Postcolonial world order International community must develop in global cooperation

Today, many of the big challenges that governments face are international, including the climate crisis and financial stability. No nation state can manage these things on its own.
Today, many of the big challenges that governments face are international, including the climate crisis and financial stability. No nation state can manage these things on its own. | Photo (detail): © picture alliance /ZUMAPRESS.com/Guillaume Payen

The Colonial Era is generally considered to have ended in the final years of the past millennium. Though many former colonies are now among the least developed countries, it would be a mistake to blame this state of affairs entirely on Colonialism.

By Hans Dembowski

In the 1990s, the last important colonies became independent. Accordingly, the Colonial Era is considered to be over. As many former colonies are now among the least developed countries, however, one might still have the impression that the old power orders were still in force. Superficial observers may even find evidence of this, such as the fact that many of the countries concerned are primarily commodity exporters. Moreover, many former colonies depend on official development assistance (ODA), and countries like Niger and Haiti would fail without it.

Every country is different

First impressions are often deceptive, and that is the case here too. North America and China were exploited by colonial powers, but today the USA and the People’s Republic are the world’s two leading nations – in both political and economic terms. South Korea rose from being dirt poor to joining the advanced nations in the past decades. It is now a member of the donor community and belongs to its umbrella organisation, the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development). By contrast, Argentina has fallen far behind, even though it was one of the richest economies in the early 20th century. Kenya, a former British colony, is home to many promising and innovative technology start-ups, whereas its neighbour Ethiopia, which was only occupied by Italy for a few years, is lagging far behind. Of course, colonial legacies still affect many countries. But what that means differs from place to place. British colonialists suppressed the textile industry in the Genghis Delta, which now belongs to India and Bangladesh. Today, the latter country is a major garments exporter. Its workers are not paid well and many companies ignore international labour standards, which is why many Europeans see a continuity of exploitation that goes back to the Colonial Era. Bangladeshis see things in a somewhat different light different light. What matters to them is that the workers would be even poorer without the jobs.

No blueprint for development

Extreme inequality certainly marks the global community. Every country is developing according to its own patterns. The big question is: what leads to success?
 
From a social-science perspective, what matters is the division of labour. A number of different players and interest groups must assume responsibility. It is not down to just the government. Differentiation and diversification tend to increase as developmental progress is made.
 
Highly developed societies have a great number of different industries. They also have solid infrastructures and protect property rights. They need many different kinds of professionals, which implies that they need a sophisticated education system, including research universities. Other markers of development are independent courts of law, liquid financial markets and reliable public sectors.
 
The coordination of all these social systems cannot be managed simply by government policy, nor does it spontaneously result from free market interaction. Systems of societal relevance such as politics, justice, markets and science, must be able to develop according to their own logic, but they must also be mutually reinforcing. Every rich nation has developed a model of its own. There is no blueprint that could be easily copied. Every nation is taking its own approach to modernisation.
 
Development may stall in the early stages – such as when powerful interest groups such as landowners block any reform that might challenge their privileged position. Identity politics and the demonising of minorities are particularly destructive. Frustration and disappointment may trigger civil strife. Where civil wars rage, healthy development becomes impossible, as Yemen and South Sudan are currently proving.

International cooperation is indispensable

Today, many of the big challenges that governments face are international, including the climate crisis, terrorism and financial stability. No nation state can manage these things on its own. The “America first” rhetoric of US President Donald Trump is nonsense. Forest fires in the Amazon region are accelerating climate change with detrimental impacts on all nations. Every country will have to bear some of the cost. Moreover, as poverty and violent conflict drive people from their homes, more prosperous countries are confronted with refugees and mass migration.
 
More than ever before, the members of the international community are mutually interdependent. Therefore, the United Nations unanimously adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. This agenda is no longer about industrialised countries providing aid to developing countries. It is about finding shared solutions. Every country must play its part. The SDGs are meant to guide government action in every country, whether industrialized or not, and regardless of its former status as a colony or a colonial power.