Developing countries, especially those in Africa, find themselves in a pickle. They have to choose partners among the most developed countries, with such relationships being crucial in a number of fronts: economic, diplomatic, and military, etc. Such ties help to inform foreign policy decisions of both developed and developing countries, as the former is able to gain influence over the latter in exchange for concessions (aid and trade, etc.), through a relationship that is, overtly or covertly, moderated by the promise of carrots and the threat of sticks, so to speak metaphorically.
Choosing a reliable partner is a sensitive affair. Developing (poor) countries, whether in Africa, Latin America, or South East Asia, have long complained that developed (rich) countries think that simply because they give them money they should tell them how to behave, by placing upon them ‘aid conditionalities.’
Aid givers, on the other hand, have never come out openly as to declare that “whoever pays the piper calls the tune.” Instead, they have sought to conceal such message through clever slogans such as “development partnership,” which assume a relationship among equals.
Thus, a problem arises when the tune plays and they are told, or expected, to dance despite the promise that they would have a say in song-selection. For some, this often leads to frustration, followed by the usual gripe about “Pivoting East.”
Such griping is their way of pushing back, to reclaim whatever dignity is left. However, for as long as they are bound in economic dependency, some argue, a ‘relationship of equals’ is impossible. If their complaints do not fall on deaf ears, the argument goes, the best they can expect is for donors to simply become more sophisticated in concealing their overt expression of prejudice and contempt towards them.
Trading one indignity for another
There is considerable truth that any constructive, healthy, partnership is a product of mutual respect. It is also convincing, one must concede, that such respect cannot be an expected outcome of a donor-recipient relationship, especially if a view persists that such ‘support’ is perpetual.
Which way, then, out of the pickle? There must be something else that can drive mutual respect, produce real partnership, and lead to constructive partnerships to emerge despite circumstances of dependency.
The search for that ‘something else’ ought to be the substance that informs any decision to pivot to whatever direction ‘dependent’ states may wish. That way, such a change can be considered meaningful and not simply a knee-jerk reaction [kwivumbura] whose outcome would likely replace one indignity with another.
Creating constructive partnerships
Consistency is essential in determining the strength of any relationship. It is also an important element in ascertaining whether this or that development partnership is strong because it reinforces mutual respect and the absence of pretentiousness.
In international development, for instance, the Germans have been consistent. The reason they are not shifty is suggested by its former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, albeit in a different context. Fischer observes, “Unlike France, Great Britain, or the United States,” Germans never sought to legitimise “their foreign policy in terms of a ‘civilising mission.’”
If one were to elaborate on Fischer’s observation, a suggestion would emerge that mutual respect is often undermined where there are efforts to ‘civilise’ beneficiary countries, to attempt to reproduce it in the image of the benefactor.
When one observes German’s attitude towards Rwanda, it becomes apparent that Fischer’s observation stands.
However, there is more: Germany understands Rwanda, accepts it for what it is, and does not pretend to what to change it.
More specifically, the Germans understand that states, like human beings, carry with them historical baggage that shapes their psychological disposition. Moreover, their baggage of Holocaust that history has bequeathed them means that they require little convincing that a country that is only two decades out of genocide needs breathing space to reflect on what went wrong, to devise mechanisms to guard against its recurrence, to reconstruct a sense of common purpose among its citizens, in order to forge ahead in the reality that very painful things happened here.
Germany was able to conduct its own soul-searching, to form individual mental ownerships of a historical blunder, and to construct a national consciousness around its tragedy. Crucially, it has taken Germany over 75 years to shape this sense of self that it is now confident enough to project to the outside world.
Underpinning Germany resurgence is this sense of common purpose and collective ownership of a historical wrong. Which explains why an ethnic German, or Slovak, is as outraged about the Holocaust and its denial as a German of Jewish ancestry.
Such is the consciousness that truly guards against a relapse or recurrence of Holocaust, or anything like it, in that country – and helps to collectively dismiss any neo-Nazi resurgence as a lunatic fringe that must be crushed, by any means necessary.
Therefore, it is possible for development partnership to be reliable, mutually respectful, and dignified. However, this can only happen if there is something truly fundamental about the parties involved, which is the only way to somehow guarantee that one will dance to a tune they like.