Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Editorial / 25-year anniversary issue

Independent, fact-based reporting more needed than ever, news on aid is no exception

Development Today has now been in publication for 25 years. Over this period, our mission has been to provide fact-based, independent news and analysis to decision makers and others working with Nordic development assistance. In our increasingly fragmented information society, we think it is more important than ever.  

The first issue of DT was launched on December 6, 1991 by a group of dedicated Nordic journalists committed to establishing a publication that was not funded or controlled by the donors or other players in the aid field. They put equity amounting to NOK 50,000 on the table and a bank provided a small credit on top of that.

Operating from a backyard office in Akersgata, Oslo’s Fleet Street at the time, the first issue of the journal was produced. Then, it was all about paper. Only in the mid-1990s did internet speed up the pace, revolutionising modern communication.

When DT started, aid politics was dominated by bilateral agreements with a few recipient countries and each donor’s national commercial interests took big slices of the aid pie. The top story in the first issue of the journal was an aid-financed trade war between two ABB-owned companies in East Africa. Finland’s ABB Strömberg exported transformers to Kenya financed by mixed credits subsidised by Finnish aid. It was competing with a local transformer plant in Arusha, Tanelec, also partly owned by ABB and subsidised by Norwegian aid.

Back then, most aid documents were secret; transparency was an unfamiliar concept. And aid was a welcome financier and door opener in new markets for companies anxious to take part in the new era of globalisation. Bribing in Africa was deductible at home for most Nordic companies.

During the 1990s, Denmark was the most generous donor. A decade later, DT reported that the new Liberal-Conservative government in Copenhagen was slashing aid. It was to be the beginning of the downward trend in Danish aid spending which is now at 0.7 per cent of GNI. 

In December 2001, the journal carried a story about UN Secretary General Kofi Annan who was in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which he shared with the United Nations. Referring to the September 11 terror attack in the United States, he said: “We have entered the third millennium through a gate of fire.”

LOOKING FORWARD

Over the next 15 years globalisation and the war on terror would shape aid in different ways.

Tens of billions of aid dollars followed in the footsteps of military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, billions in humanitarian aid are directed at Syria and neighboring countries as Western countries’ refuse to get involved in a new war in the Middle East and millions of refugees suffer.

The global economic map is unrecognisable. China and Brazil are new players and providers of aid. Who would have believed 25 years ago that aid recipients like Kenya and Tanzania would be among the fastest-growing economies in the world?

The disbursement and geographic reach of development assistance have also changed. In the fall of 2000, the UN adopted the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which became important milestones in the aid field. In the wake of the MDGs, rich countries agreed on a crucial debt relief plan for developing countries.

Modern aid is channelled through a huge web of institutions and mechanisms like the Global Fund and the vaccine alliance GAVI. Global public goods like climate have been given more space in aid, which in some cases diverts funds from poor recipients.

As we move forward, uncertainty dominates the global scene. The new US President Donald Trump argues in favour of trade barriers and challenges the rules of the globalisation game. American aid is probably in for deep cuts. This will have huge implications on global aid, the United States being the largest bilateral donor.

As for journalism, we see an overwhelming flow of information - not least through social media. Overall this should be a blessing, but it has also made the media universe fragmented and fluid. Internet has democratised the flow of information, while at the same time paving the way for manipulation, fake news and “alternative facts.” In this information universe, we believe an independent news service is more important than ever; news about the development field being no exception. We are sticking with our original idea. We still believe in steady, critical and - independent - investigative reporting.