What’s ODA? It’s definition has been changed…

I was about to write Part 3 of the 2015 SDSR when

this news release appeared. In summary, the UK along with others Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development Development Assistance (OECD-DAC) have altered the definition of Official Assistance (ODA). This is further detailed in by DAC members. DIFD’s news release provides an easy summary of some of the new definitions here:

*official aid can be used to support the military in fragile countries on issues that promote development, such as human rights and the prevention of sexual violence; this means the international community is better equipped to meet Global Goal 16 (of theSustainable Development Goals ) which calls for the stronger governance in developing countries to prevent violence and combat terrorism and crime

*tackling violent extremism is now formally recognised as a development activity; more than 90% of terrorist attacks occur in states with weak governance and poor human rights records

*donors are incentivised to work more with the private sector to boost economic development and create jobs in some of the world’s poorest countries.

My thoughts”

1) Yes, conflict and fragile states are an increasing issue for development agencies and practitioners. It ma sound welcome that ODA will now be considered ODA in military activities, but that comes as a huge U-turn for donors who see aid as development work, not for military purposes. The UK’s DFID was founded based on the principle that any UK aid would be only considered as development aid, not aid for military means. This was specifically noted in legal format through the 2002 International Development Act. But wait, ok, it says that ODA will be ODA now when the military is involved in the “prevention of sexual violence”. That may be development, but opening up the definition still could mean opening up for abuse, especially for other donors. (Hint, the USAID.)

2) Linking to the first part about conflict/fragile states, ODA will now be ODA if it curbs extremism. Again, this is a murky area–yes, extremism inhibits development. But calling finances to stop development could mean throwing money to projects that are for ad-hoc purposes and may just stop the action for a short term. It might further mean financial flows to groups that only prevent violence, not consider the eventual progression or development of the society or country.

3) Private sector. Well yes many donors have been focused on the private sector, especially since neoclassical economics and neoliberalism says the private sphere is the better way for development. DFID itself established a Private Sector Team for this purpose. Yes, the private sector do aid in development, but no, it is also susceptible to failure (basic development economics.) ODA now will be a financial boost for the private sector (I’m still not sure what is point is a bout). What about OOF (Other Official Flows?) And to take the Ha-Joon Chang argument, a focus on the private sector should not ignore the public sector or state.

ODA ‘s definition does need a change, but changing it opens up more questions, chief of which, is this really development?

More on this at a later time.

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