DFID’s dangerous new Economic Development Strategy

DFID yesterday published its Economic Development Strategy.[1] There’s a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric in the document and, on paper, it contains some progressive policies in the area of traditional foreign aid. But these are completely overshadowed by the UK’s global economic priorities which remain (in fact, are increasingly) neo-liberal and which are completely at odds with historical examples of successful economic development. Without fundamental change in this approach – rather than a deepening of it –  the UK will continue to be a major contributor to the abuse and exploitation of developing countries and the ongoing drain of wealth from them, especially Africa.[2]

The strategy:

  • Fails to acknowledge that UK policies, or those of its closest allies or partners, are in any way seriously responsible for any development failure in developing countries.
  • Is dishonest in failing to mention privatisation. DFID has become the world’s leading pusher of health and education privatisation and we can expect this to deepen. Failing to mention this at all is frankly suspicious.
  • Mentions nothing about tax havens, still less about closing them down, even though the global network of tax havens that exists is largely UK-managed. This would be the single most obvious policy the UK would adopt if it was remotely serious about promoting economic development in developing countries.
  • Will explicitly deepen (if that is possible) the UK’s alliance with transnational corporations, and continue to fail to oppose or regulate them to work in the public interest. The strategy explicitly says the UK will back global agribusiness, for example. This is a recipe for ongoing impoverishment and human rights abuses in developing countries.
  • States that the UK will back ‘free trade’ and oppose protectionism everywhere. In developing countries free trade is mainly a disaster. We can expect the UK to continue to remain explicitly opposed to alternative developing country trade policies and to remain a fundamentalist proponent of unrestricted foreign investment. The document fails to elaborate on UK’s trade policy towards developing countries – again, this is dishonest and suspicious.
  • CDC will increasingly be the vehicle used by the UK to invest in developing countries. CDC’s main purpose is to create and enhance investment opportunities for British and Western companies. In practice, this will mean CDC will press its neo-liberal economic agenda of privatisation, liberalisation and deregulation.
  • States that the UK will ‘shape a new global consensus on economic development’. Given the UK’s actual priorities, track record, and role of its multinational corporations, for example, this is major threat to global development prospects. The UK’s role – both ideological and practical – in international development needs to be reduced not enhanced.
  • States that it will ‘advance Britain’s… foreign policy interests’. The world does not need the UK’s foreign interests to be advanced in its global economic strategy – but the opposite. Britain’s ‘foreign policy interests’ are largely inimical to human rights and development as well as peace and democracy as the whole postwar (and earlier) historical record clearly shows – only servile commentatory pretending the UK promotes these grand principles stands in the way of the British public clearly understanding this. As the last few weeks have in particular shown, the UK as an actor in the global economy needs to be curbed and brought into line with international law and human rights.


[1] https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/587374/DFID-Economic-Development-Strategy-2017.pdf

[2] http://curtisresearch.org/publications/honest-accounts-the-true-story-of-africas-billion-dollar-losses/