Busan was an expression of new geopolitical realities, but despite high level representation, it has done little to shape the future of development cooperation. I think there were perhaps four important outcomes from Busan, in addition to which I noted five other topics of discussion which may prove important in future.

The southern port city of Busan in South Korea was a fitting host for a meeting on aid effectiveness.  Busan was the port through which humanitarian aid arrived sixty years ago, to help the people of a country ravaged by war.  Korea’s reconstruction and development was financed in part by international aid. Beginning in 1952, American aid alone averaged about $3 billion a year (in today’s prices) and USAID had up to five hundred staff in Korea. Busan is also at one end of the Gyeongbu Expressway, the cornerstone of Korea’s first five year plan and regarded by many Koreans as one of the most important early ingredients the country’s successful industrialization.  When the road linking the country’s main population centres with the port was planned 40 years ago, Korean national income was just $142 a person a year.  The World Bank and other donors refused to finance the construction, regarding it as an excessively grandiose project for a country so poor.  So President Park Chung-hee used a quarter of the nation’s budget, topped up with some reparations from Japan, to pay for it instead. National income quadrupled in the seven years following the construction of the road.

Today Busan is a bustling, prosperous city, home of the fifth largest port in the world; and the Gyeongbu Expressway is scheduled to become part of the Asian Highway, a planned network of routes connecting Korea with Japan, China, Southeast Asia, India, Pakistan, Iran and Turkey.

Korea exemplifies much of what we know about development: the fundamental importance of economic growth and industrialisation; the need for investment in economic infrastructure; the importance of good and effective leaders; the primary role played by the country’s own resources; the additional contribution that aid can make both to improving people’s lives and to investing in development; and the capacity of aid agencies to be wrong, especially in the poverty of their aspirations for developing countries.

Busan delegates wait for Starbucks to open at the conference centre in Busan

So Busan was a suitable place for about 3000 government officials, policy wonks, NGOs and a smattering of private sector representatives to discuss how the aid system could be made more effective.  This was the fourth in a series of meetings, which have toured Rome (2003), Paris (2005) and Accra (2008).

I’ve been involved in all this since 2002, motivated by my involvement in a series of studies in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Senegal. Though we represented donor agencies ourselves, our report was outspoken in its criticisms of donor behaviour. We found that “the aspiration of a government-led process for implementing the PRS [poverty reduction strategy], with a nationally led process for monitoring, review and renewal of objectives, has yet to be realised. Instead, donors have continued to focus on their own timetables, their missions, their conditions, and have demanded information to suit their requirements.”  Our reports on the experience of developing countries were part of the evidence which led to the Rome Declaration on Harmonisation the following year.  Yet despite the best efforts of many good people, the problems we identified ten years ago are, if anything, even worse today.

Since 2003 these summits have grown in size and attracted increasingly senior representation.  Among the roughly three thousand people in Busan were Ban Ki-moon, Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, a brace of Presidents, a Prime Minister, and hundreds of ministers and senior officials. If this group did not have the authority to make progress on improving aid, it was difficult to know who would.  Negotiations on the communique began back in July and were concluded with the publication on the last day of the meeting of the “Busan Partnership for Effective Development“.

Now that the dust has settled, and many words have been written, it seems to me that there were four significant outcomes from Busan.

The Bexco Conference Centre in Busan

First, the beginning of a new global partnership. This is the result of Busan which the OECD and traditional donors have been most keen to emphasize.  It was not clear right up to the last day whether China, and perhaps other new donors, would be willing to agree to the declaration; and much of the last day was spent refining and agreeing to this key disclaimer which had to be included to persuade China to sign: “The principles, commitments and actions agreed in the outcome document in Busan shall be the reference for South-South partners on a voluntary basis.”  With this disclaimer the new donors are not bound to any particular commitments to improve their aid, but it must be a step forward everyone accepts the need of these new donors to be part of the conversation. Note that there was no need to weaken the specific commitments of traditional donors as a price of China’s agreement, since China was never likely to sign up to these commitments anyway. For example, the October draft would have committed all the donors who had signed the Accra Agenda for Action to “untie all aid by 2015″ – this was taken out of the Busan agreement in the final days at the request not of China, who would not have been bound by it, but of the United States.

Second, the new deal for fragile states. A group of 19 fragile and conflict-affected countries, known as the g7+, has been working with donors on how to improve peacebuilding and statebuilding efforts in these situations, beyond the aid effectiveness agenda.   The main idea has been to focus on five themes: legitimate politics, justice, security, economic foundations, and revenues and services. The resulting “New Deal for Engagement in Fragile States” was endorsed at Busan.  For more information see this article by ODI’s Alasdair McKechnie, and this blog entry by Fernanda Faria at ECDPM.

Third, significant progress on transparency.  Since Accra, transparency has shifted from the periphery to the centre of the discourse on aid effectiveness.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earned a round of spontaneous applause for her announcement that the United States would be signing the International Aid Transparency Initiative, taking the membership of IATI up to 75 percent of global aid. Donors committed to draw up plans within a year, explaining how by 2015 they will publish electronically full details of all current and planned future aid projects in a common, open standard. Stephanie Majerowicz and I have written elsewhere about the contribution that the Open Government Partnership may have made to this progress. It also owes a great deal to leadership by the UK and Sweden, and the World Bank and EU, as well as civil society organisations Publish What You Fund, Development Gateway and aidinfo.

Fourth, significant changes in the international governance of the aid system.  This may be one of the most important outcomes of Busan, yet it has so far attracted little comment.  The Busan agreement abolishes the Working Party on Aid Effectiveness, which is technically a sub-committee of the OECD DAC but in practice has become a sprawling network of committees and meetings which had come to represent a broader group of stakeholders than the donor club in which it had been incubated. In its place will be a new “Global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation”, to be supported by the OECD and UNDP. Though it may seem impolite to point this out, this change relegates the DAC back to the role of a caucus of traditional official donors, representing a dwindling proportion of aid, in defiance of its aspirations to lead reforms of the global governance of development cooperation. Even more significantly, Busan turns its back on the requirement of unanimity which has underpinned agreements on the aid system for the last 50 years. The DAC makes decisions by consensus, giving all its members a veto so that it moves only at the speed of the slowest ship in the convoy.  But that is not how Busan envisages progress in future.  The implementation of Busan will take place through a series of ‘building blocks‘ which are described as “voluntary, practical and actionable game-changers in the global dialogue on aid and development effectiveness.”  This model was apparently conceived in in the light of the experience of work on transparency – the issue on which most progress has been made since Accra – which was taken forward by a coalition of the willing in the form of the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Stepping outside the DAC structures enabled a group of donors, foundations and civil society to work together without the constraint of an implicit veto of reluctant partners.  Busan marks a shift in the global governance of development cooperation from consensus in the DAC to the ‘variable geometry’ of building blocks. The declaration highlights  the ”opportunities presented by diverse approaches to development cooperation”.  There are new commitments for all donors on transparency, and the declaration calls for “a selective and relevant set of indicators and targets through which we will monitor progress”. (It is hard to see how these targets will be agreed in the coming months given that no consensus could be reached in the run-up to Busan.)  But beyond exposing their behaviour to public scrutiny, there is little else to which donors have specifically committed.  This evolution of the architecture for the global governance of development cooperation towards progress by more flexible coalitions of the willing has obvious parallels with the direction in which the global governance of climate change is also moving.

In addition to these four outcomes on which progress was made, I noted five other themes being discussed in Busan which were not translated into significant progress, but which may be issues to watch for the future. These were:

  • everyone wants a shift from aid effectiveness to development effectiveness - the importance of this change in perspective was emphasized by many people, especially the delegations from Africa.  It is intended to mean focusing more on non-aid policies, and talking more about development outcomes. Everybody said they were in favour of such a shift, but this does not seem to have had much effect on the Busan agreement.
  • there is greater recognition of the role civil society.  The Accra meeting in 2008 was notable for the involvement of civil society in the meeting. Busan went further by including a civil society representative in the drafting committee, which led to specific recognition (in para 22) of the role that civil society plays in the development process, especially in enabling people to claim their rights and in service delivery.
  • everyone is talking about ‘the results agenda’. I actually think there are at least three results agendas, not wholly consistent with each other.  My CGD colleagues hosted a side event on results, which in my (not unbiased) view was one of the better discussions in Busan.  But overall there was not much progress on results from Busan, other than calling for developing countries to put in place specific results frameworks at country level. I anticipate that one of the most important ‘building blocks’ after Busan will be on how the development system can do a better job of identifying relevant results, and how to avoid the risk that a focus on results leads to misallocation of money, for example away from longer term and institutional changes towards short-term and easy to measure results.
  • the notion of mutual accountability is evolving.  As Nancy Birdsall pointed out on the CGD blog, there seems to be less focus on ‘mutual accountability’ between donors and developing countries, and more attention to accountability of donors to their taxpayers and of aid-recipient governments to their own citizens in their use of aid.
  • there is more talk about the private sector.  There were lots of meetings about the private sector and its role in development, but I got the impression that it was mainly discussions between governments, development finance institutions, and some government affairs and corporate social responsibility representatives of firms from industrialised countries. I saw no sign of any businesses from developing countries being part of the discussion. I wonder what anyone really involved in business would have made of Busan.

I’m glad to see more people taking development effectiveness seriously, and impressed that the UN General Secretary and US Secretary of State felt it worth their while to attend.   I also agree that it is important to build broader coalitions, and to think strategically about development and not just aid.  But I also regret that, as a consequence, these meetings are gradually losing the focus on more technical issues about how aid is delivered.  In 2003, the signatories to the Rome Declaration committed themselves to amend their “individual institutions’ and countries’ policies, procedures and practices to facilitate harmonisation”.  Yet in 2011 in Busan, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, gave a masterclass in aid effectiveness, in which he observed

Developing countries spend more time and energy agreeing on procedures and accounting to donors and an ever-increasing number of related non-state actors than in actual development work, often responding to endless questioning that no answers can fully satisfy.

As Busan has shifted the discussion away from the nuts and bolts of how aid is delivered, and pushed much of the specific discussion of aid effectiveness to country level, it is not clear to me that there is any place left to address the concerns about donor agency policies which President Kagame so eloquently expressed.

In years to come, I expect that we will look back on the Busan agreement as a reflection of changing realities, including the growing range of different kinds of donors and shifting geopolitical power.  I think it less likely that we will look back on Busan as having done much to shape those realities.

Further reading:

Aid Alert: China Officially Joins the Donor Club By Nancy Birdsall (President of CGD), December 5, 2011

Busan HLF4: The will and the way By Brian Atwood (Chair of DAC), December 8, 2011

Busan has been an expression of shifting geopolitical realities  By Jonathan Glennie (ODI / Guardian), December 2, 2011

A View from Busan By Andris Piebalgs (EU Development Commissioner), December 5, 2011

Reflections on Busan By Judith Randel (Development Initiatives), December 9, 2011

Beyond Aid to Open Development By Alan Hudson (ONE), December 6, 2011

Moving towards open development By Sanjay Pradhan (World Bank), December 1, 2011

Busan: Yes we could By Patrick Love (OECD), November 30, 2011

An unnoticed but crucial development summit By Manuel Manrique (FRIDE), December 4, 2011

Busan: A Bang or a Whimper? By Alan Hudson (ONE), December 2, 2011

Busan: Why Aid Effectiveness Matters By Jessica Espey (Save the Children), December 1, 2011

Busan Forum: Aid promises come tumbling down By Sanda Van Damm and Jennifer Martin (Oxfam), November 29, 2011

Verdict still out on whether Busan is a good deal for poor countries By Oxfam, December 1, 2011

Two-speed aid effectiveness By Stefan Leiderer & Stephan Klingebiel, December 7, 2011

‘Value for money’ or ‘Results Obsession Disorder’? By Marcus Leroy (ex Belgian Development Cooperation), December 7, 2011

A killing embrace of diversity By Reinier van Hoffen, December 6, 2011

Towards more effective aid By Axel von Trotsenburg (World Bank), December 1, 2011

Written Ministerial Statement: Outcome of the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness By Andrew Mitchell (UK Secretary of State), December 7, 2011

Three-way-learning. The South-South Agenda in BusanBy Han Fretters (World Bank), December 1, 2011

Aid architecture debate surfaces new ideas, appetite for dialogue By Axel van Trotsenburg (World Bank), December 2, 2011

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14 Responses to What happened in Busan?

  • Thanks Owen. I’m particularly interested in the fourth outcome on global governance as it could have implications for expectations in implementing the International Health Partnership, which I’m involved in monitoring (www.ihpresults.net). Why do you think this area has received so little attention in the post-Busan analysis? To what extent do you feel that your interpretation of this outcome is shared amongst the traditional donors as a vision for making progress – coalitions of the willing? Grateful for your further thoughts.

  • This is a very helpful wrap up of the debates at Busan, many thanks.

    Watching from afar, one thing that struck me from some of the high-level presentations by Helen Clark, Hilary Clinton and Queen Rania was the way in which they related discussions about aid-effectiveness to issues that are relevant to people’s lives, including gender equality and education. It would be great if post-Busan assessments could bring the issues back to such realities. There is already growing evidence on this in relation to health (eg from Save the Children and others), and on education from our work in the Education for All Global Monitoring Report – see: http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0021/002144/214454E.pdf

    This shift would help ensure that monitoring post-Busan moves beyond a technical exercise at the global level towards not only greater attention at the country level (as President Kagame articulated) but also to the level of people to ensure aid and development finance is used to overcome disadvantage and narrow inequality gaps.

  • Thank you for this summary. I think what has also been ignored is the greaterv power shown by a coalition of Africa governments under the Africa Platform for Development Effectivenness (Apdev-www.africa-platform.org) and the way g7+ states managed to mobiize support for the New Deal. It is indeed a show that power is shifting. The Africa CSO Platform on Principled Partnership( ACP) was at Busan and we have an analysis that can be found at http://www.cso-effectiveness.org/looking-forward-civil-society,558.html

  • >>the October draft would have committed all the donors who had signed the Accra Agenda for Action to “untie all aid by 2015″ – this was taken out of the Busan agreement in the final days at the request not of China, who would not have been bound by it, but of the United States<<

    This is truly shocking, with the US Secretary of State herself present and answerable to a liberal and enlightened US President. Perhaps their hands were tied by the knowledge that they wouldn't get untying through the Congress. Pretty shameful, even if so.

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