, for Africa, it’s really not working, and then the conclusion of the meeting is, we should keep doing it. And it’s like what is going on here, we know it’s not working and yet we keep doing it. Why?
HM But since leaving the organisation Professor Easterly has had a change of heart.
WE I’m sort of a recovering expert, trying to spread the news to the other experts.
HM This is The Guardian’s Liz Ford.
LF So we’re at the Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Summit that’s being held at the ExCeL Centre in London.
HM You may remember that this was the event attended by Angelina Jolie. We sent Liz down earlier in the month to record this and some of the people attending that summit.
LF But I think there’s probably a lot of people that are thinking, are a little bit concerned that there’s a strong focus on ending impunity, a strong focus on getting the prosecutions, and not enough on the wider issues, as in women’s economic empowerment.
FS1 When we think of them, the human rights things, you know, the first things is how they can survive, how they can have access of the food in the evening, you know. That comes first. So basically it comes first for the widows.
FS2 Women need economic empowerment to have the whole world [in] peace and stability.
LF Yes, they want justice, but getting somebody to court is not their priority, their priority is getting a job, getting money, getting away from the actual abuse, supporting their children, getting them an education, getting decent healthcare, all those other things.
FS3 They talk about political participation, they don’t talk about economic empowerment. So it’s all interlinked and unless we address the issue holistically then separate interventions will be ineffective.
HM So it begs the question, what comes first, economic empowerment to better your life or basic human rights, and why can’t we talk about the two together? We’ll find out on today’s Global development podcast. I’m Hugh Muir, stay with us. But first, back to Prof Easterly. He says vital development is blighted by technocrats. I caught up with him on the phone line from New York and asked him what was going wrong.
WE I think it’s because there’s this fascination in development with development as an exclusively technical problem that is just about technical fixes like bednets for malaria or medications for malaria or antibiotics for other health problems, and the reason these technical solutions have been neglected is because our people are pressed by autocrats who have no interest in their wellbeing, they only have an interest in staying in power. There is a World Bank project in Uganda that had the idea that this one district of Uganda called Mubende could be very profitably developed as a forestry project and that forestry was the best use of the land there. The World Bank in this case was sort of like a counterpart of the British colonial authorities deciding what is best. The farmers on the land who were growing their own food crops were not on board with this and, unfortunately, what happened was this was settled with violence. A private company that the World Bank was working with to develop this project hired security forces who came in and marched the farmers off at gunpoint, burned down their homes, burned down their crops, an eight-year-old child died in the fire that happened with this, the farmers were kept at gunpoint from rescuing the child or their own homes and 20,000 farmers were marched off at gunpoint and told this land is no longer yours. This is this kind of tragedy that happens when we neglect the rights of the people. You do something that you think is making them better off and it’s actually making people worse off because you did not give them the right to consent, you did not respect their right to consent.
HM It’s difficult though, isn’t it, because big organisations who hope to help with big budgets that are obviously wary of just handing that money over want to know that it’s being done properly. Isn’t there a limit to the extent to which you can work from bottom up, isn’t it almost inevitable there’ll be some element of top down?
WE Well, if you’re saying that you need to sort of work with the governments that are there, even if they’re authoritarian, I think that is the perennial dilemma in the aid business. And I don’t want to say there is any easy answer to that, there is not an easy answer, I mean I think certainly to being to come to an answer you certainly do want to cut off governments that are simply using their own aid money for their own repression and I think the more important thing that has happened as a result of that discussion is the official aid community has just decided that we’re sort of not allowed to talk about autocracy and oppressive governments because this issue is so unsolvable and so there’s a sort of unintentional censorship of the big debate that we should be having in development, you know, is autocracy itself one of the main causes of poverty?HM The likes of Bill Gates and Jeffrey Sachs have looked at the things that you’re saying and have made the point that you might be ignoring some of the big success stories in modern aid, things like the polio immunisation programme, things I suppose that can only be done by big organisations that go into a country and things that in a way are best done from the top down.
WA You know, I’ve never said aid always fails, there are successes in aid, even in very top-down aids and because there are some problems that are more amenable to top-down aid intervention. And I think the one you mention is exactly the most common one, polio and other vaccination programmes is the one that’s cited over and over again by Gates and Sachs and other aid defenders. Why are they stuck with only this one example that they cite over and over again, or only a few other examples? It’s because there was this one problem that was more amenable to top-down aid and it got solved, that’s great, I’m glad it happened, but it’s not the way the whole world of development works.
HM Obviously, it’s shaken things up, what if we were to ignore your detractors and made you king for the day, how would things be different? There’s a calibration to be done here, how would you calibrate things differently?
WE We need say like a Copernican Revolution in development. What’s really been happening is we place ourselves, the aid and development experts at kind of the whole centre of development and we obsess with this sort of what should we do question and what the western efforts should be, which is very understandable and I want the west to continue to do good things but we’re not at the centre of development and the Copernican Revolution would recognise that it’s poor people themselves who are at the centre of development and they are already successfully developing themselves.
There’s already been tremendous successes in development that are homegrown that are due to poor people and poor societies asserting their own rights themselves. And we should not have the arrogance that everything in development revolves around us, the experts, that’s what most fundamentally at the end of the day I protest against most. There’s arrogance and there’s egocentricity and self-centredness that we place ourselves, the experts, at the whole centre of global development and we don’t deserve that, we’re not at the centre, we’re very marginal, it’s poor people themselves who are developing themselves.
HM Professor William Easterly, author of The Tyranny of Experts, and that’s available now. Professor Easterly talked about countries being helped to help themselves. Let’s consider the case of Somaliland. Mark Anderson reports.
MA Somaliland is the world’s fourth poorest country, if it was a country, but it’s not, because no one in the international community recognises Somaliland as a sovereign state and it receives no direct aid. You might think Somaliland would be held back by this lack of aid but it’s actually done very well. There’s been two presidential elections which passed without incident and the international observers of those elections were so enamoured with Somaliland’s case for recognition that they founded an NGO specifically to champion Somaliland’s cause. In Somaliland’s capital, Hargeisa, Hibo Mohamed Esayhas been running a small catering business. It’s been going two years.
HME We are cooking refreshments for meetings for places like the government. Also, we are receiving orders from homes and weddings. So me, I like Somaliland and living here. Everybody’s coming back to Somaliland. If you look back 10 years, for example, in the shops and the hotels there’s no more than 10 hotels in Hargeisa but now you cannot count the number of hotels in Hargeisa. As well as the printing press, shops, everywhere you go there’s a small business. So there’s a lot of people in Hargeisa now so as much as the people are there and they are buying with no war, with no anything that they are afraid of. So I can say it’s growing.
HM But not everyone is as positive as Hibo, Somaliland has come under fire from rights groups for attacks on journalists and poor treatment of Ethiopian and Somali migrants who pass through Somaliland on their way to Yemen. But few can argue with Somaliland’s stable democracy and thriving businesses like Hibo’s. It’s doing far better than its neighbours to the south.
HME If you look at the freedom and the democracy that has taken place in Somaliland, I can say that it’s better than so many countries in Africa, and whenever the problems happen there’s a fight which has never stopped, but Somalians have reached a level that we have the ability to stop war and to establish a peace.
HM Hibo Mohamed Esay in Hargeisa. So we’ve got plenty of examples of where aid is going wrong, and going right, and with me now to pick through some of these ideas we have something of an international line-up. From Washington, Jessica Evans of Human Rights Watch, she’s a senior researcher in their Business and Human Rights Division, and in Geneva we have Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Nehru University, New Delhi, and the executive secretary of International Development Economics Associates. Welcome to both of you. Jayati, let me start with you. This is basically what Professor Easterly talks about in his book, The Tyranny of Experts. It refers to Somaliland which is an economy that’s benefited from improved human rights and democracy, and here’s the important thing, without the technocrats getting involved. Is that a phenomenon that you recognise?
JG Oh, absolutely, I don’t think that technocrats have been particularly successful, certainly in the international development industry, but I wouldn’t say that’s because they are technocrats per se, I would argue that, number one, they’re divorced from the particular domestic positions, but more than that they are all influenced by a rather stale and mechanical paradigm of how economies should be run, which I really think is counterproductive. This so-called Washington consensus which should have died several decades ago is back and alive and kicking, and unfortunately is still being imposed all over the world regardless of context, regardless of usefulness and regardless of notions of economic democracy.
HM Jessica, to what extent do you think we can hold Somaliland up as a model of good practice?
JE I can’t speak directly to Somaliland, but one thing that we constantly see is that development is not understood in the same way that it should be. So sustainable development, we believe, is freedom from fear and want for all without discrimination. Sustainable development should be about the creation of conditions in which people everywhere can realise their civil and political rights as well as their economic, social and cultural ones. I think what Professor Easterly is pushing for here is for increased recognition of civil and political and some economic rights, and that being the basis for development. I think Human Rights Watch and many human rights advocates would go that step further to say that development needs to be grounded in all of the human rights that we’ve been fighting for.
HM Jayati, talk to me about the balance, the ratio if you like of human rights to economic development, economic empowerment. Is the balance right?
JG No not at all, in fact one of the big problems I see, both in the international shall we say the multilateral community as well as in many developing countries today is that in a sense there’s a kind of trade-off, we are told by many of our governments, my own at the moment, but a number of others across the world, that look, we’re going to give you growth and development, we’ll try and give you electricity and roads and water and so on, and in return for that just shut up and do as we tell you. In other words, don’t ask for higher wages, don’t complain if you’re displaced by a project, don’t worry about environmental standards, don’t worry about Workers’ rights and living wages, because these are all costs you have to pay for this grand process of development.
HM Jessica, does that ring a bell with you and if so, give us some examples of where that’s been the case, that’s been how things have unfolded?
JE One example that comes to mind is the World Bank’s engagement with Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan is anything but a democratic country and human rights violations are really widespread. One particularly problematic industry within Uzbekistan is the cotton industry, which is grounded in a system of forced labour. Every year the government mobilises over a million of its citizens, including children, to pick cotton. What the World Bank has just earlier this month approved is an irrigation project which is going to directly benefit the cotton industry. It’s going to provide water to cotton farms, and while the World Bank as a positive development taken some moves to mitigate these risks of forced labour it’s not doing anything to actually dismantle that system which continues and will continue with this project. So the World Bank has for instance put in place third party monitors to look at whether there is forced labour on the areas within which the project is being carried out, but on the other side the World Bank has done nothing to ensure that independent journalists and civil society organisations which often monitor the cotton harvest can do so, even with respect to the land on which the World Bank is financing an irrigation project. So this shows I think how in some respects the World Bank is willing to recognise what we would consider human rights risks, but not willing to go that extra step to work toward an environment in which Uzbek citizens can themselves work to realise their own human rights.
HM Jayati, what’s your sense of the role or the balance that’s being struck by the World Bank?
JG Well, you know the World Bank I don’t believe is really the most important player anymore in many developing countries, certainly it is promoting projects that are, shall we say, inconsistent with some of these goals that Jessica mentioned but really when you’re looking at patterns of investment or even patterns of control over social dissent and all of that, it’s really not the World Bank that is the most important player any more, and I think we have to be much more concerned about how the international rules, treaties, whether it comes from the bilateral investment treaties, whether it comes from the GATT rules or WTO and so on, whether these actually impact on the policy space that governments have to promote the rights of citizens. And also the governments themselves, how concerned are they in terms of ensuring this balance. I’d like to give one example from India if I may. You know, we’ve had very recently, after the new government came to power in India, we’ve had a report published by the Intelligence Bureau which is really supposed to be something that’s out there spying for the country supposedly, anyway the Intelligence Bureau has come out with a report saying that social movements and NGOs that have been fighting about the concerns of people who are displaced by projects and those who are worried about the impact of nuclear projects, the environmental impacts and so on, they are essentially antinational, against national security interests, and amazingly they’ve come up with a figure saying they’re losing the country 3% of GDP per year. Now, the fact that an intelligence bureau can come out with a report like this is mindboggling and it’s also deeply worrying because it suggests that the government can now use this as a way of getting after these NGOs and social movements and preventing the kind of popular dissent that would force the government to respect human rights.
HM Jessica, the World Bank, this is kind of your starter for 10 isn’t it, because I know that Human Rights Watch published a report last year about what the World Bank should be doing about human rights. Just give me some specifics about where they’re falling down now.
JE Sure. So the World Bank has typically seen human rights as beyond its purview which is incredibly troubling considering it is a leading development agency. I agree with Jayati that the World Bank finance as compared to other finance is decreasing in proportion and that governments, whether they be governments that are receiving donor aid or governments that are giving them, are also incredibly important actors when it comes to realising human rights. But the World Bank itself is not held accountable to international human rights standards, instead it creates its own policies that are internal and holds itself accountable to those policies. Therefore it’s operating outside of the international human rights framework which is incredibly problematic.
To give you one very recent example, just today Human Rights Watch has published a report in Tajikistan on resettlements linked to the Rogun Dam which is set to be the highest dam in the world. The World Bank has provided financing, looking at both the environmental and the social impacts of this dam, but unfortunately, although the World Bank looks at the degree to which international environmental and water laws are being complied with it doesn’t even touch on international human rights law, including the obligations of the Tajik government that the government itself has signed up to.
HM What about people who say, well you have to strike a balance, what’s the greater good, is it to have these considerations about human rights or is it to get money to places where people desperately need that money, and that maybe too much concentration on human rights is a bit of a luxury?
JE I think that’s creating a false dichotomy here. The international financial institutions and donors can work with governments to create development projects which do respect human rights. They can ensure that communities have the opportunity to meaningfully participate in crafting their own development agendas and then they can work with those communities and with the governments to finance them. It’s not a question of whether we go in or not, it’s a question of how the international institutions can use their own leverage to support the human rights of people within developing countries.
HM Now of course, Jayati Ghosh, the World Bank may not be the only player in town for long because, of course, China has announced plans to launch a global development institution to rival the World Bank. How, if at all, do you think that will change the dynamic?
JG I think it will change the dynamic in an important way in that in fact the World Bank has been less significant in all development investment and infrastructure investment now for several decades. But we haven’t really had significant expansion of the regional banks and the Asian Development Bank really hasn’t stepped up to the plate as required. So if the Chinese are actually willing to put their money where their mouth is and dramatically increase this kind of funding it will definitely have an impact. But I would like to highlight another player who I think is being ignored in this, most development investment, so-called, today is in private hands, it’s by multinational companies, and this is part of a broader policy stance that has been actively encouraged by the multilateral institutions themselves and by the WTO and others, and we are ignoring the impact that this kind of investment has on human rights. We now have increasing numbers of cases where you have multinational companies that have actually trampled on the rights of local communities and are able to get away with it because of either bilateral investment treaties or regional trade agreements that include investment chapters that effectively protect them through the investor protection clauses, or simply by the operation of US courts which has actually dramatically altered the power balance and limited the ability even when governments want to ensure the realisation of human rights.
HM So Jessica, corporations play a big role here. Do you think we should be doing more to regulate what they do?
JE Absolutely. And actually we have an opportunity at the moment to do just that. The post-2015 agenda on development is currently being negotiated and this provides an opportunity to finally bring into the round corporate accountability. There is a draft goal eight which is currently out there of the sustainable development goals and one way that we can massively improve this goal which is directed at promoting strong inclusive and sustainable economic growth and decent work for all, is by including in it a commitment to introduce mandatory requirements on corporations to undertake human rights due diligence around their work and publicly record on their human rights, social and environment impacts, as well as payments that they make to domestic or foreign governments which is essential to counter corruption.
HM Okay, we’ve talked a lot in the past few minutes about the World Bank, I should say that we did ask the World Bank for a contribution but they weren’t able to give us one for this podcast, but Jayati, let me ask you, do you think, they do a lot in this area obviously and face a lot of criticism, is that fair?
JG No, I think it’s certainly fair but I think they shouldn’t be the only targets of criticism, I think there’s a lot that the World Bank does which is really quite wrong and that they should be much more accountable and responsive to the criticism, but really as I mentioned earlier they are not the big players any more; the big players are the rules that are set up by the international treaties and the multinational corporations, who as Jessica mentioned are really currently not legally accountable at all. So I think we need to take much more cognizance of the fact that we have a bit of a free for all globally in terms of the lack of power of the human rights agenda relative to the investor protection agenda, and we need to rectify that imbalance.
HM Okay, well thank you both, that’s all that we have time for on that bit of our debate. But thanks to Jayati Ghosh, Professor of Economics at Nehru University, Delhi, and to Jessica Evans of Human Rights Watch, a senior researcher in their Business and Human Rights division, for their contributions. This edition of the Global development podcast was produced by Matt Hill, assisted by Mark Anderson. Don’t forget, you can have your say at theguardian.com/global-development. Just click on the link and voilà, you’ll get your podcast. Thank you for listening, I hope it was illuminating, my name’s Hugh Muir. Until next time, goodbye.
Source: The Guardian,, The Gobal develoment podcast