Former German minister for development becomes arms lobbyist-why it matters for #globaldev

Dirk Niebel, the former German minister for development cooperation, has joined Rheinmetall as a lobbyist.
Given his abysmal performance as politician in charge of development, good governance and human rights this is not at all surprising, or, as the German version of The Onion, Der Postillon puts it: ‘0% of respondents were surprised about his career move in a recent poll’ (in German).
But this is not simply about a former politician moving into the famed ‘private sector’, but it raises (at least) three critical issues that I want to point out in the following:
First, it shows that traditional, government-run development policy is really in a state of crisis-not just in Germany.
Second, Niebel’s case highlights some of the structural problems that ‘open aid’ and open data initiatives still have when faced with unaccountable, yet powerful people and institutions.
Third, very much linked to the second point, when arms (deals) are involved development is certainly not in the driver’s seat which raises tough questions for civilian peace efforts and the militarization of development (rather than the ‘civilization’ of defense policy and practice).

From Canada to Australia, Germany and the UNDP – traditional development policy institutions are under pressure
This pressure does not necessarily have to be a bad sign, but the end of CIDA and AusAid, or the merger of aid organizations in Germany that Dirk Niebel pushed are indications of just how much the discourse is moving; not all of these developments are ‘bad’ developments per se and maybe the UNDP or other traditional organizations are in need of some reform.
But unsurprisingly development policy will be more ‘aligned’ with other policy areas and this usually means closer collaboration with the private sector and greater priority of trade and foreign policy over genuine ‘development’ policy. If debates around mining (Canada), migration (Australia) or arms deals (Germany) are an indication of the direction of (conservative) development policy then we can assume that the ideals (if they ever existed…) of development will be under ever-growing pressure to make their small voices heard.

Showing open aid and accountability the finger

Dirk Niebel was never really interested in open aid; but his case is also an interesting when it comes to the absence of ex-post accountability mechanisms. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to prove legal wrongdoing on his part and the German taxpayer is indebted to his service and happily pays him a nice pension.
Dirk Niebel basically was an arms lobbyist right from the beginning of his term in office who just happened to be ‘parked’ in a seemingly less important ministry because of party politics and coalition balances. Replace his name and the country with a variety of developing countries of your choice and your rent-maximizing, partisan, bad governance stereotypes are confirmed. Niebel was also a member of the national Security Council, a quasi-secret, intransparent committee where selected ministers discuss security-related issues, including arms export deals. There are basically no checks and balances in place for ministerial involvement of this kind and Niebel interpreted his mandate as broadly as possible to talk ‘development’ in the morning and then pursue his own agenda in the name of Germany’s national interest. No open aid database will help in this case and there are no ex-post accountability mechanisms in place if your double-agenda takes place within the existing legal framework.

Follow the money: Militarization, arms exports and ‘development’
Dirk Niebel’s case is also a very blunt reminder of how efforts around civilian peace initiatives, civil-military ‘cooperation’, ‘human security’ and all the other well-intentioned non-military ideas have failed on a large scale. Many countries, Germany included, are happy to sell arms, arm dubious ‘rebel groups’ and pursue their ‘war against terrorism’. It is not surprising that Germany is ‘discussing’ purchasing armed drones-and we can be very certain about the outcome of this ‘discussion’: New threats, global alliances and Germany’s preparedness for 21st century warfare demand the purchase of such drones which, as basically all large arms projects do, will end up in a financial mess, overpriced equipment and yet another bill that the tax payer can foot without even a remote chance of transparent, accountable and democratic procedures.

As much of an individual, maybe even extreme, problem the Niebel case seems to be it says a lot about the sorry state of ‘development policy’ in a militarized age and how traditional, state-run agencies struggle to make meaningful contributions to sustainable, peaceful development in the 21st century.

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