Saturday 28 December 2013

2013: That was the year that was

A forest in which bullets are found in trees. Western Germany. 
January started in the wake of a trip to Germany which brought home the historic proximity of the carnage that once tore my own part of the world apart, hidden away in silent forests. The new year was one in which I wanted to get things done, lots of them. And it was all about politics - asking questions about how we get to a place where conflict is done in debating chambers not battlefields, and in a way which improves people's lives.

The Dáil Éireann (Irish Parliament)

Ireland, continuing its bumpy journey away from organised violence offered a glimpse with a particularly ferocious debate in the Dáil on the subject of the economic recession, which was also the topic of a beautiful video of a song in a job centre in Spain. Sad, then, that the UK Parliament completely missed the point when it conducted a review of Britain's approach to designing a new way of doing development, post 2015.

February saw a group of NGOs launching a "campaign", called IF, that seemed to redefined the meaning of 'campaign' since it had been agreed in advance with the Government. Thankfully there was some more meaningful progress made by the countries associated with the New Deal at a conference in East Timor, but lingering questions remained.

March saw civil society hold up a red flag to the High Level Panel of "Eminent Persons", essentially because they didn't much like the prominence of the private sector in their thoughts. Anti-corporatism has been a constant feature of civil society voices this year. Fine to have accountability, essential in fact; but from where else will come economic growth?

April was dominated by the escalating bloodbath in Syria, and the concomitant inability of the international community to do anything whatsoever about it. Apart from arm their own proxies. An extraordinary video emerged of a conversation between two armed groups, yielding a unique window on to their world. A conference in Washington did its best to get the New Deal back on track, in an event that brought the big cheeses of development together.

May saw MEPs struggle with the debate over how Europe deals with emerging powers while revealing much about how they saw themselves, while June saw the publication of the High Level Panel report which sought to redefine development. In a game changer of a report the principle that development is an inherently political - not technical - process was established.

Yet July saw the ODI release a retrograde and damaging report that sought to argue the opposite, on the grounds that there was a lack of evidence proving the connection between good governance and economic growth. Deep breaths.

Syrians paid a heavy price
August saw the world return to the subject of Syria, provoked by the use of poison gas. The Grand Old Duke of Washington marched his men to the top of a hill, only to march them back down again when his Junior Lieutenant Cameron couldn't deliver the goods at home. The whole sorry episode, which prioritised gas over the horrific consequences of shells, bullets and mines, simply allowed the killing to go on unabated.

More positively, the UN General Assembly in September saw a dramatic contest of competing visions of what development should look like after 2015. It was good that the recalcitrant countries finally put their heads above the parapet because they were compelled to back down largely by their own civil society, also there in force and making full use of the new platform the new hybrid bodies established by the UN to hold these debates within offered. I like to think my own briefing was of some use, but a dramatic video was rightly of far more impact, with grassroots citizens using technology to offer uncensored views into their own fights for basic human rights. The revolution will be livestreamed, it would seem.

October saw the release of a little video of our exploits at the UNGA but November kicked off on a personal note with news of a new job, and forthcoming relocation to the amazing country of South Africa, as part of the Making All Voices Count programme.

December continued the post 2015 theme with news of how the Open Working Group were planning on defining that governance stuff through a series of indicators to negotiate over, while I was privileged to debate the role of how theories of change could or should shape Dutch policy towards fragile states where governance is at its most broken.

A rainbow, a cemetery and a child
The year ended as it had begun, with another poignant trip to the battlefields of Europe, this time retracing the steps of Private James William Underwood, my great great grandfather. Christmas in Ypres somehow summed up, for me at least, what the twists and turns of the year had really all been about.

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