Archive

gifts and giving

A lot has been written about foreign aid in the Middle East and the analytical framework offered by gift theories. An author can hardly wish a better ‘last post’ than a story written by life. While most development aid (ODA) – as financially un-reciprocated grant – is provided to Palestine, Egypt, Jordan (and Turkey), the biggest beneficiary of US military aid, however, is Israel.

A few days ago, the US Embassy in Israel – wishing shana tova before the Jewish New Year – sent gifts to Israeli and international organizations (civil society and non-governmental organizations included). It contained, among others, a bottle of wine from Jewish settlements. As reported by Reuters, +972mag and Newsweek, ‘one of the recipients of the gift basket containing settlement produce was Peace Now, an anti-settlement organization that monitors the Israeli government’s settlement policies and activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.’

While the message to most people is that ‘it is impossible to distinguish between Israel and its illegal settlements these days’, the explanation ‘accidental’ and ‘unintentional’ says equally much about the nature and unintended impacts of foreign gifts – foreign aid – channeled to the region. It is worthwhile to quote Mauss (1928/2002, 16):

“one must give back to another person what is really part and parcel of his nature and substance, because to accept something from somebody is to accept some part of his spiritual essence, of his soul. To retain that thing would be dangerous and mortal, not only because it would be against law and morality, but also because that thing coming from the person not only morally, but physically and spiritually, that essence, that food those goods, whether movable or immovable, those women or those descendants, those rituals or those acts of communion—all exert a magical or religious hold over you.”

Gifts – let them be private or public, innocent or calculated – have ‘magical, religious, and spiritual force’ even today. It applies at least as much to official foreign aid as to private donations. A bottle of wine can be rejected for its ‘spiritual essence’. Billions or a few thousands of dollars?  No way.

Empirical data collected in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (last summer, so far unpublished) reveal that (at least) two “aid industries” exist in parallel. As expressed by one of our respondents (leader of an Islamic charity, Sept 21, 2015, Gaza Strip):

“We don’t get any support from European and American donors, these donors don’t deal with us, they are ashamed to deal with us. While they know the we are association providing services for wounded people, they think that the wounded people are military personnel; on the contrary, all the wounded people are civilians. They have been injured during the years of the Intifada and during the wars or the bombing of the Israeli army for many places and houses in Gaza. There are is a very sensitivity to the word ‘wounded’ or ‘injured’ or ‘prisoner’ by those donors (European and American), these donors are boycotting all the Palestinian associations dealing with these category of people wounded or prisoners.”

The one which is “ashamed” to deal with the other has also been accused of promoting neoliberal ideas at the expense of local, Palestinian national (nation-building) interests.

With reference to this complex world (of opinions and realities) two recent publications deserve attention:

Marie Juul Petersen (2015): For Humanity Or For The Umma?: Aid and Islam in Transnational Muslim NGOs. London: Hurst and Co

The book explores how Muslim NGOs conceptualise their provision of aid and the role Islam plays in this and offers insights into a new kind of NGO in the global field of aid provision. It also contributes more broadly to understanding ‘public Islam’ as something beyond political Islam. The book is based on empirical case studies of four of the biggest transnational Muslim NGOs, and draws on extensive research in Britain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Jordan and Bangladesh.

Linda Tabar and Omar Jabary Salamanca, eds (2015): Critical Readings of Development under Colonialism. Towards a Political Economy for Liberation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Ramallah: Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and Birzeit University’s Center for Development Studies

The point of departure of this latter publication is to elaborate on “the critical development discourse in Palestine” that has “become part of the overall debate of development under colonial settings.”

 

Reading (so far only) excerpts from A. Furia’s book on foreign aid and gift-giving (Palgrave Pilot, 2015), one may find references to an ‘old’ declaration by Julius Nyerere. The Arusha Declaration (1967) deals extensively with foreign assistance (‘external aid’) which was sorted into three (basically non-desired) categories by (the early/young) Nyerere: gifts, loans and private investments. Gifts were understood as a non-reciprocated transfer: ” another government gives our Government a sum of money as a free gift for a particular development scheme. Sometimes it may be that an institution in another country gives our Government, or an institution in our country, financial help for development programmes.” For Nyerere it was the less favourable form of aid as long as he understood it as a ‘gentle’ means endangering independence and sovereignty. Regardless to the fact that foreign aid was eventually ‘accepted’ by the Tanzanian government, the reason for rejecting it may be worthwhile to recall:

Even if there was a nation, or nations, prepared to give us all the money we need for our development, it would be improper for us to accept such assistance without asking ourselves how this would effect our independence and our very survival as a nation. Gifts which increase, or act as a catalyst, to our own efforts are valuable. Gifts which could have the effect of weakening or distorting our own efforts should not be accepted until we have asked ourselves a number of questions.

Some 25-30 years later, in 1993, the Palestinian political leadership faced the same dilemma and asked very similar questions. The promise of foreign aid (at the advent of the Oslo Peace Process) was by no means generous and altruistic for many (this ‘many’ was really a ‘minority’ then). By attaching conditions to their ‘gift,’ donor countries took advantage of their material and political dominance in order to pressure them to behave in line with donor (ie. Western) political agenda. Reservations were formulated against giving up parts of Palestinian political identity in exchange for foreign aid in the early 1990s [i]. This fear was worded, right after the Oslo Accords had been signed, by Hani Hassan in the following way [ii]:

‘it is true that we will get a handful of billions of dollars and that we will build power stations in Gaza and sewage system on the West Bank. But this is not what PLO is about’.

As these two examples probably illustrate, it is the very being – identity – of the beneficiary which is threatened by (the acceptance of) external assistance (let it be formally or informally conditional) as long as the quality of relationship between the donor and recipient (giver-receiver, helper-helped) is determined by any sort of inequality, asymmetry and unwillingness to share a particular set of norms, values and interests. Permanent or prolonged indebtedness creates enemies… but makes real gifts possible, indeed.

Notes: [i] On the critics of the Oslo peace process, see for example: R. Lentin, ed. (2008) Thinking Palestine. London: Zed Books; [ii] The full text of his speech is quoted by Laqueur and Rubin (2001): The Arab-Israeli Reader, p. 435-36.

 

AHLC members and other major donor countries met in Brussels yesterday, at a meeting hosted by EU High Representative office. The chair, Norwegian Foreign Minister Børge Brende, welcomed Prime Minister Hamdallah and commended the parties, the UN, the World Bank, the IMF and the Quartet Representative for their reports and contributions (see an earlier post here).

Citing the Chairs’ Summary “the donors took note of Israeli efforts to increase the volume of materials into Gaza. They welcomed the readiness expressed for further increasing the volumes even if this involves raised security risks. Access to the Gaza Strip for materials, financing and persons is a necessary condition for the full reconstruction of Gaza. Protection of the lives and security of all civilian populations must be assured.

The AHLC concluded that the Palestinians will need high levels of budget assistance during the coming years, and called on the donors to respond to this need. Assistance should not be diverted from the West Bank towards the reconstruction of Gaza, and assistance to Gaza should be channelled through the PA. Without a resumption of the political process to end the occupation, however, the PA’s financial situation will become unmanageable.” 

Minutes have been recorded and can be accessed at EU’s website (Audiovisual collection):

Roundtable and opening remarks by Børge BRENDE, Norwegian Minister for Foreign Affairs, and by Johannes HAHN, Member of the EC in charge of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations

      or at: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I103818

Remarks by Federica MOGHERINI, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the EC

      or at: http://ec.europa.eu/avservices/video/player.cfm?ref=I103793

Reading the reports and watching the speeches, it is worthwhile to recall Annalisa Furia’s thoughs from her recently published book: “the quantity of generosity does not say much about the ‘quantity of real aid’ (…). It also does not say that much about its quality, about the nature of the gift (…). More importantly, it does not say much on the ways in which gift [that is, aid] is returned” (p74).

Annalisa Furia (2015): The Foreign Aid Regime: Gift-Giving, States and Global Dis/Order. NY: Palgrave(Pivot)

Two notable paragraphs from a book on gifts, corruption and philanthropy. The excerpts are from chapter 2 (the ethics of a gift):

‘Charity becomes a powerful tool for those searching for public relations kudos, or even for real power. The ambivalence of the gift re-appears: the principle of solidarity is used to access or establish a position of power in one way or another, either to be nominated as “the most generous,” or as “the biggest contributor” or to reinforce strong socio-political and business bonds between the acclaimed donor and the ‘miserable’ receiver (who might temporary escape his material deprivation only to find himself trapped in a dependent position vis-à-vis the generous donor). Philanthropy – behavior where intentions could be termed ‘good’ per se becomes a part of public relations/business conquest. Charity may be employed as a very powerful and even manipulative tool to bind people to a (spiritual) goal or mission, or even more blatantly to lock the receiver into one’s self-interested (but often disguised) political-economic objectives’ (Verhezen 2009, 60).

‘The logic of abundance does not directly aim for reciprocity but incites it. Unfortunately and ambiguously, unilateral gifts evidently generate envy and may even trigger violent reactions because the logic of social obligations has been broken as the recipient is in no position to give back’ (Verhezen, 2009, 61).

Verhezen, Peter (2009) Gifts, Corruption, Philanthropy: The Ambiguity of Gift Practices in Business. Bern: Peter Lang

Gifts, in ancient and modern societies alike, serve the purpose of establishing relationships and maintaining hierarchies (Mauss 2002, Kolm 2006a). Equally, foreign aid, loans and grants alike, preserves hierarchical relations between the developed and developing world (Hattori 2001; Rist 2003; Karagiannis 2004; Paragi 2012b). Aid is an instrument to control peaceful and less peaceful developments in developing states the extent to which it helps control, among others, conflicts by means of prevention or resolution. It is a means to control (in)security and to manage risks; it is not merely ‘a technical system of support and assistance, but part of an emerging system of global governance’ (Duffield 2001: 2).

This control-function is usually exercised by setting conditions; some of them are explicitly stated, others are less visible (on peace conditionally see: Boyce 2002). Conditions are usually applied in order to maximize utility, to ensure that foreign aid is used in an efficient way, in line with the overall objectives of a given contract, for example, an aid agreement (on conditions, conditionality and pressure see: Sørensen 1993; Sørensen 1995; Stokke 1995; Killick 1998). Conditions entail at least two consequences. First, costs can be minimized by giving only to recipients that deserve generosity and trust (cf. the EU’s ‘more for more’ formulation vis-à-vis the Middle Eastern countries). Second, the donor can focus on the return of investment in order to see certain significant political, economic or social changes in the recipient country, such as, for example, stability and/or democracy in recipient countries.

To take the example of aid relations, donor ‘participation’ in the political and institutional structures of the recipient countries ‘required a conceptual framework which would allow for wide-ranging donor interventions in the political and economic affairs of the recipient economies. (…) Since the mid1990s, aid [its effects and effectiveness] is no longer considered an isolated economic variable but, instead, a function of the recipient country’s economic (and political) policies’ (Taghdisi-Rad 2011: 22). Setting and accepting conditions attached to the contract and the subsequent money transfer implies the giver’s involvement in the recipient’s life, let the recipient be a state, nation, people, authority, institution or any individual beneficiary.

Boyce, J. K. (2002) Investing in peace: aid and conditionality after civil wars. London: Institute for Strategic Studies

Duffield, M. (2001). New Wars: The Merging of Development and Security. London: Zed Books

Killick, T. (1998) Aid and the Political Economy of Policy Change. London: Routledge

Kolm, S-C. (2006a): ‘Introduction to the Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity’ in Serge-Christophe Kolm – Jean Mercier Ythier (eds): Handbook of Economics of Giving, Altruism and Reciprocity. Vol1., Elsevier B. V. pp. 4-114