Dili Consensus

g7+ and the New Development Paradigm

Guteriano Neves,

Researcher at the Timor-Leste Presidential

Center for Research and Analysis


The discussion on development is an endless topic. It always evolves as human civilization does. Transformation in the global geo-political arena and economic development are the result of development. However, such transformation also will shape the new agenda for development. What has been interesting to many parties is that how development agendas are shaped and framed, and their applications across the world. Many have come to admit that the development agendas were shaped by rich countries or donors, which try to impose these upon developing countries, who are mostly the aid recipients. Since the new millenium, evidence across the globe established strong evidence to claim that old model partnership can no longer be effective. Therefore, many efforts have been undertaken to change both the way development agendas are shaped and the model of these partnerships. Amid the wide discussion about the challenges that the world is facing, the inception of the G7+ group has been praised as the new strategy to change the partnership model and to enrich wider discussion about the development paradigm. Although in general, the objective of the group is to make their voices heard more loudly, this group also has also contributed to recent discussion about the development paradigm. The recent discussion in Dili, although, have not attracted much attention, yet it is expected that it will contribute to the Post-2015 development agenda.

“Development” Evolves

Development is an ambiguous term. It has been used across the globe, transcended across cultures and generations. However, it is almost impossible to come up with a definition that would include and represent diversity across the globe. Differences in culture, history, politics and economics make it hard to do so.

Although there are recognition over such differences, during the last sixty years various development models have been tried by the international community to solve crosscutting issues that the the world is facing. Many critics have argued that the development agendas over the last fifty to sixty years were shaped by the rich countries, influenced by desire to control. Some critics go even further by arguing that “development” is another term to harmonize new-colonialism. Amid this mistrust, though, development is always denoted with progress and change to better conditions, which is not always the case when it comes to implementation. Many countries failed to achieve what is “internationally agreed” upon. Instead of moving forward, some are even moving backward, as the “internationally agreed” development agenda did not conform with their reality or context.

During the last sixty years, development agendas evolved to conform with the changes in the international political, and economic situation. Right after the Second World War, development was about wealth creation, nation-formation, and GDP growth rate. At this time, the objective of development efforts was to generate more wealth as measured by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). State-led development, and five-year plans were famous at that time.Throughout Asia, Africa and South America, the public sector was dominant — as the principal employer. The public sector was the catalyst for industrialization. Nationalist policies were implemented to tackle poverty, to substitute imported goods, as well to achieve economic independence. In the developing countries, physical infrastructure, such as roads, ports, and dams were built. On the other hand, social sectors like education, health and agriculture were neglected at that time.

It is evident that wealth generation is not enough if it is not accompanied by equal distribution or the trickle down effect. In such situations, some got richer and richer, while others were getting poorer.

By the 1970s, academics, development practicioners, and world leaders came to realize that it is not sufficient to have economic growth. The term “poverty” came to enrich the discussion on development.  Balakrisnan Rajagopal, in his book, International Law from Below, underscored that poverty received major attention at that time because the policy-makers in Washington found that the poverty was a major threat to national security interests of the United States. From this point of view, as the poverty increases it provides increased opportunity for communism to flourish. For that reason, fighting against poverty became the major development agenda at that time.

By the early 1980s, free trade and free market dominated the discussion of the development. While poverty was still an issue, the approach was to increase economic integration and trade. Countries were required to open up their domestic market for foreign direct investment, and to increase their external trade.  The State was no longer seen as an effective institution to manage development because many regimes were are corrupt and predatory. The countries that suffered a balance of payment deficit were required to increase external trade, tighten up their fiscal policies, and thus reduced social spending.

By late 1980s, and the early 1990s, as the Cold War ended it transformed international geo-politics, including development agendas. Issues like democracy, good governace, human rights, and sustainable development came to the forefront. While poverty was still an issue, it was not seen as the independent variable as it relates to democracy, good governance, human rights, and environmental issues. International Financial Insitutions, the UN system, development agencies, and international NGOs were lining up to to fight for these issues across the globe.  And since the new millennium, as the international community learned more from previous experiences, as new evidence was established, the international community decided to establish a new agenda. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a driving factor guiding development efforts since the dawn of the new millennium. And after eleven years since its inception, well-established evidence suggests that many countries are still lagging behind achieving MDGs.

Looking back to the evolution of the development agendas after Second World War, development agendas have been the subject of domination and resistance. The claim is that development is a term that is deployed to control based on the historical of how this term has evolved over the past sixty years. Development agendas were determined by the rich countries with less participation of the poor and developing countries. The rich countries also imposed such development agendas through conditional aid to the developing and poor countries. Therefore, many agendas were said to be a matter of global consensus, but poor and developing countries still found themselves left out of such consensus. In such situations, the feeling of ownership was simply not there.

At the same time, since the new millennium, a new realization has emerged in the international community that the developing countries need to own the development agenda themselves. Development should not treat developing countries as the passive agent, or “sick man that needs a remedy,” but the people should be the active agent. Development should not be introduced by the elites, but there has to be mechanism where by the people can participate in deciding what works better for them in their own context. At the same time, a new model for partnership has also emerged. Before, there were “donors” and “recipient,” now there are only “development partners.”

g7+, New Deal,  Dili Consensus: Chalenging Development Paradigm?

The expression of “fragile-state” is relatively a new concept in the development cycle, and internatonal relations theory. The issue of fragility did not attract much attention until recently, at least during the last ten years. During the first decade of millenium, this concept was merely discussed among scholars in the so-called developed countries.

Just recently, the issues of fragility got wider attention, considering the fact that many extreme poverty cases existed in the fragile countries and none of the fragile countries will achieve the targets set by the MDGs. Despite international efforts to tacke the problems, it is admitted in the OECD Report “International Engagement in Fragile States: Can’t we do Better?” that “in the world’s most difficult development situation, poorly conceived involvement can do more harm than good.” The situation that fragile countries are facing is not only about lack of economic growth. It is also about legacies of colonialism and violent conflict, weak state institutions, a culture of impunity, the absence of a foundation for sustainable economic growth, high dependency on single commodity, weak legitimacy of the state, and other factors. This situation provokes deep reflection on the ineffectiveness of the aid to the fragile states. Therefore, many efforts advocate approaching fragile states differently, as they pose different challenges from other developing countries.

On the other hand, many fragile states also still view that previous partnership model did not help much as the development partners put a lot of conditions to the aid. Adding to that, the leaders in the fragile countries also view that the development partners failed to understand the multidimensional context that the people in the fragile states are facing.

Four years since the Dili declaration, fragile countries have come to challenge conventional attitudes. Since its inception in 2010, there has been wider discussion about the development in the fragile states, and a new paradigm of development in the fragile states has been proposed. The Dili Declaration, the New Deal adopted in Busan, and the recent Dili Consensus are the outcome of their efforts. Reading through these documents, there are some distinctive features of how fragile countries view development.

First, it is internationally accepted that fragile states have a unique situation. Populations in the fragile states have lived through many years of violent conflict, and the present social fabricis made to great extent out of a legacy of violence, colonialism and occupation. In such a situation, implementation of the international development agenda also needs to differ from other countries, as they pose a different situation. In such a situation, a  “one size fits all” model no longer applies.

Second, by uniting in a group, G7+ make their voices louder and more influential. Many international events have been held, and the issue of fragility havs receivedgreater international attention than in the past. The endorsement of New Deal during the Busan High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, November 2011, was a landmark to the group. At least from the point of view of fragile states, for the first time they asked their development partners to listen to what they say. And the recent meeting in Dili, will be the milestone for the post-2015 development agenda, because based on the Dili Consensus, the expectation was that whatever the outcome of post-2015 agenda will take specific realities in the fragile countries into consideration.

Third, from the point of view of fragile states, having effective and efficient state institutions is a pre-condition to achieve sustainable peace and sustainable economic development. In order to build the state, it it imperative that the state should acquire legitimacy from its citizens. In such a situation, as I have argued in my previous article about state legitimacy, the state’s legitimacy will depend on state’s visibility in the society, participatory development process, and inclusive economic development. These are the center of the development in the fragile states, where the institutions are weak, that leads to lack of economic growth. This, in turn undermines state’s legitimacy in the society.

Fourth, economic development is not merely about wealth generation. It’s also about equity, employment generation,  and poverty reduction. Many fragile states are rich in natural resources, but the revenues are not fairly shared among their citizens. In such a situation, horizontal conflicts begin to appear. Therefore, economic development should not be oriented solely to economic growth, but more important is to have equal share of such growth and job creation. At the end of the day, to borrow the Prime Minister of Timor-Leste’s closing remarks at the International Conference recently held in Dili, “it is not only about development for all, but development by all as well.”

Fifth, a new partnership has also emerged out of recent discussion. Fragile countries are demanding to play more active roles in designing and implementing development agendas. The concept of “national ownership,” “country system,” and “mutual trust” are the principles that underline new partnership model. In this new partnership model, it is conspicous that the governments in the fragile states want to be more proactive to decide what they think works better for them. Moreover, the notion that every development agenda should be “nationally owned” and should be reflected in national development priorities.


During the last sixty years, we have seen development evolve as the new challenges emerged over time. It is fair to say that most of the development agendas have been shaped by the rich countries and imposed on the developing countries through various mechanisms. In the last ten years, we also have seen the realization emerge internationally that development should not treat developing countries as a “sick man that needs a remedy,” but as people who live with their own experiences, knowledge, history, and context that define them. And in the last three years, fragile countries united to make their voices louder in the international forum, and challenged the previous development paradigm. These are positive steps that fragile states have made to contribute to the international discussion on development. But for the people in the street in Dili, Monrovia, Kabul, or elsewhere, until the their lives have changed, good documents are meaningless to them.