Drugs, Poverty and Development – Policy Solutions?

Panel Discussion
“Drugs, Poverty & Development – Policy Solutions?”
26 February 2015 | 17:30 to 18:30| IPU ROOM

The British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union (BGIPU) and Health Poverty Action (HPA) invite you to a discussion on drugs policy as a driver of poverty and its impact on human rights and international development. HPA will be launching a report that highlights these issues.
The discussion will be followed by a drinks reception.

Chair:Lord Rea, Former Deputy Opposition Spokesperson for Health and International Development

Baroness Meacher, Chair of the Drug Policy Reform All-Party Parliamentary Group
Catherine Martin, Policy Advisor, Health Poverty Action
Sir Keith Morris, Former Ambassador to Colombia
Jeremy Corbyn MP, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights All-Party Parliamentary Group
Dr Julia Buxton, School of Public Policy at Central European University in Budapest

RSVP: ostlers@parliament.uk or 02072193011

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Embrace the complex and temper the ego!

Two reports that really stood out for me last year were Honest Accounts? (by a group of African and UK NGOs) and The State of Finance for Developing Countries, 2014 (by Eurodad). Both reports represent highly impressive attempts to calculate and compare the resources flowing in and out of Africa (the former report) and ‘developing’ countries (the latter one). What are their headline findings? Africa faces a net annual loss of $58.2 billion. And ‘developing’ countries have lost more than double the financial resources that they have received as new inflows since the financial crisis.

While different elements of these reports may be debated, it is clear that they contribute to efforts to put aid into proper context. Unfortunately, most Northern civil society organisations (CSOs) working on global poverty seem to measure their government’s concern for poor people according to the size of its aid budget. Such a mindset is tricky to change. In part, this is because many of these groups financially benefit from aid, or at least aspire to obtain official funding (my previous blog engages with this issue). Beyond this self-interest, I think they possess a general aversion to complex stories (even when talking about aid, the vast majority of CSOs focus on its quantity rather than the more intricate yet important issue of its quality).

Another complex story is that of internal politics in countries of the Global South (which in most cases, it is worth noting, has been shaped by colonialism). In my view, the nature of domestic political systems, and in particular the ways in which formal and informal institutions function, is central to the existence of widespread absolute poverty in these countries. Many have made this argument, particularly in regard to Africa, but perhaps none as powerfully as Matthew Lockwood in his landmark book The State They’re In.

I think that this view is one that many working on global poverty issues in the UK (and in the Global North more generally) find difficult to accept. In part this is due to it being a complex story, but also because such an understanding means recognising that we’re not the main actors in this struggle. While actors based in the Global North can do many useful things to help, it is their counterparts in the Global South that have the most prominent role to play in overcoming poverty.

If this reality is accepted, however, then Northern civil society can properly prioritise its areas of focus. Two key areas emerge from the preceding analysis: supporting local efforts for just and effective governance, and addressing the truly important issues that Northern governments have power over. Whatever else CSOs may work on, these two key areas should be considered cross-cutting priorities.

Any activities to help improve governance must be realistic. Avoiding the imposition of ‘best practices’ that do not fit particular contexts and are not considered relevant by local actors (both those implementing reforms and those supposed to be benefiting from them) is crucial. Similarly, as an IDS study argues, facilitating the efforts of our allies and partners to influence the interests and incentives of powerful domestic actors may be important before more ambitious reforms are attempted. In everything that we do, we must listen to the poor, particularly the most vulnerable amongst them, and build their capacities and encourage them to be critical.

Aid can obviously be one source of resources to enable this work. However, if aid is to achieve even its limited potential, major changes are necessary. The aid effectiveness agenda is only a starting point. Uncomfortable yet important threats such as aid potentially contributing to a new debt crisis, as well as it being a vehicle for (undemocratic and often damaging) economic policy conditionality, must be confronted. Going further still, the entire aid system needs to be made relevant to the 21st century (‘Aid 2.0’), and ways of working need to embrace experimentation, learning and adaptation.

At the same time, Northern actors are very restricted in the extent to which they can positively shape governance in the Global South. Northern CSOs have far more ability to influence those issues over which their own governments wield genuine power. If they truly care about overcoming global poverty, CSOs in the Global North should prioritise working on such issues based on their importance. The research by the group of African and UK NGOs and Eurodad points to the way forwards: far more resources need to be dedicated to campaigning on issues such as illicit financial flows compared to aid (to this I’d add issues such as trade where potential gains/losses are enormous compared to aid).

Achieving agreement at the UN on a strong and legitimate post-2015 development agenda is undoubtedly crucial. But even winning that battle won’t dampen the necessity of confronting and transforming dominant narratives around poverty and development. If we in Northern civil society are to rise to this challenge, I believe that, in addition to ending our obsession with receiving aid funding, it is essential to embrace complexity and address our inflated sense of self-importance.

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Band Aid for Detroit

From our friends at the Council of Canadians, here’s a reworking of the Band Aid single to highlight the assault on the human right to water as a result of the mass cut-offs in Detroit. “Here’s to them underneath that burning greed…”

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NGOs: do they really help?

NI 478-01-coverThe main section of this month’s New Internationalist opens up the existential issue of whether NGOs (and in particular international development NGOs) are now doing more harm than good around the world. The theme is an increasingly common one in blogs, magazines and academic journals from all sides – which surely makes it all the more important that it is taken seriously.

The keynote article presents a measured balance sheet of the contributions made and the damage done by INGOs, while my piece on the return of the worst forms of fundraising imagery will be familiar to those already following the debate on these pages over the past year. For those who have subscriptions to the hard copy magazine, there are critical pieces on the corporate collaborations of INGOs such as Oxfam and Save the Children, a look at WWF and ‘green imperialism’, an overview of NGOs in India, plus a response from MSF to earlier criticism of their work fighting Ebola in Sierra Leone.

There is also a handy 10-point checklist of things to consider when you are thinking of supporting an NGO, including number 9: “Can its vision and practice be seen as promoting justice and opposed to the neoliberal worldview?”

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Meeting – UK development sector and illicit drugs policy

Christian Aid and Health Poverty Action are hosting a meeting of development and other NGOs to discuss creating a joint position for the UK development sector on the issue of illicit drugs policy.  The meeting will take place at 10 am on Monday, 8 December at Health Poverty Action’s offices on the ground floor at 31-33 Bondway, London SW8 1SJ.  The office is a short walk from Vauxhall Tube and rail stations.  A map is available here:  http://www.healthpovertyaction.org/contact-us/

Health Poverty Action has recently begun working with development NGOs to engage in the growing global debate around the current ‘War on Drugs’ and its negative impacts on development, especially for poor farmers and producers.  HPA is looking especially at the effects of international and national drug policy on conflict, as well as on poverty, inequality, governance, health, and land rights.  The UN will be re-evaluating its drug policies at a Special Session of the General Assembly (UNGASS) in 2016, providing a key opportunity for the development sector to help ensure that future policies do not exacerbate conflict and poverty.  This meeting will look at developing a position statement for the sector prior to the preliminary UNGASS discussions happening in March.

If you’re interested in coming along (whether to participate or just to learn more), please contact Catherine Martin at c.martin@healthpovertyaction.org or 020 7840 3745.


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We got this, Bob Geldof, so back off

For those who haven’t seen the responses coming out of Africa to the fourth appearance of the Band Aid single earlier this week, Al Jazeera collected a number of critiques of the ‘white saviour complex’ in this article. Ghanaian musician Fuse ODG wrote a comment piece for This Is Africa explaining why he turned down Geldof’s invitation to take part in the single. Another contributor put up an open letter to Sir Bob and the other artists involved, voicing ‘a few problems’ with the single – starting with the simple question: “Do Africans know it’s Christmas? Could you be more condescending?”

The same website also reminded readers that a collective of African musicians had already come together to record a (rather better) song to raise awareness of Ebola, and to send some money in the direction of MSF at the same time. Here it is:

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Posting on behalf of Ben Simms…

We will be exploring what lessons from the global response to HIV can be applied to the 2014 outbreak of ebola in West Africa. As the number of deaths approaches 5,000, we will explore the epidemiological, cultural, and political dimensions of ebola and HIV. Speakers include Dr Edwin Mapara, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Dr Mit Philips, Médecins Sans Frontières. The discussion will be chaired byBaroness Barker. Further speakers to be confirmed.




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