Time and time again, the debate on aid and cooperation receives the news of paradigms being changed, of new actors entering the field, threatening or heralding the breaking of the old rules and the instatement of new ones. “Traditional” donors, especially those that seek to place (or keep) themselves in the leadership of either financial donations (such as the World Bank, OECD-DAC,…) or development thought (here again the World Bank and OECD-DAC but also countries like the US and the UK) have recently devoted resources into academic research to better understand the role of the Rising Powers in Development.
In the shade, however, an indeed revolutionary way of cooperating for development is taking shape. Stemming from the OECD-DAC’s acknowledgement that development aid to “fragile states” was facing unsurmountable challenges and successive failures, given the specific nature of these countries and under the leadership of the fledgling country of Timor-Leste, Sierra Leone and Liberia, a new group was formed. The G7+ group of conflict afflicted countries started from their own acknowledgement of fragility. It started also with the affirmation that such specific status, never experienced by the almost totality of donor countries, made the G7+ countries the “experts” in their own development path. This was a powerful statement! It also made each G7+ country a solidary peer of the others and potentially, given its own capacities, history and learnings, an actor of development cooperation. This, even if eventually borrowing inspiration in the Non-Aligned Movement, is, indeed a different paradigm in development cooperation! In the last months, Guinea-Bissau experienced such cooperation from a fellow G7+ country, Timor-Leste.
G7+ cooperation in practice
In the 12th of April 2012, democratic legitimacy in Guinea-Bissau was disrupted by a military coup. Most of the international community that promptly reacted (including the UN, African Union, US, Brazil, Russia, China and Lusophone Community) did not recognize validity to the exposed arguments for the coup, nor to the “transitional government”. However, ECOWAS did recognize it, creating a diplomatic stand-off. Only in January 2013 and in what was probably the first coordinated act of the Lusophone Community (CPLP), ECOWAS and the “transition regime” were driven to accept former Timorese President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate José Ramos Horta to lead the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Guinea-Bissau. Arguably, the Timorese experience of transition into regular political functioning after a 2006 civil strife that almost victimized Ramos Horta himself, was one of the reasons for his nomination.
Just recently, in the weekend of May 18th 2014, two years after the coup, an intense, peaceful and with record participation period of parliamentary and presidential elections was completed, returning Guinea-Bissau to institutional normalcy, without significant political contestation of the results. Throughout the preparation, most of the public narrative mimicked that of Timor: the need for openness between parties; the right to peaceful campaigning, highlighting contending parties’ rallies that occurred simultaneously, at close distance… and in peace; the need for transparent electoral process but also to an acceptance of the results by all parties and the military. During the same period, a Timorese blog, linked with the Timorese Presidency reflected on the governance aspects of regimes led by military juntas, using Latin American countries as case studies. Timor-Leste was probably reflecting on a process it was trying to assist.
A true diplomacy of solidarity
The process is just in its beginning. Meanwhile, Timor-Leste will lead CPLP from mid-2014 and is already intensifying the diplomatic and cooperation ties with other Portuguese Speaking Nations in Africa and even Portugal, the former colonizer, to which they offered to buy some of its rampant national debt (in a humbling turn of events for the European country). This small country’s diplomacy of solidarity, an expression that Brazilian President Lula da Silva used so many times, is taking shape. It is not a proud display of “successes” to share, like Brazil is doing, be it Bolsa Familia, ProSavana or the new project World Without Poverty, “a joint initiative focused on learning from the implementation of and innovations in poverty reduction programs in Brazil and sharing lessons from Brazil’s experience with the rest of the world”. It is not a “mutual benefit” Chinese model that invests in economic infrastructure such is recovering and widening railway routes linking original sites of raw natural resources to main ports (a model as old as industrial era colonialism). It isn’t conditional, paternalistic, nor seeks to impose the “right process of development” as so many times the “traditional” “Northern” aid model still finds itself being. It stems from shared challenges, the recognition that only positive collaborative relations can strengthen countries “in development” and the willingness to assist when need occurs, as the Timorese Resistance was assisted, namely by the African Portuguese Speaking countries and later Portugal and Brazil in the fight for independence.
At that time, some of the poorer countries in Africa assisted a weak and silenced effort of resistance that ultimately won. That ethos of cooperation and solidarity widens now the bonds between Timor, other CPLP countries and the G7+ countries. Maybe, this is a paradigm worth to learn more about… and foster.
Ricardo Goulão Santos is a PhD candidate working on education and employability in a post-conflict setting within the IDS Conflict, Violence and Development of the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction research team. He is also a visiting researcher at the National University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL).