Official development and a liberation agenda

(Sept. 15, 2011)

Political debate in Canada about the future of this country’s development assistance programs is what pushed me to start writing about development.

Canada’s aid program has its roots in the 1950s. Cold War competition and fruitful interaction with a generation of new leaders in the Commonwealth led Canada into new relationships with many newly independent “developing nations.”

In 1960, the External Aid Office was created. In 1968, near the end of a period when Canadian governments found new roles in social policy, health care, human rights and international development, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) was created to administer the bulk of Canada’s official development assistance (ODA) programs.

CIDA’s aim is“to manage Canada’s support and resources effectively and accountably to achieve meaningful, sustainable results and engage in policy development in Canada and internationally, enabling Canada’s effort to realize its development objectives. CIDA works in concert with its development partners, fragile states and countries in crisis, countries of focus, and the Canadian population and institutions.”

“God is Good,” says the broken-down water truck in Delmas, Port-au-Prince (2011)

Initially, CIDA administered the bulk of Canada’s ODA program in Africa, the Middle East, the Americas, and Asia. “In 1995, CIDA took on the responsibility of administering Canada’s official assistance (OA) programs in Central and Eastern Europe, and the former Soviet Union (countries in transition) by supporting democratic development and economic liberalization.”

A liberation agenda

Some in the north sought to participate in official development programs while maintaining both a lively critique of the programs and advancing a liberation agenda. As the Canadian Interchurch Fund for International Development (ICFID*—an ancestor of KAIROS) was formed in 1973, its member churches provided a definition of development that served the churches for the next 25 years or so:

“Development is a process of continuous change by which any country, any specific population, or sector of population in its natural, cultural, or social milieu and at a definite stage in history, within a framework of international relations, seeks liberation, both material and spiritual, by:

  • transforming its structures of production;
  • establishing new social relationships;
  • acquiring for itself adequate political and administrative institutions;
  • recreating or strengthening its own culture for the purpose of achieving a better quality of life.”

* ICFID: Robert Fugere, “The Interchurch Fund for International Development,” in Christopher Lind and Joe Mihevc, eds. (1994), Coalitions for Justice, Ottawa: Novalis, p. 220.

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