Development for whom?

Denmark first? – Activist driven campaign is challenging neoliberal development policies

The development strategy of the Danish government puts corporate interests in front. Together with our partners Afrika Kontakt challenges the neoliberal development narrative.
22. februar 2018

Afrika Kontakt’s campaign ”Udvikling for hvem – Development for whom?”, which launched in summer 2017, is now going into the second round. It is aiming at challenging the new development strategy of the Danish government, “World 2030”, and establishing a counter narrative of development. While the development strategy uses the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals as a mean for “expanding the field of commercial sustainable investment in developing countries”, the collaboration with our different partners in the Global South corresponds with the criticism “development for whom?”.


Who is benefitting?

According to the Danish news site, Globalnyt, the new development strategy was met with praise from the Danish civil society, because of the recognition of the civil society as a driving actor for development. Nevertheless, Afrika Kontakt’s campaign points out what is actually lying beneath this acknowledgment – namely the important role appointed to Danish private companies, pension and equity funds to secure Danish interests. As stated by the strategy, Danish development must be “(…) driven by promoting Danish foreign and domestic policy interests (…)”. This is in clear contrast with Afrika Kontakt’s strategy, and so the campaign of “Development for whom?” is criticising the government’s strategy for pursuing a development that is driven by free trade, foreign investments and public-private partnerships whereas serving Danish security and financial interests. As Morten Nielsen, AK Head of Secretariat, states it:

“The development policies of the Danish government have changed. They became a tool for creating jobs in Denmark, make refugees stay as far away from Denmark as possible and to develop investment opportunities for Danish companies in developing countries.” - Morten Nielsen.

The implementation of this kind of development will propagate the neoliberal dominance – a fundamentalist market orientated ideology, in the interest of Danish businesses. As the development strategy puts it: “Growth in developing countries opens up new market and investment opportunities for Danish business and Danish investors”.

In Afrika Kontakt’s perception neoliberalism is the root cause of the problems the development strategy is aiming to solve. By asking “Who is benefitting from development aid?” Afrika Kontakt is trying to raise a critical debate about the specific narrative of development which is established in the framework of “World 2030”.

“In many ways the aim is to question the whole narrative about development as something good. It has been difficult to have a critical dialogue and discussion, mainly in the left wing and development organization about development aid.” - Morten Nielsen.


Market-driven growth and free trade as the way forward?

The development strategy’s four strategic goals are reflecting the overall Danish self-interest and the strategy to achieve these goals. An emphasis is put on market-driven economic growth: “Market-driven economic growth and greater freedom for each individual go hand in hand.”. As this strategy is in favour of private actors, development becomes a one-way process with very little space to meet the requirements of democracy, accountability and justice. Morten Nielsen explains:

“There is an overall focus on growth. If there is economic growth then everything is good. There is no sort of discussion about what kind of growth is wished for – is it a growth which creates a better future for the population of a country or is a growth which is ripping of a country and just a few people are getting rich?” - Morten Nielsen.

In this way, the development strategy is reduced to being an investment program for opening up new markets for Danish corporations while imprisoning the Global South as a source of income for the private sector.


We will flip the coin

In Afrika Kontakt we find it illigitimate that development is reduced to a consolation, placed by companies with their own interests in the front. Instead we are asking for a change of the development system, focusing on the mechanisms that already answered the question "development for whom“ by putting Danish interests in the front. Too often, the well-meant "development“ is part of legitimizing ressource grabs to the benefit of the corporate elite.

Therefore, our campaign is feeding into the common global campaign “Stop Corporate Impunity”. Through our calls for action, we are supporting the aim to take Transnational Corporations into responsibility for their violations of human rights, environmental plunder and mistreatment of communities whereas backing the demand for a UN binding treaty for international corporations and human rights.

“The politicians do know that people are getting killed or violated. But it is not their priority to do something against that. Our task is it to make it their priority.” - Morten Nielsen.

So far Afrika Kontakt has published a report on the involvement of the European Union in the sugar industry in Swaziland. It describes the European support of the absolute monarchy in Swaziland through corporate power and trade policies. Similar reports have been issued focusing on the corporative impunity in the extractive industry in South Africa and Zimbabwe. The reports are being used as a tool for dialogue with the EU and other key actors by local CSOs and offer legal empowerment for local communities to make use of their rights at international courts. 

In addition, we are about to publish a report about Danish investments in the coal-mining giant Vale. As a direct result of this research a number of pension funds have already withdrawn their investments in Vale after being confronted by us with their mischiefs.

“A good campaign is able to create political will to change something where there was no will before.” - Morten Nielsen.

In the following months there will be a new focus on trade agreements of the EU. An example is our working group on the Fisheries Partnership Agreement between the EU and Morocco. Here we are supporting the issue raised to the European Court of Justice by Front Polisario, concerning the Saharawi people not benefitting of European investments in the occupied territories of Western Sahara.

On the practical side we are approaching this case by confronting Danish pension funds with how their investments is supporting the Morrocan King in his violations of the Saharawi people and against their struggle for independence. This strategy has proven to be very efficient: nine pension funds are currently either in a critical dialogue with different companies or are pulling out of companies which are still investing in Western Sahara.

By getting people directly engaged and making them contact politicians to make them reconsider their political agenda or approach their pension funds to demand a change of strategy internally, we have actually been able to mobilise a broad network of civil society to support our mission.


A new narrative

The campaign “Udvikling for hvem – Development for whom?” emphasizes the perception that international development has been hijacked by neoliberal theory. It illustrates a fundamental restructuring of development mechanisms and power dynamics to make development goals serve the Danish interests. This strategy will reinforce the status quo of internal social and political as well as global power relations. So one can ask themselves: Does this strategy change something? – It definitely does. The question remains who will benefit from this change. It is our task to raise this question and get into dialogue with our allies to develop a counter-narrative of development.



Tilmeld dig og modtag Afrika Kontakts nyhedsbrev


Afrika Kontakt har løbende forskellige kampagner, der har til formål at sætte fokus på et eller flere problemer, vores partnere i Afrika oplever. 

Vores kampagner bliver koordineret af aktive i vores kampagnegruppe. Gruppen planlægger og udfører vores kampagner i samarbejde med vores projektgrupper og partnere i Afrika. Du kan her finde mere information om kampagnegruppens arbejde.